Xianlu: Flavor & Plot
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Background of Xianlu
The physical plane of Xianlu is a fiery wasteland. In this wasteland, there is one enormous turtle that slowly treads across the land, bearing the entire living, non-demonic population of Xianlu on its back. Below the wasteland are where the souls and spirits of the unchosen dead, along with their demonic caretakers (called yaoguai), reside in eternal suffering. The only physical passage from the wasteland from the turtle's back is a hole in its center, around a mountain the residents have named Mount Jin, or Jinshan. This hole is closely guarded by celestial beings who reside in the clouds above Xianlu and their followers. The celestial realm does not exert its own energy to quell the influence of demons below, but instead influences the hearts and minds of individuals to prevent the instability that would lead to demons taking over the land. To the residents of Xianlu, the celestial realm and the wasteland below only exist in myth, as heaven or hell. The turtle's back is so tall and wide that many people have not seen the edge of the world, and believe that the entire land is made up of the four states surrounding Mount Jin. These four "states" are Song, Xia, Nan, and Lei. They roughly control all of the territory immediately surrounding Mount Jin, and some of the fringe areas where various beasts and creatures from hell have climbed up from the side of the shell.
Song is a state primarily made up of wayward temples and monasteries, who exert a religious dominance on their main region in the north, and throughout Xianlu. They have three goals in life - to train their body, mind, and spirit to reach individual enlightenment, either together or separate. They can commonly project themselves onto the astral and celestial realm upon reaching enlightenment in one of those three areas, leading to a universally held belief that their physical existence matters little in the long run. They have no centralized government and instead rely on the wisdom spread by their teachers. Of these, there is a First Teacher who has achieved the sought-after state of achieving enlightenment in three areas - Dalama Rami. As the de facto leader of the group, he has considerable influence in what Songhists believe and what is spread - and what isn't.
Xia is a state run by the Xia dynasty, who currently has a young emperor on the throne. Xia consists of a couple of major cities, which each have lavish palaces for the Emperor's use, and a great many of small villages headed by imperial magistrates and officials. Due to their large population and fertile area, the Xia army is the biggest in Xianlu, though they are mostly focused in maintaining law and order within the state, rather than waging war outside. Recent demonic invasions by Lei have begun to change that, forcing Xia to take a more aggressive policy towards Lei.
Nan is a state governed by a single Monkey King and his family. The state is made up entirely of monkeys (or other members of the simian family), and is primarily a warrior society that makes its civilizations deep in the southern jungles of Xianlu. When a monkey comes of age in Xianlu, they undergo a year long pilgrimage of demon-slaying, where they wander the land and slay any demons that they may come across (as well as other demon-like entities). At the end of the year, they return to the capital of Nan and are awarded honors and accolades based on the amount of demons slain throughout their journey. If a monkey beats enough demons to break the current record held by the sitting King, the monkey and their family is promoted to the position of King and they rule until another monkey can beat their record (or death). The current sitting king, King You, and his wife, Queen Zuo, each slayed a record 780 demons during their pilgrimage, granting them the unique status of dual rulers of the state. More recently, as the number of demons increased due to Lei's constant summoning, more and more families are sending out their children on the pilgrimage, in hopes of attaining prestige on their return.
Lei is a state that was previously run by the Lei dynasty, but they were deposed of ten years ago in a coup by a group of Eunuchs, who had summoned demons from below to gain power. Of these four eunuchs - Quan, Cai, Cha, and Kuang, Lord Quan sits as the leader and prime minister of the state. While their residents were originally known for their creative works and cultural exports, they have recently begun turning to darker practices such as alchemy and puppetry, as subtle ways to entice demons to rise up from hell below to join their ranks in an army. Lord Quan's goal is a united Xianlu, with him at the top - a state in which he believes can bring peace to the land and end the constant border squabbles by Xia and Nan.
The plot centers around a group of warriors from different states, who come together on a quest to kill the eunuchs of Lei (Quan of the Four Eunuchs). The eunuchs, meanwhile, are preparing for war. Over the past ten years, they have had the state's best summoners constantly conjuring demons from the wasteland below, in an effort to claim Mount Jin and release the seals binding the demon king, Guiwang. While heaven and the celestial beings know of their intentions, they cannot directly influence the mortal land, and instead rely on individuals who can enact their will to do so. While the leaders of states still in heaven's good graces, Xia and Song, receive messages from heaven, their ability to mobilize an army has dwindled as a result of constant border raids by demon regiments lead by mercenaries and Lei summoners. So, the heavens have decided to turn to other means to solve their problem.
The story starts off with a single member, Tai Yun, Warrior-Pilgrim, a journeying monkey from Nan. Strong, but a little too headstrong, Tai Yun's goal is to become the Monkey King of Nan. To do so, he must slay a total of seven hundred and eighty one demons in a single year's journey - one more than the previous record held by the current Monkey King and Queen, allowing him to claim the throne as king of the kingdom. While his early travels prove unfruitful, though inadvertently helpful towards local villages (Scourge of Villages), he eventually meets a man from Song, called Longming the Unparalleled, an arrogant but effective tactician who lends his services in helping Tai Yun reach his goal by the year's end.
Longming the Unparalleled is travelling the land on a mission given to him by his sole teacher, Dalama Rami, the de facto head of the Song religion. Dalama Rami, in turn, was given a task by the heavens to completely defeat the kingdom of Lei's current leader, Quan of the Four Eunuchs, and replace him with the sole surviving heir to the previous dynasty, Lei Fang, Lost Heir. The eunuchs have lost the mandate of heaven, a divine right in which kings and emperors are blessed to rule, and therefore must be removed and replaced with someone more fitting of heaven's blessings. Longming's goal, therefore, is to find a way into the Lei capital, singlehandedly tear through the eunuchs' demon armies, and install Lei Fang as the ruler of Lei to bring peace to the region. When Longming meets Tai Yun, he sees the perfect warrior to distract the Lei armies long enough for him and Lei Fang to slip in unnoticed. Promising Tai Yun he will get his fill of demon-slaying by year's end, the two leave on a journey to meet up with the wayward heir to the throne.
Having escaped the capital at a young age, Lei Fang, Lost Heir currently lives a humble life as a nameless warrior in the mountains surrounding Mount Jin. One day, however, a maiden called Tanri, Celestial Daughter, claiming to be from heaven, arrives at his door, and urges him to reclaim his rightful place on the throne. While initially smitten with her charm, he argues that it is not his place to change the course of history, and says that he prefers his humble life alone in the mountains, away from the trappings of the courts. Another Purpose Eventually, after three separate visits from the celestial maiden, he agrees to accompany her in a request to retake his throne. The two eventually meet up with Tai Yun and Longming, and they begin a slow journey towards Lei's capital, Leicheng, to slay the four eunuchs and restore the Lei dynasty.