Rise of the Blood
The Order of the Shining Path
Those who belong to the Order of the Shining Path are called Sohei. Where the Guardians are the police, the Sohei are the judges. Where the Guardians are the foot soldiers, the Sohei are the heroes. Of course, only in Whitewall would an assortment of Godbloods, Dragonbloods, Spirits, and Enlightened Mortals be considered ‘foot soldiers’. Exorcists, Hunters of the Fae, and veritable walking legends, the Sohei root out any and all corruption that seeks to poison their glorious city in the North.
The history of the Order stretches back to the years following the Great Contagion, before the Syndics came to Whitewall and forged the Thousand-Year Pact with the Fae and Deathlords. While the area surrounding Whitewall is far from peaceful today, it is hard to imagine the horrors that were regularly visited upon the countryside by the forces of Chaos and Death before the Pact was signed and the order of the Syndics enforced. Safety extended only to the walls of the city, and those barely stood after years of thwarting the Fae. It was in this crucible that the Order first arose, brave men and women sworn to protect the people of the North from the forces of death and chaos.
The origin of the Order is shrouded in mystery. What is known is that twelve men and women, imbued with the power of an unknown god, came to Whitewall in the middle of Resplendent Air to offer their swords in defense of the great city. While their powers came nowhere near the might of the god-kings of old, they were still far stronger than even the few Dragonbloods that remained in the area. Over the years, they accepted acolytes, people who were willing to sacrifice their lives in order to preserve the continuation of Whitewall. By the time the Syndics came, the Order was regarded as a holy group, an Order that strove for personal perfection, both in body and spirit.
The Modern Day
While the Order maintains its spiritual foundation, they have become increasingly secularized over the centuries as their material power has grown. In the beginning, the Syndics simply allowed them their space, headquarted as they were outside the walls of the city proper. But as the city of Whitewall grew, they became increasingly reliant upon the Order of the Shining Path, both due to its strict adherence to its code as well as their raw ability and power.
Three hundred years ago, they were granted the Thrice-Silvered Chapel, a pagoda within Foretown that is surrounded by a low wall. A low-level Manse, the only known power it possesses is to ensure that the noise of the city does not penetrate its boundaries. While the official offices of the Order, along with its armory and records, were transferred to the Thrice-Silvered Chapel, opinion within the Sohei remains divided to this day regarding the Syndics’ gift to them. Many Sohei believe that their original headquarters, a squat building of grey stone an hour’s walk from the gate of Whitewall, better represents the ideals of the Order.
Two centuries ago, the Sohei were granted the extrajudicial powers that they carry to this day. Any full Sohei may take any action they deem necessary to protect the city. This gives them carte blanche to act in any way they see fit, even going so far as to judge and execute those for whom judgment is generally rendered by the Syndics themselves.
Very few of the Order could be considered rich by their own merit, but the Order itself is as wealthy as many Guild Factors. Much of this wealth originated as trophies of battle carried off from their foes, which was then invested in Order-sanctioned activities. This has led them to easily being the most affluent organization in Whitewall.
The numbers of the Order have been fairly steady for the past four centuries. Several times through their history, their numbers have dipped dramatically due to some disaster, but they have always recovered within the span of a few decades. Official records state that there are around 500 Sohei, each of which is registered with the general census of Whitewall as such.
The vast majority of the Order are known as Sohei and view each other as equals, generally addressing one another without title. Given the illustrious lives that the Sohei live, there are of course exceptions to this. Some Sohei have such a reputation that others have given them honorary titles, though these are used purely on a voluntary basis only.
In addition to the regular Sohei, there is a much smaller population of Junior Sohei. Each member of the Order begins their career as a Novice within the Thrice-Silvered Academy. Enrollment is open to any and all who can channel Essence, though for every novice that passes their first year, one-hundred fail in some way or other. By the end of the four-year enrollment, only one out of two hundred remain, but they have been through a training regime that rivals that of the Realm’s academies.
Junior Sohei are those who have graduated from the Thrice-Silvered Academy, no longer novices, yet not quite Sohei. They have yet to prove that they have the clarity of judgment and purity of purpose that it takes to be a full Sohei. Generally, Junior Sohei are grouped together into Sodalities of three to six. Usually, the Sodality will be composed of Junior Sohei who graduated from novicehood together. Close bonds are formed between the members, bonds that generally stand the test of time.
Elevation to full Sohei may take a matter of months or years. The time one spent as a Junior has no bearing on the respect one is given after elevation; Master Verene Cathar herself was a Junior Sohei for over a decade before her elevation. Generally, when a member of a Sodality rises to become a full Sohei, they remain with their companions, though tensions have been known to rise within the groups at this time.
At the top of the Order are the twelve Master Sohei, numbered in honor of the founding members of the Order. The Masters are chosen by their predecessor to succeed them upon their death. In this way, a lineage has developed for each Master, going back to the original members.
It is generally accepted that all full Sohei are equal to one another and that even the Master Sohei are first among equals. Of course, that does not prevent many among the Sohei from idolizing the Masters or prevent the Masters from governing and directing the Order as they see fit.
Symbols of the Order
The Sohei are a diverse lot, as an organization composed of beings whose blood is filled with the powers of the Dragons, ghosts, elementals, gods, and fae tends to be. Sohei are allowed to wear whatever clothing and armor they wish, though Sohei on official business generally wear a band around their foreheads called a Kailee. The purpose of the Kailee is to confirm the identity of its bearer to all, though only a fool would claim to be a Sohei when he is not. An individual caught wearing the Kailee when she has no right to is immediately arrested, and unless sufficient reason (and a very good reason it needs to be) is given, they are condemned to join the yearly sacrifice to the Fae and the Dead.
The Kailee is an interwoven band of three leather strings. At its center is a small, highly polished circle of blue jade. Etched upon the circle is a series of concentric circles. A minor artifact, a Sohei may spend a mote to emit a low silvery-blue light from the Jade.
Junior Sohei are not granted a Kailee until they are promoted to full Sohei.
Styles of the Order
The Sohei are first and foremost a martial Order. The primary style is the Golden Janissary Style, this is offered to all, even those who are only novices, for the Order believes that no evil can truly be done with it. The second style is the Path of the Arbiter Style, though this is restricted to full Sohei and only those who feel a calling for it are granted tutelage.
Of course, the Sohei represent a sizable fraction of the Essence-users of the North and are known to travel far and wide. Many Sohei have been initiated into various Terrestrial Styles throughout the centuries, some of these have even thoroughly mastered these exotic styles. Of course, a Sohei who has traveled far and sacrificed much is not required to teach these hard sought lessons to others. As such, even though Sohei are nominally equal to one another, there are many cases of Sifu-Student relationships among them.
As it is with any powerful organization, rumors and legends abound about the Sohei. Most concern their origins and true purpose.
In a city like Whitewall, it is little wonder that many people that their unknown patron god is the Unconquered Sun himself. In fact, many people call the Sohei the Chosen of the Sun. These rumors are always flatly denied by the vast majority of the Sohei and especially by the Syndics. Another popular theory is that their sponsor was in fact the Syndics themselves and that their honorable nature is what drew the Syndics to Whitewall decades after the Sohei were founded. This is also denied by many of the Sohei, though most of those who deny this quickly add that the Syndics would have been a suitable patron. If anyone does know who the patron of the Sohei was, they have not made it known to the world.