The time before the unification of Hymukai was one of constant struggle between minor landowners, eager to expand and secure their spheres of influence. Borders between the territories were fluid, expanding and contracting as power waxed and waned. Landowners joined forces with like-minded lords: eventually, these alliances evolved into the clans that exist today.
This the story of some of those major events.
The political and social organization of Hymukai was forged through conflicts dating back to the appearance of the first humans on the archipelago. The geography of the islands strongly influenced the people who lived on them. As a result, each region developed a unique character.
The time before the unification of Hymukai was one of constant struggle between minor landowners, eager to expand and secure their spheres of influence. Borders between the territories were fluid, expanding and contracting as power waxed and waned. Landowners joined forces with like-minded lords: eventually, these alliances evolved into the clans that exist today.. More militant leaders believed in the territory expansion through war and conquest, and rallied under the Buke Clan banner. Others, seeking to increase their domain through trade, marriage and other means, evolved into the Kuge Clan. And so on.
This brief history of Hymukai recounts the major events that created the current arrangement of the provinces. It starts when the first empress appeared and unified the kingdom and finishes in the present, when the emperor Sujin has disappeared, bloody fights have erupted between clans to grasp power, incursions by Wako are on the rise, and the explorers, traders – and warriors – of Namban have reached Hymukai’s shores.
The map of Hymukai
Hymukai consists of several smaller islands clustered around a large
central peninsula which is connected to an unexplored continent. The
whole archipelago – including the central peninsula, which the
inhabitants of Hymukai consider to be an island – is known as The Dragon
Each of the islands is divided into Kuni – or provinces. There are 42 Kuni in all, each ruled by a governor known as a Shugo.
Within each Kuni, the families of different clans live and prosper together. However, war between the Clans is on the rise, putting great strain on these attempts at peaceful coexistence, and making the Shugo’s role as peacekeeper more and more difficult.
The Map of Hymukai page includes descriptions of each of the Kuni as they exist in Hymukai today, as well as descriptions of major events that have shaped their history.
During the first years of the reign of the empress Suiko Tenno (“The Envoy of the Gods”), the Kaido was written by her chief counselors. Protected in the security of the Imperial Library, the Kaido describes the names and origins of the eight islands and 42 Kuni that form Hymukai. It also details the social administration and the relationship between the imperial family and its vassals. The social structure encoded in the Kaido has been modified through the ages, but the border division has remains intact for the last 500 years.
The first of these provinces is Majime, the region where the Imperial City was founded. From here, the empress and her followers launched the campaign that resulted in the creation of the Kingdom of Hymukai.
The Kaido represented a revolutionary advance for Hymukai society. It is the first known cartographic registry of the island – a remarkable feat in itself, as it established the Kuni, defined their borders, identified settlements, and mapped all major roads. Equally important, the Kaido created the Imperial Army – a huge military force under the command of the most powerful landowner in each region who swore loyalty to the empress. The Imperial Army imposed the new order on the Dragon Islands.
But loyalty was not always given willingly to the empress. For hundreds of years, landowners on the islands did not answer to any higher authority. When messengers from the Imperial Court arrived to announce the creation of a new world order under the rule of the empress, they were not always received enthusiastically. Often, only the messenger’s head returned to the Imperial City – a clear challenge to the court. Far from the Majime borders, rumors about the empress’ “divinity” sounded like mere propaganda.
However, many warlords did respond to the call from the empress to join the Imperial Army. These were mainly samurai from the Buke and Kuge clans, who decided it was better to be part of the empire than fight against it – or, worse, have one’s enemies gain the backing of the empress. Their troops rallied to the Lotus Blossom Banner, and marched together to suffocate any rebellions.
What would be known as Kyotei Gassen, or The Unification Wars, had begun.
Kyotei Gassen – The Unification Wars
Everyone in the Imperial court presumed that The Unification Wars would be a short campaign – that the lords of the islands would willingly surrender to the imperial power and the social progress that the Kaido represented. In this, they were sorely mistaken. The reality was very different – and the campaign spiralled into a war that would consume Humukai for an entire generation.
Year after year, as snow melted and spring blossoms appeared, the warlords fighting under the Lotus Blossom would reunite to continue to carry out the will of Empress. The fight against the insurgents was brutal. As the campaign wore on, it even affected the relationship between commanders on the same side. Tempers flared, slights that may have been ignored in the past became matters of honour, and the mighty Buke and Kluge clans disagreed on the best way to achieve the Empress’ vision. The Buke Taisho demanded a total war – sustained until every last village accepted the will of the Empress. That did not sit well with the Kuge commanders. They were much more focused on the foundation of a new kingdom, and advocated for a more conservative approach based on long sieges, which would not deliver immediate results but would be less expensive.
Forty years of bitter conflict ensued – and even so, the terrain conquered after every campaign was almost negligible. The Empress, who was just 25 when the war started, spent all her life under the shadow of menace. Even so, during that time Suiko established the imperial lineage when she gave birth to Shia Taniko, her heiress to the Dragon Throne. Other brothers and sisters were born and each of them took a path that put them in history, but Shia was always the most gifted.
By the time the heiress was 12, the armies of the Lotus Blossom Banner had pacified the occidental half of Komorebi island. But the campaign seemed stuck in a deadlock. To break the stalemate, Buke generals planned a late campaign that would run many moons into the autumn. But the Kuge Taisho refused to endanger the capital: The court had become their home by this time and despite being accused of cowardice, they refused to leave it undefended in order to carry out such a risky mission.
The Buke Taisho would not be swayed by the Kuge. Taking advantage of an unusually warm autumn, he marched to war. History notes that the Buke took many rebel fortress during the first days, but then the cold made a cruel appearance.. The Buke army was caught by surprise. Their troops did not have proper winter clothing. Food reserves were insufficient. And they were surrounded by enemies in a strange land. The Buke generals sought protection in the strongholds they had just conquered, but after their own pillaging these were in no condition to provide shelter and rice to so many soldiers.
The Buke took a desperate decision to attempt to march to their castles in the imperial province. Hundreds of samurai, ashigaru and horses died every day due to starvation and cold. The enemy, better prepared, gathered an army to hunt the Buke. It was a relentless persecution. Dozens of skirmishes took their toll until the Buke – decimated and exhausted, decided to stand and fight a final battle near the Majime border, on the banks of the Gaku River.
The snow was tinted red with Buke blood. Weary from the frozen march and weak from hunger, many Buke warriors could barely hold their weapons, and suffered as rebel cavalry charged their positions again and again. No army came to the rescue.
At noon, during a break in the battle, two mounted figures appeared, clad in white with faces covered, and escorted by about twenty Great Kuge Guard soldiers. The newcomers calmly approached the rebel army, seemingly unconcerned by the threat posed by archers, then stopped and revealed their faces. The empress and her heiress had arrived on the field! Anticipating a decisive victory, the rebel Taisho charged the newcomers.
Shia Taniko rolled up her kimono sleeves. Suddenly, a supernatural light glowed from her hands. The rebel Taisho stopped short, surprised by the weird phenomenon. The future empress plunged her naked arms into the snow and when she pulled them out a few seconds later, she held a living plant – its beautiful flowers searching for the sun. Shia offered the plant to the rebels, who burst into tears upon witnessing this miracle, and who knelt in the presence of Shia Taniko – surely, a divine being.
There were no words exchanged during the encounter, but the war ended at that very moment.
Word travelled fast of the miracle performed by Shia Taniko, the future empress – and the result was another miracle: after decades of conflict, the long-sought-after unification was achieved in a matter of months. With few exceptions, the nobility throughout the islands pledged their fealty and service to the empress, her family, and her heirs. The kingdom of Hymukai was born.
The Imperial Family may have secured the loyalty of the clans – but after almost a half-century of conflict, the relationship between the clans and their main families would not recover so quickly.
The Kuge and Buke made crystal clear their differences during the war. After the Battle of the Gaku River, the clans accused each other of being, at turns, crazy or cowards. Any new peace between the clans would be very complicated.
Meantime, many of the former rebel landowners lost their status and most of their holdings. As a result, they were disowned by the Bushido. This displaced leaders sought a new home, free of the impositions of the new Samurai class. They found that in a new, rising clan: The Otokodate. Their hatred of both Buke and Kuge continues to this day, although the Otokodate families have recovered some of their influence and power thanks to their control over commerce in Hymukai.
Another consequence of the Unification Wars was the rise of the Sohei clan. When the Empress came to power and launched her attempt to unify Humukai, the Sohei were little more than small cults scattered throughout the islands. They did not take sides in the war, instead offering refugee in their shrines for many peasants displaced by the conflict. As a result, their population grew – forming the basis for the Sohei Clan. After the miracle of Shia Taniko brought the war to an end, the Sohei’s influence grew – as did the suspicion of other clans towards them.
The end of the Unification Wars meant that the Kaido could finally be enforced and it was used to create the current map of Hymukai. However, the shadow of the war remained deep inside in the heart of the kingdom.
Kuni of Hymukai
The division of the islands into provinces – Kuni – did not greatly affect the common people. Lines on a map did not make much difference in the day-to-day lives of peasants, farmers, artisans and the working classes.. When they returned from fighting in the Unification Wars, they put down their weapons, picked up their tools, and went back to work – just as they had before. If there was a different lord in charge, that rarely made a difference.
The same could not be said for the noble families of Hymukai. For them, redrawn boundaries resulted in major changes in their lives.
Each kuni is formed by many shi (cities), mura (villages) and sho (towns). Each of these communities is governed by a family, and each family belongs to a clan. But the provinces are not organized along clan lines: for example, a city governed by a Kuge family can be bounded by a Buke, Otokodate or Sohei region. This is a constant source of conflict inside and outside the Kuni. It also means that most governing families have built strongholds to secure their territories. They may vary greatly in size and military capabilities, but they are all the last refuge of the ruling class.
Jingu-ji (Sohei temples) have a special status within this political organization. The Kaido forbids feudal lords from annexing Sohei domains. They are considered sacred places in the care of (and administered by) the local Sohei cult.
But the Kaido did not foresee the unification of the different Sohei cults into a single clan – one with powers that rival those of the great families.
Sohei clan monks have exploited their special status to settle in many provinces – a move that, under the terms of the Kaido, the local lords are powerless to prevent. After decades of conflict, many lords consider this privileged status to be an insult to their clan honour, and it takes little for a clan to justify taking their grievance to the Sohei: Whether it’s a small skirmish or a major campaign, conflicts are almost constant between the warrior monks and the armies of other clans.
Shugo no kuni
The leader of each family that distinguished itself during the Kyotei Gassen was rewarded with the title of Shugo, and became the governor of one of the newly created Kuni. It’s an important title in the political structure of Humukai – one that guarantees (at least officially) the favor and support of the Imperial Court over other local, rival families. In exchange, the Shugo had the duty to govern, collect taxes and keep the peace in their Kuni.
The title of Shugo is inherited: Only the Imperial Court can name a new Shugo or dismiss the current governor in favor of one from another family. The Shugo usually is member of a Buke or Kuge family, since these clans tend to dominate in the Imperial Council. The title of Shugo is only rarely offered to an Otokodate family, and only as a reward forloyal and profitable services. A Sohei clan monk cannot be a Shugo. But the reality is that Sohei cults often rule the region surrounding their temple, even over the command of the local Shugo.
Ruling as Shugo is not easy, but it’s a highly desired title. As such, rival Samurai families frequently try to destabilize their region, in an attempt to portray the local Shugo as incompetent in the eyes of the Imperial Family. It is common that the Shugo is not the most powerful lord of the Kuni, but the one who is most the wisest at diplomacy, espionage and political intrigue – all tools that may be able to quell any rebellion without resorting to violence.
The Age of the Daimyo
The imperial court needed a vast network of retainers to maintain economic and social stability in the country. These retainers came from the ranks of loyal Samurai, who were appointed as the Shugo in each province. The Shugo, in turn, created their own network of retainers within each Kuni.
This system brought a period of calm to Hymukai. Although conflicts between local lords were frequent, there were no big battles or civil wars. In these smaller conflicts, lords frequently asked for help – either from their retainers within the province, or from their allies in adjacent regions. Often, this assistance was secured through the promise of land grants and fortifications.
During this period, family clans were able to focus on working their lands, forging diplomatic relationships, establishing and securing commercial trade routes, and improving their economy and military. Year after year these lords grew stronger, and this would usher in the Age of the Daimyo. The Shugo, acting as feudal lords in their provinces, became even more powerful than the mighty imperial family.
The Future Fuhai Wars would definitely made Daimyo lords of Hymukai.
Fuhai Gassen – The Corruption Wars
The stability was broken 140 years after the arrival of the Suiko empress.
History tells how the empress Ningu became seriously ill when she was pregnant with her heiress. The best healers and scholars in the land were summoned. At Temples across the Dragon Islands, spiritual leaders conducted prayers for the regent. But the illness progressed, and the cure eluded everyone. The imperial lineage – and the kingdom itself – were in danger.
The mystic shell which protected Hymukai weakened as Ningu’s illness became more severe. And then, a group of monks arrived at the court, seeking audience with the regent and claiming that they could relieve her pain. The desperate councilmen of the court invited them into her room to perform their ritual.
What the council did not know was that the monks were actually Death Onmyouji in disguise – and that they were the ones responsible for the illness. Ningu herself, lying in bed and fighting a high fever, was the only one who felt the dark energy that surrounded the monks and threatened her. Those present witnessed a brilliant white light that radiated from the empress’s body and struck the sorcerers. Their magic costumes vanished into tendrils of black smoke and their true faces were revealed: Some appeared older than time itself. Others were eyeless. And still others were draped with putrid flesh.
Quickly, the guards in the room charged the Death Onmyouji. But the sorcerers, realizing they had been discovered, transformed themselves into various insect shapes and crawled or flew through even the tiniest cracks in the walls and escaped.
The empress lapsed into a coma afterwards, and Hymukai’s shields were weaker than ever.
Some months after this incident, several letters arrived with bad news from Otsu, Koujou and Hataraku: These were the kingdom’s main rice production provinces, and the letters reported that the year’s harvest had been poisoned. Nothing could be saved, and it was clear the coming year would be one of famine.
A second wave of emissaries arrived at a gallop some weeks later, carrying even more terrifying news. At the cemeteries, at the old battlefields, at rivers and forests across the land, spectral figures was appearing. These apparitions withered crops, poisoned waters, slaughtered animals, and killed any poor soul that crossed their path.
There was no doubt the Onmyouji had a new plan. Taking advantage of the severe illness of the empress, they had conducted a weird ritual to bring the dead back from hell to destroy anything that lived.
The imperial army was quickly formed under a new alliance between the Buke, Kuge and Otokodate families with orders to engage the invaders from hell. The army marched south from Majime, encountering thousands of refugees fleeing north. When the vanguard of the army arrived at Otsu Kuni, they were greeted by an uninhabited and colorless landscape and a silence which would freeze the blood of the bravest warriors.
There was no opportunity for an open war. The dead walkers and spectres attacked, unexpectedly, in small groups – guided by an invisible force. The living defended themselves as well as they could from such a mysterious enemy. Many in the army witnessed the most frightening aspect of all: watching their brothers in arms die, only to rise ater with their destroyed bodies and empty looking eyes to attack the living.
The Fuhai Gassen or Corruption War, as it would be known later, could not be won. The more the imperial army advanced, the more casualties joined the ranks of the dead army – an army that fought relentlessly and never withdrew. It was a one-sided war of attrition, and only a matter of time before the morale of the living army would be completely broken.
Some weeks passed. In Otsu, Koujou and Hataraku, the combined army defended the empire to the best of its ability. But elsewhere, the people of Hymukai received no news of this war – and the went about their lives with no worries about the future of the Dragon Islands.
The rise of the light
The empress Ningu was eight months into her pregnancy when suddenly, she opened her eyes. Clearly in pain and showing symptoms of delirium, she called out for four holy men – advisors of royal blood who were her close confidants. She ordered them to prepare an entourage for a trip to Lake Fukkatsu, located in the mountains northeast of the imperial city. Meanwhile, despite her frail appearance, the empress collected together herbs, old scripts and relics with the obvious intention of performing a ritual.
The entourage set out almost immediately. The group included the four holy men, who carried between them a large trunk carved with mysterious images and symbols. The group traveled as swiftly as possible and arrived at the lake in less than two days. But even so, it was obvious that the empress’ illness was getting worse. At the final pass through the mountains before reaching the lake, the empress ordered the entourage to wait. Only the four holy men and their weird trunk would accompany her to the lake.
Hours later, the holy men returned, still carrying their strange trunk, but now also bearing a newborn girld – the future empress of Hymukai. The empress did not return, and the holy men never spoke about what happened at the lake.
The entourage’s return journey was slower, and it took a whole week to reach the Imperial City. When they reached the walls of the city, they encountered a group of Imperial Army messengers who had also just arrived. From them, the entourage learned that a week ago, during a great battle, the undead army miraculously turned into dust and spectres dissolved after being hit by mortal weapons. From that day on, no creature was spotted and so the Imperial Army took the road to the capital.
The new empress was named Matsu Kosen, and her arrival renewed the magic defenses of Hymukai and the faith in the imperial lineage. Details of what happened during her birth were tightly guarded, as were the scripts and relics which had been transported to the lake in the weird trunk. What is known is that the Onmyouji’s malignant spell was broken and the Corruption War – the first encounter between creatures of the Jigoku and the living – was won.
Gohan Gassen – The Rice Wars
The Fuhai War did not end as wars typically do. There were no traditional spoils of war, such as new land, resources or wealth. Far from it: the spoils of war were, after Fuhai Gassen, spoiled crops. The most important agricultural areas of the Dragon Islands were devastated. Hunger and disease grew to epidemic proportions and a terrible famine – known as the Kanki Famine – gripped the land and claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
There was not doubt that the birth of the empress Matsu Kosen had saved the kingdom from complete disaster and that the destiny of Hymukai was linked to the Imperial Family. Even so, the empress was but a few months old and was obviously not able to govern. Therefore, members of the court formed a regency to govern in her name until she was old enough to assume the throne.
The famine affected even the most powerful families. But those on the council of the regency were generally considered to be weak, ineffective rulers – ones that would provide little opposition to families seeking to add territory to their holdings, and provide food for their retainer and peasants. Once again, war broke out across Hymukai, pitting shugo against shugo, and samurai against samurai.
These wars became known as “Gohan Sengo” or “The Rice Wars”. The conflicts raged for five years.
Minor samurai, Sohei cults and Otokodate clans joined forces with the warring families, picking sides in an attempt to secure some part of the annual harvest for themselves. Great battles were fought in this period while the council of regents looked on, unable to gather the Imperial Army to enforce peace.
As the war progressed, some samurai proved to be brilliant commanders. They acquired retainers and built bigger armies – enabling them to acquire more land. These samurai became known as the Daimyo, and their military forces could face any other army.
The mightiest lord was Yorimoto Ono, shugo of the Setsunai Kuni who had been involved in the Fuhai Gassen. His appetite for power went further than mere survival. He demanded the Imperial City be relocated from Majime Kuni to his province, where the empress Matsu Kosen, as well as the whole Imperial Family, would grow under his protection and he would govern as prime conseller of the empress.
The court strongly rejected this. Outraged by the offence, Yorimoto raised a huge army of 50,000 men and a fleet comprised of hundreds of ships. His intention was take the imperial city by a sea attack, evading ground combat by avoiding the roads leading to the imperial city. The ships would follow the south coast up to the Kaidan Pass and pass through the sea off the north coast of Ikigai Island to land directly on the Imperial City.
But the gods still protected the empress. As Yorimoto’s fleet sailed between Ido and Waserumono, a great typhoon blew in. Such storms were rare at this time of year, and the fleet – completely unprepared – was all but destroyed. The typhoon prevented of a great battle which, no doubt, would have changed Hymukai forever.
Few survived, but Yorimoto Ono was one of them. Bereft of power, he and his remaining men retreated on foot towards their Kuni. It is known that somewhere between Kusai and Kane, some bandits assaulted the small group of men, stole everything they had, and killed them. One of the most powerful lords in the history of Hymukai passed from this world without ceremony, and without a grave to mark his remains.
The news of the dishonourable death of Yorimoto shocked the society of Hymukai. The message was clear: the gods protected the imperial lineage, and anyone who tried to rise against them would meet the fate of the traitor Yorimoto. Over the next few weeks, every conflict ceased. The daimyo and their retainers, exhausted, lay down their arms and open war ended.
Hymukai suffered a great deal of damage during this civil war. The Kaido rules remained in force, as did court titles and the division of the land into Kuni, but the daimyo gained great power in their territories. There was peace, but it was a fragile one. The imperial court realized that it would have to strengthen its diplomatic links with the families and the daimyo if it were to maintain its influence over the Dragon Islands.
The Gates of Hymukai
After the Fuhai Gassen and Gohan Gassen, the court decided to improve the defenses of Hymukai. The court bequeathed to each great clan one parcel of land strategic to the defense of of the Dragon Islands. This act also conferred on each clan a great deal of power, even as it gave them added incentive to defend the imperial peace: any clan that attempted to take control from the court would find itself immediately attacked by the other clans, eager to maintain the balance of power.
The Kuge clan would retain the Imperial City: after decades of dwelling in the court, they were the samurai closest to the imperial family and the subtle art of politics. They built a great palace-fortress where many of the secrets of Hymukai are kept safe.
Losing the main agricultural lands in the Corruption Wars made it was necessary to find new places to grow the food needed to feed the citizens of Hymukai. The provinces of Ido, Masasame, Kusai and Hanasu were chosen for this important task, and the Buke clan named as their protector.
Two big fortresses were built at south of Komorebi. One of them was located in the South of Setsunai province, from which armies could keep an eye on the corrupted provinces of Koujou, Otsu and Hataraku. The other one is the Kaidan fortress in Îdo, from which forces can defend the new harvest areas and the strategically valuable pass of Kaidan, leading to the Gulf of Hymukai.
The Sohei were charged with defending the frozen provinces of Kogarashi and Ude, as most of their temples and territories were located in the north. Yasaka Temple, the Sohei temple lead by Ema Miyotsio, the Great Master of the Eien no Meishu cult, was built in Ude during this period and was meant to be a place of reunion for all monk cults.
The whole maritime area in the southeast – including the islands of Benkyou, Semishigure and Shonagai – would be under control of the Otokodate clan. This clan had funded Kinko, a great city surrounding the commercial port in the Atsui kuni. With this edict the whole area was fortified and received the status of maritime stronghold.
This division does not mean that the families of each clan live where their main fortresses are located: There are families of each clan throughout the provinces of Hymukai.
These events related in this history happened many years ago, and – taken together – shaped the society of Hymukai that we know today. Politics and conflict are woven throughout the history of the Dragon Islands, and will continue to shape its story in the decades to come. But for now, our story ends here.