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Shih

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The Shih are the demon hunters of the Middle Kingdom, using their own Chi in applications known as Qiao to achieve superhuman powers.

BackgroundEdit

Legends claim that the origins of the Shih lie within Yi in the Shang Dynasty. During this time, the ruling classes tribute blood and chi to the Kuei-jin, who in turn protected their charges from supernatural depredation. Few dared oppose them, and those who tried often became the next sacrifice demanded by the "gods." The Kuei-jin's manipulations hid the secret of their existence. During this time, a young man named Yi came to notice the supernatural influence on his people, from the Wan Kuei that installed themselves as hidden rulers of humanity, the Xiong Ren that slaughtered the peasants to preserve the wild places, the Restless Dead that returned to demand proper rites and the Chi’n Ta, who worked their subtle magics in their own struggles. When he stood forth against them, he was banished on their behest by his own father. Yi wandered the land for five years, dwelling amidst the barbarians, and learned more about the creatures who dwelt among the humans and who fed on them as if they were mere cattle. It was only when he came across a temple that was besieged by Kumo, that stood up against them and then, something happened and he managed to break the siege, grievously wounded. The saved monks cared for him, mended his body and healed his spirit. They discussed their way of life with their saviour, and he told of his past in turn. In the course of their teachings, Yi came to understand that what his father did was right: He had saved his people from the demons by bargaining with them. The shen were, as Yi soon learned, as much a part of the natural order as the storms that sometimes destroyed cities, or the droughts that dried the southern rivers and left farmers with no rice for a season. Yi decided that he should become an equal force to keep the Shen in check, recruiting the monks as his first followers. The Shih grew in number and in power through the course of the next decade. As they fought their enemies, they contemplated what they had learned in each battle and practiced how best to defend against similar attacks. They discovered how to focus their own will as a weapon and resist many of the demons' foul tricks through meditation and prayer. Though many fell in battle, the survivors of the demon attacks replaced the fallen just as quickly. Those who'd lost loved ones to the demons asked if they could battle the monsters who had destroyed their ambitions and families, and the best of these would-be avengers were accepted within the ranks of the Shih. As the numbers within the Shih grew, several other temples rose to accommodate them. The newest members first learned the ways of the monks by developing patience and discipline. Their bodies were toughened through practice and used to build the new temples, while their minds were sharpened with riddles and their senses were trained to see past the trickery of the shen.

War against the Yama KingsEdit

As their influence grew, the Shen began to work against the Shih. They, using their influence with the nobility, sent armies of warriors throughout the land to slaughter shamans whose faith drew them apart from the corrupt shamans of Shang. In many places throughout the dynasty, the soldiers of Shang were little more than bullies to begin with. Many humans died in the bloody war with the shen, but even this heinous slaughter was secondary to the Kuei-jin, who had grown bloated in their power and their arrogance. This, along withs Yi’s quest to free his father from supernatural influence, attracted a large number of followers to the Shih. But Yi did not destroy most supernaturals, understanding that they acted only according to their nature. It was when they abused their powers to rule or slay innocent humans that his wrath aroused. In their anger, the Kuei-jin collaborated with the Yama Kings to slay Yis family. In his rage and grief, Yi massacred many Shen, until Kung Kung, the great dragon-spirit, talked to him and convinced him to let go of his anger. In the meantime, the Kuei-jin had sacrificed many innocent victims to Yama Kings in order to suppress the growing rebellion against their rule. The Yama Kings answered the call by adding nine additional suns into the sky, scouring the lands of the rebels and this incited them to finally revolt. The following battles were violent and vicious with Shen fighting on both sides against each other. Eventually, however, Yi returned on the back of the great Dragon. As he rode the dragon's back, Yi held a bow crafted of wood from the Trees of Immortality. He fired nine arrows, each fashioned from white jade. Yi called a curse for the Yama Kings and the Kuei-jin as he shot each arrow; every one flew straight and true, striking one of the 10 suns in the heavens. As each sun was struck, it flared brightly and then disappeared — and as each was struck, the Yama Kings and the Kuei-jin suffered a curse. Every curse Yi cast had its effect on the target of his anger. But the cost for him was high as well, for each curse cost Yi a part of his spirit and his Chi. Yi and Kung Kung landed when the ninth sun faded from the sky, leaving only the original sun burning in the heavens. The war was won eventually, and the shen were driven from the land. There was a great celebration in Yi's honour, and many treasures were offered to him for his service to Wu Wang, the new Emperor of China. Yi accepted several of these treasures, which he then passed on to his five children.

The Celestial ArmyEdit

During the next 200 years, Shih grew in strength and endurance, building fortresses and schools for the teaching of their ways. Some Shih continued their humble ways, but many of their number chose to follow a grander path: Calling themselves the "Celestial Army," these demon hunters sought to destroy the shen wherever they dwelled, even when there was no need for them to act. Many Shih denounced this Celestial Army, for they were appalled by this breach of one of Yi's principal commands. Yi had stated that only those shen who failed to fulfil their heavenly duties should be struck down. Though the Celestial Army became great, very few true Shih remained when it reached its pinnacle. The demon hunters left, and those who remained were mere soldiers who felt they understood the art of demon hunting. That these soldiers fought in greater numbers and sought to kill all shen was evidence of their arrogance and weakness. The Army gained in temporal power and recognition during the early part of the Chou Dynasty. It made demands of the Chou Emperor; it even requested a portion of the imperial taxes. The wisest Shih continued to wander as they always had, looking for the demons that broke from the heavens and dealing out justice. The Celestial Army's greatest school was built in the Kun Lun Mountains. The edifice was a majestic fortress with gilded walls and opulent furnishings. The true Shih, on the other hand, examined the Kuei-jin's writings carefully, to the point where the most scholarly learned the forbidden language of the Kuei-jin: kaja. Even a newly risen vampire was a deadly threat, but since Yi had destroyed most of them in his last epic battle, so the foolish and arrogant believed, many of the Celestial Army ignored the lessons they could have learned. Eventually, the Shih grew proud and banished every of the demon hunters who did not belong to the Celestial Army. It was then that their headquarter was destroyed during an earthquake, leaving only the wanderers behind.

Following this event, the Shih have diversified and spread throughout the Middle Kingdom over the centuries, and they've adapted the philosophies they were taught to make sense in the areas where they dwell. Some follow Buddhist doctrines, others study Shinto, and still others follow Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism and Christianity. But none of these beliefs is their primary source of faith. All Shih understand that what they practice on a personal level has little to do with the truth they follow as demon hunters. While meetings do take place, they are sporadic at best and almost always accidental or coincidental. Shih believe that when such encounters occur, it is because Heaven has joined them to fight a foe too strong for any of them to face alone. Perhaps they are right. Certainly, when the Shih do gather in numbers greater than two or three, the local shen begin to worry.

TrainingEdit

Shih traditions are no longer taught in monasteries or schools. They are taught by one teacher to one or two disciples, by learning to concentrate their anger and bitterness against their enemies and by a brutal phsyical conditioning. Most Shih remember their own teachings very clearly, as they were shoved into their heads over the course of 15 or more years. For that reason, there has been little evolution of the philosophies taught by Yi so many centuries ago. Few among the Shih even consider breaking from the ways in which they themselves were instructed. A few families do remain as units of Shih hunters, but they are very rare. Most trace their roots back to Yi himself, though whether or not their genealogies are accurate is a source of great potential debate. Of late, a new trend has started among the younger Shih. Small groups of demon hunters have casually begun to band together — for mutual assistance, or possibly for companionship. Older, more experienced Shih frown on this behaviour; nonetheless, these gatherings of Shih are becoming more commonplace in the large cities where the Kuei-jin are strongest. Shih don't seek recruits actively; they merely offer to aid in vengeance when they hear of such vows from those who have suffered under the yoke of the supernatural. Despite the modernization of some parts of the Middle Kingdom, a vow of revenge is very serious business, especially a vow made on the graves of dead family. Despite the legend of the Excellent Archer, Yi, the Shih are seldom as honourable as their founder. Bitterness, even hatred, often mars them. They sacrifice a great deal of their human lives to fight demons. They receive nothing in return. There are no physical rewards for their efforts, save the moneys they take from dead victims, and their constant encounters age them well before their time. It's not uncommon for a Shih in his late 20s to look twice his age. Physically, he might still accomplish phenomenal tasks, but he is likely to see himself deteriorate in leaps and bounds. The Shih take their apprentices with them when they hunt demons, though they make certain the student is either a safe distance away or well-armed. The purpose of bringing their students with them is twofold: First is the chance for the student to acquaint himself with the types of shen he will encounter. The second reason is to see if the student is capable of placing self-control over the need for vengeance.

HumanityEdit

Humanity, for demon hunters, is a measure of everything left in a human soul that can still measure moments of happiness and see them as more than equal time-shares of misery. It's the part of the human being that believes in the quality of mercy, and one that separates the demon hunters from the cold-blooded murderers. Every demon hunter has a conscience, and whether or not they like to admit it. Killing a monster simply for looking different is the best way in the world to lose Humanity, and instinct often warns hunters against this action, even if "civilized" life fails to reinforce the belief. If a Shih loses himself more and more to violence, his supernatural nature can awaken his P'o soul, in a similar manner to that of a Kuei-jin, without the benefits. Shih who die when they have awakened their P'o return usually as Kuei-jin.

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