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A Legend: Nine-Sorrows

by T.S. Luikart

There is no family more intimately familiar with the tragedy and the glory of the Dust Road than the family Vol. They spawned a legion of stories in their day, tales which are still told throughout the Far West. The bulk of the family died on the fields of Iaius Fell, struggling virtually alone to hold back the terrible strength of the bandit army known as the Blameless Devils, so called because when their exorbitant ransoms were not met, they left none alive to speak of what they had done.

The ‘Devils had demanded the whole of Iaius Fell’s artistry for a year, a price the legendary crafters of that town would not suffer. When denied their payoff, the bandits moved quickly to lay waste to the city and put its people to the sword. So swift was the Blameless Devils’ response that Iaius Fell had no time to send to their allies for aid. Chance, or perhaps Destiny, intervened then — for Kasran Vol and the majority of his children (five of his six boys, and two of his three girls) were in the settlement on business. The Vols could have easily fled, but they instead chose to defend the town and help its people escape.

The song of that valiant defense is beautiful and sad; the Mariachi sing it still. The Vols fell, one by one, their life’s blood paid for in dozens of bandits each, until at the last, Kasran, head of his family, patriarch of his clan, called forth a mighty kung-fu technique that set his spirit, the town, and every Blameless Devil within a hundred paces ablaze – an inferno not even a devil could withstand. The noble sacrifice of the Vols was not in vain: the bulk of Iaius Fell’s populace escaped unharmed. The Blameless Devils, in rage over their defeat, desecrated the bodies of the Vols they could find, denying them pyres, and retreated back into their mountain strongholds to brood.

The second youngest of Kasran’s sons was not with his family on that fateful day. Askir Vol was a blacksmith by trade and it was widely known that he had long regarded his family’s obsession with kung-fu with bemused suffering. His whole life his family had tried to talk him into using his incredible talent at the forge to make weapons, but he had always resisted them. When the Elders of Iaius Fell came, hats in hand, to Askir’s hearth to tell him what had occurred, he thanked them quietly and told them that he would one day call upon their skills, though he would not explain why.

Askir soon afterwards travelled to the ruins of Iaius Fell in search of his family’s fate. He found them mutilated and strewn about haphazardly, food for the carrion feeders. What he truly sought though, were his family’s queue rings, worn in their hair and passed down along the Vol family line for generations. They were small, but stunningly intricate, each one carved from jade by some master whose name was long lost. Askir found them all, one by one, even his father’s which was scorched almost beyond recognition.

Returning to his forge, Askir disappeared for several months, speaking only to his sole surviving sister, Loora, who brought him his meals. When he emerged at last, he bore a large cloth-wrapped bundle. He kissed his sister farewell for the last time and travelled west to one of the settlements where the most skilled engravers of Iaius Fell had ended up. Taking their Elders behind closed doors, he explained his purpose. If the debt they had owed the Vols had been less, perhaps they would have denied Askir, but they could not refuse the young smith.

A season later, a lone figure arrived at the gates of the Prudent Hold, at the time the strongest of the Blameless Devils’ fortresses in the eastern regions of the Eagles’ Claws. The warrior beat on the massive gates three times before standing well back. Many of the Devils’ took to the walls, as sport was rare in the mountains, and they wished to look upon the fool who had come so far to die.

“Well what have we here?” the leader of the bandits shouted down, to the jeers of his men.

Askir Vol pulled off his cloak to reveal himself and raised aloft a magnificent 9-ring broadsword. The sword jangled musically as the wind through the high passes struck the nine disparate jade rings along its back. The light of the sun barely reflected from the blade, for it was caught in the intricate symbols that covered the sword’s entire surface.

Askir whispered softly, but his voice echoed throughout the pass, “Nine-Sorrows.”

His first blow split the gates asunder, the rest slew Blameless Devils till there was none left alive in that place…

 
 
Is the tale true? Who can say? Loora Vol passed East after the death of her family, eventually achieving great and lasting fame throughout the Empire and beyond as a poetess. The Blameless Devils still menace travellers and small settlements in the Far West. Askir Vol may be a myth of the West, but a sword matching the description of his legendary weapon lingers still.

It is said along the Dust Road that certain weapons carry the burden of their creation. If so, few are heavier than Nine-Sorrows. It is a weapon that only those who have lost everything dare wield, the patron sword of all-but-lost causes, a blade continually steeped in tragedy… and yes, glory too.

 
 
 

9 Comments

  1. AmDrag says:

    Classic revenge story/myth! Love it!

    I might just be a kung fu nerd, but I love the emphasis on special weapons. It adds to the myth of it all.

  2. metasynthie says:

    Great storytelling! I am so eager to hear more about the world-setting that I can’t even tell you. As a 2nd generation Asian-American who grew up in the West on tales of the gold rush, the legendary “Gold Mountain,” Chinese laborers dying on the growing railroad, TV shows like Kung Fu and movies like Blazing Saddles, alongside wuxia epics like Once Upon a Time in China and Ghost Story… this whole idea really speaks to me personally! Plus now I play the drums in a country band and play in saloons — it’s kind of great to think about a world where “western” and “asian” don’t seem as incongruous as they do to some of our listeners.

    So I eagerly signed up as a kickstarter supporter at the Grand Master level and I have one burning mega-question for you. I saw some of the artwork for Far West posted on rpg.net and was also drawn by the a-typical portrayals of tough, no-nonsense heroines, very much in the tradition of both wuxia and western! I’m wondering about how Far West is going to handle racial/imperial politics, and I only get a slight sense of that so far in the story materials. To me any western / industrial-expansion (including steampunk) themes are tremendously enhanced by bringing in the huge political themes of the era, since they still shape so much of the world we live in today. I’m a fan of Deadlands, for the way they incorporated the racial/imperialist struggle of the era in the Reckoning and spotlighted the industrial exploitation of “virgin territory” (not so “virgin” to the people already living there) with Ghost Rock, etc. This kind of tension also shows up in a lot of wuxia, especially the Once Upon a Time in China series and other Wong Fei Hong stories, since they’re often set against the backdrop of the Boxer Rebellion and the heavy influence of imperial powers in China. And it’s a huge part of so many stories set in the Old West — not just the massacre and revenge of Native Americans but also the post-Civil-War move west of former Confederates AND former slaves to try and find a better life, the influx of Chinese workers, etc.

    It makes total sense to me that the Far West isn’t an “alternate history” of the real world like Deadlands, but rather a new fantasy world. I’m really wondering who’s under the bootheel of the Empire in its territorial expansion. Who are the “natives” and are they fighting back? Are there other imperialist powers? Different ethnic groups? Former slaves? “Shanghai’d” laborers? I’m so psyched for the general concept of the setting that I’m terrified about one of the things that’s most compelling for me about the Old West (prejudice, messed-up history and trying to forge a new society on the bones of the old, even as you commit new atrocities because there were already people living in your “new world”) is going to get subsumed under a pre-colonization “no racial tensions” version of wuxia from before the Wong Fei Hong era.

    In Western fantasies these racial tropes were often played out through different fantasy-races, following Tolkein’s original idea of having “sallow, Mongoloid” orcs and dwarves based on Jews, elves and dwarves learning to get along, etc. Wuxia doesn’t have as much of that until the stories set in the 19th century against the backdrop of imperalism… so are we going to see some of that? Please say yes!

  3. metasynthie says:

    Oops, found the answer to this in the thread at rpg.net. I’m really sad to hear you’re making the setting more or less race-blind and hope I’m misunderstanding!

    • admin says:

      What we said on RPGnet is that we’re not featuring an indigenous people being displaced — mostly because that element, while present in the Old West (as you noted in your earlier comment), is not as much a factor in the SPAGHETTI Westerns which are one of our two primary inspirations, along with being entirely absent in Wuxia, our other primary inspiration (the 19th century anti-imperialist martial arts tales aren’t part of the wuxia tradition as such). We feel that other games (Deadlands, Aces and Eights, Boot Hill, etc.) have the ground covered adequately in that respect, as well.

      But it was of critical importance to us that races and genders not usually presented in heroic contexts in RPGs be present in FAR WEST, which is what has informed a lot of our artistic decisions.

  4. wandering blade says:

    I already talked a little bit about this in the thread in RPG net, and not to flog on a dead horse,I respect Garreth´s idea on not including that and see where is he coming from, and if people are interested in this particlar element in their own games, they can easily introduce it, without it needing to be part of the official setting

    Yet I have to disagree on this kind of racial conflict being absent in wuxia and would like to give my take on it, for whatever it may be worth, Jin Yong who is the most respected wuxia author´s first novel, “Romance of Book and Sword” deals with the ughuir minority of northeast China being displaced by the Imperial government, other key wuxia novels by Jin Yong like Legends of the Condor Heroes deal with racial and territorial conflicts with ethic groups such as mongolians, Jurchens and tibetans.

    Even Proud Smiling Wanderer which has been adapted into the seminal wuxia movies Swordsman I and II deals with a cult formed by ethnic minorities to raise against the Imperial government that has oppresed them, a similar cult appears in another seminal wuxia film, Bride with White Hair, so we can find this kind of conflict in the wuxia tradition.

    More importantly such displacement of native people contrasted with the taiming of vast natural territories, the disapearance or assimilation of old cultures in the name of civilization and progress, is one of the great paralels between Chinese and American (specially during the wild west period)histories.

    And that in old times and even now there it is the mixture of such clutures and the encounter between what is considered civilized and barbarian, that lends a perfect wild frontier, old west feeling to many Chinese cities and town, that are located in what once was considered the periphery of the empire.

    Also the fact that having people with elements of native americans mixed with tibetan, mongolian or other chinese minority cultures would totally and utterly kick ass.

  5. Gobbo says:

    I would love to let my players find the sword and then have to discover the legend to know what it is about and why it was created…

    • T.S. Luikart says:

      If that is an oh-so-subtle, “So….. are you going to stat this weapon?” The answer is yes. 😉 Look to see some other “Legend” pieces over the next few months.

  6. Apocryphon says:

    I must say, it’s refreshing to have an RPG (or almost any form of pop culture in the U.S., sadly) that depicts Asians. Among all of the inspirations for Far West, I’m surprised that Firefly/Serenity wasn’t one of them (more in terms of the visual style, not necessarily the setting)- and I’m glad, in the sense that the Far West already does depict actual Asian people that the culture is inspired by! Having read the io9 article, I’m very heartened by the commitment to giving a balanced portrayal of different ethnicities and genders- too often such concerns are dismissed as “politically correct”, instead of a matter of taste and equality. Kudos!

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