|Races||Sihai, assorted micro-minorities|
|Cultures||Sihai Cultures, assorted micro-minorities|
|Flora and Fauna|
Zhong is the second homeland to the Sihai Race but is considered the prime homeland for its ongoing existence in the face of the implacable silence of the even more distant Sheng. All the Sihai from Zhong came from Sheng to begin with, but changed with time into a quartet of nations only recently made a quintet by the formation of Dexai. Many wars were fought between these nations, and it ultimately took the rise of the Akula and dormancy of their gods to pull them together into a unified whole. Closed off to many outsiders, few Ailor, let alone Alorians from the wider world, have traveled beyond the western island of Dexai into Zhong, resulting in many incredible tales, depictions, and descriptions for the world to marvel over.
The history of Zhong is shrouded and sometimes hard to comprehend. Separate from Sheng, yet known of and infrequently visited over the passage of centuries, many Sihai initially assumed Zhong to be no more than a handful of islands. After the rise of the Sheng Empire, however, these lands proved far larger than had once been imagined. What ultimately spurred full colonization efforts by the Sheng Empire was the arrival of outsiders, especially the Altalar. Records of Sheng interactions with the Meraic suggest a limited or more acceptable exchange between the two Races, but it was with the fall of the Meraic and the rise of the Allorn Empire with their extreme dive into the depths of Magic that the Sihai saw the need for a greater buffer against these outside parties. The Sheng Empire began to actively encourage the settlement of what would become Zhong. Their early efforts were centralized on the establishment of military forts to halt and engage foreign ships, having them trade or do their political business from the fort itself. Later, these forts became small towns, then major ports, as more settlements carpeted the landscape from the eastern reaches of Zhong to the western island of what is now called Dexai. During this early period, there was relative peace between the different settlements, with initial conflicts being of a local, civic nature over farmland borders or simple mercantile disputes.
But around 1200 BC, conflicts began in earnest between The Zhong Kingdoms. All had declared autonomy, but loyalty to Sheng, and it seemed that tension in the air finally broke when forces from both the nation of Heiyan and Jin-Lung got into a scuffle that turned into a three-year-long conflict. The First War, as it is known, was not the last, and over the following millennia, well over a hundred different conflicts took place between the four nations of Zhong. The Summer War, the War of the Three Brothers, the War of the Ten Sisters, the Qilin Horn Incident, the Night Marches of 981, the Night Marches of 796, and many more stand out as various alliances, treaties, and pacts were made, broken, repaired, and then discarded. Natural disasters also punctuated these wars, like the Drowning Deluge and the Rise of the Earth, but it was in 210 BC that matters on Zhong reached ahead. Known as the Era of Falsehood, succession crises in the southern kingdom of Huo-Chang and the western kingdom of Jin-Lung saw the other two kingdoms get involved in supporting their favored candidates. The fighting lasted nearly a century before, in a rare move of Imperial power, the Black Legion of the Sheng Emperor and the Crown Prince sailed to Zhong to restore order. He did so with brutal efficiency and established mechanisms that a century later when he was the Emperor, would be used by the four nations when the Cataclysm came to pass to promote peace.
As any in Aloria could tell you, the Cataclysm was a world-altering event, but while Aloria properly trembled and suffered chaos on a titanic scale, the damage in Zhong was minor. A few earthquakes and some animal disturbances were the most that happened, but suddenly, pure chaos broke out. In a matter of hours, the Loong Dragons had risen the Jade Wall to protect the Sihai from masses of Void Essence which had been unknowingly redirected to cause chaos in The Far East. Upwards of a million Sihai died in this span of hours, but in the end, all four nations came together, joined by their little brother, Dexai, newly formed as the sole gateway to the west. All nations fought as one for the first time and have continued to do so to this day, even with the Sheng’s legendary Black Legion no longer at the Wall. Every five years or so, Zhong is threatened by these Void beasts, the Akula, but every year they are defeated, with a major expedition from Emperor Cedromar I in 305 AC helping to repel one such assault. Ties from Zhong to the rest of Alora remain tenuous, though, and some Sihai have grown concerned at the state of world affairs with more and more Dragon activity beyond their shores, while their own guardians continue to slumber and their foe remains to appear limitless.
Zhong is a large continent and series of islands located far to the east of the Regalian Archipelago, located northeast of Farah’deen and sitting across the Seas to Sihai-Loong from all areas of Aloria. Indeed, some proclaim that Zhong rests within an entirely different sphere of influence and geography to Aloria, to the point of needing a new overarching identifier. However, the few proponents of this idea exist cannot agree on a singular name, and so Zhong, alongside the even further eastern continent of Sheng, is labeled as part of The Far East. Beginning in the north of Zhong, smooth terrain is almost unheard of as the land is instead marked by numerous mountain chains, rocky hills, and further environments born of the constantly falling snow. The region is comparable to Ellador for these reasons but does not suffer the unnatural colds of Ellador, instead undergoing a more visible seasonal cycle than the mild thawing and then freezing of Ellador’s waters which often accompanies what passes for spring to winter in that region. Despite this, the landmass is still harsh but has beauty and other traits enjoyed by the local populace. One of these special features is the hot springs, seemingly caused by long-dormant volcanic activity, which grants the Sihai residents of the land reprieve and relaxation, alongside a handful of fairly intelligent fauna which also uses these springs.
Below the north of Zhong sits the vast expanse of land which makes up the middle and west of the continent. The two regions transition into each other over a dozen or so lakes of varying sizes, known as the Wells for their depth and how heavily surrounding populations rely on them. Due south of the Wells, a series of shorter mountains guard the passages into the middle and the west of Zhong. A vast forest of bamboo and boreal trees called the Nish Groves gradually meets the central steppes and plains of the central east, followed by other sparse forests and particularly to the center-east, fens. The last notable feature is Zhong’s trio of deserts, broken up by sparse woodlands and rocky hills. Called the Three Brothers, the northernmost desert is home to the most inhabitants, who mine the regional canyons and gullies for the sandstone and other materials found abundant in the area. The western desert is called the Harsh Entry because it sits so close to Dexai, and is known for having the harshest terrain with cracked earth and hostile animals well adapted to the climate. The last desert, also called the Blood Sands, features large patches of red or orange-tinted sand, said to be the blood of the thousands who have died in the wars between the western kingdom and those to the south. It is also notable for serving as part of the border with the south itself, gradually transitioning into the rocky, volcanic territory the south is known for.
The south is one of the more hostile environments in Zhong, home to still active volcanoes, with many others in the gradual process of cooling. However, that has not stopped Sihai from settling in the region, spreading out across its jagged hills and at the base of the rising peaks to mine all manner of rare materials and many metals. The region is also home to a number of small islands, many of which are settled by small communities that engage in mining as well. The east, meanwhile, is verdant and thick with greenery, rivers, and swamps, to the point of humidity with small patches of jungles also dotting the region. The vast majority of the region is turned over to the production of Rice, but many other plants also flourish in the arable earth and heated climate. Several islands also sit off the coastline of this area and are proud producers of fruit and exotic spices. Lastly, there is the island known as Dexai, located on the western edge of Zhong and serving as the only area many outside of the nation will ever know. Large, and slightly curving back toward the lands of Zhong’s center, Dexai is more temperate and was known to be the largest of several other local islands. However, Dexai is now dominated by a far more recent structure than Zhong, the Jade Wall.
The Jade Wall is massive, formed of huge prisms, hunks, and spires of Zhongan Jade, and grows from the very depths of the seafloor, fully blocking the dark forces which seek to push beyond it. When the Wall arose, it swallowed up the other coastal islands off the west of Zhong, leaving Dexai alone, which now also represents the “gate” of the Wall. As a result of this, huge defensive fortifications rest on either side of the comparatively small chink in the vastness that is the Wall. This site is the main target of any Akula attack since, in their single-minded obsession, the Void sees the island as the perfect entry point, and it would take perhaps weeks of effort to break or properly mount over the Jade Wall in other areas. The area around the Wall and the Bay of Welcoming which is home to dozens of foreign ships that sail to trade with Dexai is known to some as the Jade Plains, because alongside the Wall huge plates of Jade rest blocking the ocean surf, with cracks and holes showing wear and damage from Akula attacks of the past while slowly healing itself as the Jade Wall does. Narrow paths, in and out of the Bay of Welcoming, criss-cross through these plates like the path of a river, and eventually, the Plains come to an end.
Zhong is a dense land with its nature undergoing many phases of growth, decay, and destruction over the course of centuries of conflict and ecological events which affected certain regions. Bamboo forests are common in the forests of eastern and central Zhong, while the dual-purpose Teudou plant is also found in such areas. The Sihai also appreciate many species of flower which flourish in terrains across their homeland, used to craft gorgeous arrangements. There are also a range of plants that have been extensively tamed by the local Sihai or were always part of their urban or rural society. The crowning glory of this is the Loongliu, a short species of willow much revered whose wood glows in the moonlight. Alongside it is the humble Rice plant, grown in large paddies and originally native to The Far East before being altered and transplanted to wider Aloria by the Altalar. Another crop that has made the journey increasingly more is Kian, better known to the rest of the world as ginger, which finds itself used in teas, cuisine, and medicine of the Sihai people at home and abroad.
Zhong has many unique animals, some strange and alien to the outside world while others are far more recognizable. Species of Wasp, Hare, Duck and more exist here, unique in all of Aloria for their features, alongside fauna native to The Far East alone. The fearsome-looking Khunma is a difficult mount to tame, yet has been ridden for years while the Baente is a huge species of local crane which is also ridden, but exclusively by the elite. However, the crowning feature of Sihai animal mounts is the Anui Lion, with a rich black fur and long-standing role within Sheng society, and now Zhong as well. The untamable yet usually amenable Poukuan is believed to be a cousin to the Anui Lion and exists across the landmass alongside the Ksai Fish, the every-flying messaging birds called the Saidiau while rotund Seiniu plow through fields and rivers alike providing their meat and milk as needed. Other more exotic animals include the Jong-li Nightingale, its call having many meanings across Zhong, and the Qilin, the basis for one of the several Stances of the Sihai Race and much revered for its ties to fate. However, perhaps the most well-known Zhong animal is the Yuen Doge, a cuddly canine that has a renowned footprint in centuries of history.
All nations on Zhong swore fealty to the Sheng Empire for centuries, and even when they quarreled with each other, always obeyed the demands of the Sheng leadership. All that was demanded from these nations was a tribute and emergency requisitions in hard times, which Zhong always provided for Sheng, in return for this autonomy. However, the rising of the Jade Wall put an end to the squabbling of The Zhong Kingdoms, and they united under a central council to work with the Sheng Empire on common defense. For 100 years, this held, but the Sheng suddenly recalled their legions back to the homeland, and none have heard from the Sheng since. Whispers speak of some great disaster, and while tribute boats are still sent, they sometimes drift back, still full and untouched. Regardless of this, all nations in Zhong continue to profess loyalty to the nation that spawned them and must be considered part of the Sheng Empire even if it no longer exercises itself over these subjects.
- For more information about The Zhong Kingdoms, click HERE.
City of Dexai
- Click HERE for more information on the City of Dexai
The Orange River is sometimes called the Lifeblood of the East, which is partly true. However, of broader Zhong, it makes up only one of three major river systems which cross the continent from different mountain sources. The Orange River is found specifically in the east of Zhong and is indeed the lifeblood of the region as the central channel and its three dozen tributaries account for nearly two-thirds of the region’s fresh water. The Orange River earned its name because of the local Zisha deposits alongside clay beds that color the river orange in various parts, and on the rare occasions the body of water floods, it leaves behind an orange residue. Original settlement of the river dates back to 1150 BC when Sihai settlers came to its banks and found the calm waters to their liking, allowing for the healthy growth of many crops. However, it is said that suddenly, the winds picked up, and the waters churned and violently flooded over the first settlements. They sought to rebuild, but two more floods pushed them together into one ruinous town, fearing for the future of their life in the new land. It is claimed one known as Ye the Yearling for his young age and boundless energy was able to call upon Nishiliu, the Pathfinder, who as the wind howled, and the waters threatened to raise for the fourth time, coiled his form around the entire river and squeezed the rampant energy from it. At last, hugged into submission, the Orange River settled into its lazy pace which has continued into today. Ye, for his part, would ultimately live some 200 more years before dying, having helped establish the Kingdom of Jin-Lung though he never sought its throne, preferring the role of adviser. The Orange River does flood today, but never as suddenly and harshly as the myths of old claim it once did. Trade in the form of grand river barges, power in the form of mills, and nourishment in the form of the water lifted from its channels or used to grow many regional crops have ultimately made the Orange River a notable body of water in Zhong’s history.
Temple of White Light
The Temple of White Light is widely considered the largest, oldest, and most prestigious of all the Loong temples in Zhong. Its founding myth claims a woman of Sheng, bereft of sons and without relatives, was called across the waters to Zhong, being carried on a Beiunro, a living cloud creature. Upon arrival in the land, she was carried up to a humble peak where upon stepping off the etheric creature, it faded into dawn dew just as a star soared overhead, showering the mountain spring behind her in flecks of starlight. This woman, now called Mother Bei, took to tending the stream and crafting or expanding philosophies associated with Sihai society, as well as Loog Virtue. From her came a prospering community, the mountain spring eventually being covered by a temple and existing as it does today, home to the slumbering form of Saaima, the Mother. The Temple of White Light sits on a smaller peak close to the northeastern coastline of Zhong, part of a similarly low-lying spur called the White Peaks. The region is and has always been guarded by many River Guards, while peasants work the lower slopes in terraced Rice paddies which have stood intact for generations, even through many wars. Then there come the Thousand Steps, a comparatively short trek up the mountain’s western slope, lined with statues depicting many of the past kings of Zhong who visited and offered veneration at the Temple before finally, one reaches the temple grounds after passing a statue of the Black Prince who ended the Era of Falsehood and was known to visit the Temple. The complex is surrounded by a two-layer wall, with a pair of heavy gates capable of closing in the face of marauders or other threats. Only lightly dusted by snow, even in the grip of winter, the site has a series of small courtyards that ascend in a swirl pattern up to the grand doors into the temple. However, visitors are only allowed access to the first two, where priests and priestesses sit and offer religious guidance to visitors, and discourse with each other and those who wish to engage with them. The last courtyard, before the front gates, is reserved for the Temple Overminder and their chosen disciples. The temple itself is ornate and tall, with grand tiling on the sloped roofs, beautiful floral carvings on the stonework at the base, and intricate woodwork on the high points. The base is also ringed by strange statues, said to be the oldest remnant of the original site. The grand door in and out of the Temple itself is firmly locked from the outside, though it is also said the Loong have the power to lock the door from the inside to prevent disturbances to their slumber. While none have gone into the central chamber in decades, it is said that within, illuminated by reflected beams of light from outside, sits the original mountain spring and Saaima sleeping.
City of Submerged Secrets
Also called the City of Sands or the City of Sand-Mist, the City of Submerged Secrets is a settlement of unknown origin lying within the boundaries of the western desert of Zhong, known as the Harsh Entry. An ancient ruin, likely dating back to either the dawn of large-scale Sihai settlement of the continent or even older, it sits in a depressed plain near a ridge of rugged hills. The threats of the site are many, with a spread of tar pits surrounding the site while closer and within the ruin itself, are pools of quicksand which are often hard to distinguish from the surrounding terrain due to a constant mist which only gets worse at night. It can get so thick that some have been known to accidentally wander into the City, unaware of what lies ahead and suddenly almost run into a ruined wall. The site as a whole is large, but not as vast as it once was, with reports indicating the ruin has gradually sunken into the surrounding earth in an ongoing process. The structures are all made of pale bleached stone, their finery stripped away by untold centuries, with many carvings suffering a similar fate. Smoothed-down statues of great animals sit across the City and at its heart is the Great Palace, one of the few multi-story structures to retain its roof. It is said that its passages and steps lead the way to the tomb of those who once ruled the settlement. The City’s reputation as a place of fear and horrors came from its location and ominous nature, but also from the Zisha Guardians. Men and women in the vestment of warriors formed of Zisha Clay, as cleanly cut and undamaged as the day they were assembled, stand about the ruin like silent guards. Their uncanny ability to appear suddenly from the mist, and seemingly change position when not looked at has also inspired many a horror and ghost story in Sihai society. The City of Submerged Secrets is also home to a small pack of Poukuan, with a strange gray and black tint to their fur as well as large sizes for all members of the group. They are said to guard the Great Palace, especially the chambers beneath it.
Academy of Yeyang Tahui He
The Academy of Yeyang Tahui He, sometimes known in Common as the Academy of Tahui, is a prestigious institute in the kingdom of Huo-Chang to the south with education options for attendees in a range of weaponry developed by the Sihai. All of this is in the name of Yeyang Tahui He, one of the most notable Sihai heroes of the Era of Falsehood. While his origins are shrouded in mystery, Yeyang Tahui He was unique for being of the Red Panda Stance rather than a traditional Wolf Stance warrior. Most common legends say that being forced to defend his family on his small farm, he lost them all, and the warrior he fought beside was mortally wounded. He then picked up the Wolf’s weapons and armor and rode off to avenge his family. He became equal to a knight errant in the Regalian context, and while he did hunt down the bandits who slew his loved ones, he continued his quest for justice. He died sometime around 110 BC, but with him was a host of followers who all collectively buried the man they had all grown to respect, with his students establishing the Academy around this site. The Academy still stands today, just within the territory of the southern kingdom at the foot of the now-inactive Mt. Zikai, and has endured for several centuries. Its central structure is the burial mound, where He is buried, while around him in other graves are other notable warriors who died during the Era of Falsehood defending the site. The rest of the school is laid out in a circle around the mound, and students are gradually rotated through all five education settlements during their time there. The mountain’s foot is also littered with running trails and other obstacle courses for the training of the students, with the local villages all supporting the institution’s continued existence out of respect for longstanding traditions.
- Zhong and Dexai are often used interchangeably in the works of Alorian and particularly Altalar authors. However, the recent contact with Zhong by the Regalian Empire has seen academics scramble to correct themselves as the Eastern Craze continues to this day.
- Where or if other Dragons exist on Zhong is a hotly debated topic in Dragon Worship circles, and has even prompted discussion in some groups who follow Loong Virtue. While Sihi myths do sometimes mention different, non-Loong Dragons, it is not clear if they are still active following the Great Slumber of the Loong.
- Zhong means middle in the Sihai Language.