Foundations are the key to all success.
The Celestial Empire is a land built upon this principle. Whether we speak of the code of laws which have governed us and maintained order since time immemorial or the cultivation which empowers her armies and rulers without the imprecision and waste of earlier forms, it is the foundation which enables the advances which come after.
Sublime Ancestors represent this truth in its most primal form.
Spirit beasts do not cultivate as humans do. They do not choose their Way nor seek Ascension. Spirit beasts are bound to the material world in a way that humans are not, and so, when they achieve the peak of power, they do not disappear from this world and ascend to the next. Instead, their corporeal shells remain, and mind and spirit goes to wander.
This form of Ascension is lesser than what can be achieved by humans and spirits. Spirit Beasts cannot join the ranks of the Great Spirits, cannot alter the fundamental workings of the world. However, there is one advantage. Unlike Great Spirits, who are bound to not reach directly into this world, spirit beasts, anchored by their bodies, may awaken in this world for a time with power far exceeding the limits of this realm’s cultivation.
The Sublime Ancestors are those spirit beasts who have reached beyond the White realm and have some form of ties to humankind. In the Empire, we are blessed to be host to a number of them.
All hail to the Celestial Dragon, guardian of the Empire and the Imperial City, whose resplendent golden scales can be glimpsed on clear days, whose coils stretch one thousand kilometers and more yet cast not the slightest shadow, and whose lightning strikes down the usurper and the failed dynasty. Hail to the guardian and adopted Mother of the glorious Sage who united us all.
All know the tales of her power: the tale of the wrath which reduced wide stretches of the Western Jungles to ashen craters in which even the foul fecundity of that place could not reclaim; and the tale of the Usurper who, in the final blasphemy of the Strife of Twin Emperors, sought to burn the Imperial City and to deny it to the true claimants, was slain along with his army in a single instant by a rain of lightning for his hubris. The ashen shadows of he and his generals adorn the Hall of the Dragon Throne to this day.
Greatest though she may be, the Celestial Dragon is not the Eldest among them. This great honor is disputed, argued by the scions of Bai and Zheng. The truth of the primacy is unknown but largely irrelevant; both are ancient beyond reckoning.
Grandmother Serpent was the spawn of the Dragon God of Rain and the Mother of Still Waters, born in the days when Great Spirits were not yet wholly barred from the material world. An entity of deep waters and lakes, a serpent of unrivalled toxicity, and master of weather and rain, Grandmother Serpent was a beast of terrible power even in the days of her awakening. Appearing as a vast White Serpent, larger even than the Celestial Dragon, it was only the stoic persistence of the great Yao, called the Fisher, which brought her to the side of humankind. With her power and the sacred metals found on the bed of lake Hei, Yao the Fisher forged a kingdom where there had only been squalid and squabbling tribes. Their union bore the eight half-spirit daughters from which the extensive Bai clan claims its lineage.
It was later, during the rise of the Sage, that Grandmother Serpent would act for the last time. In an echo of the legend of Yao, the Sage chose to withstand a single flick of the ancient serpent’s tail. The bay this formed has been the center of Bai naval power since.
Her contemporary, the Reveler, has no known lineage. Some tales say that he was born in the waning days of the dragons’ empire from a round stone at the heart of a mountain, the last child of the nameless Mother to match the Sun and Moon. Some tales claim he was a mere monkey whose prodigious talent allowed him to match Beast Gods and take their power for his own. There are as many tales as there are storytellers, and the Reveler encourages this, telling ever-changing versions himself.
What is known is that in the wake of the dragons' fall, a stone ape took up in Water Curtain Cave and taught a band of students, both human and ape. The names of most are lost to history. Only the last student, who surpassed the Reveler and struck down the last of the Dragon Gods, is known. This last student was Zhi the Conqueror, first Matriarch of Zheng.
The Reveler is a curious creature and the most active of the Ancestors. Although his true form, a great black furred stone ape twice the height of a man, meditates beneath the Ebon Rivers’ capital, it is common for the Reveler to manifest lesser forms and interact with his kin or simply wander the province. It is from this practice which the Ebon Rivers' rules of hospitality arise. Ware to the lord which refuses a weary, wandering warrior a drink for he could be the Reveler in disguise.
The Reveler is a benign entity, unless driven to rage by bad manners. It is said that the Sage Emperor’s rapid and bloodless conquest of the Ebon Rivers was due to a week-long drinking contest after which the Reveler declared him a brother and honorary Zheng.
There was once a third Ancestor of similar age, but the Horned Lord of Emerald Seas has long vanished from this world. The Horned Lord is said to have abandoned his descendants, the Weilu clan, in disgust at their decadence. Little is recorded of this beast in the archives of the Imperial City, save for his form, which was that of a mighty stag which towered over the treetops.
The remaining Sublime Ancestors are less ancient, but if they are less powerful, the difference is largely academic.
Two of the “younger” generation are, like the Horned Lord, gone from the material world. The Grandfather of Tides once walked the shores and shallows of the North, and his descendants, the Jing, ruled there for a time, but the great crab’s form was recorded as dissolving into seafoam a short time after the Unification. Few records remain of it after the Jing departed the Empire in a city-ship for parts unknown, leaving Alabaster Sands without a ducal clan until their vassal, the Jin, was raised to the seat.
Of the Purifying Sun, we need not speak for her death and the Cataclysm that followed in the Golden Fields is the stuff of legends, known to even the meanest peasant.
We then come to the Living Isle, Ancestor of the strange and reclusive Xuan clan of the Savage Seas. The home of the Xuan is a mighty Serpent-Tortoise upon which the rulers of the Savage Seas make their home. Unlike the other Sublime Ancestors, it was a step below what we now call the White realm during the time of the Sage Emperor. It is, however, only one of two Ancestors to engage in true, lethal battle during Imperial history.
In the days of the second dynasty, the barbarians of the far northern isles arose in force against the noble men and women of the Savage Seas. These barbarians even went so far as to awaken the great demon of the depths which they worshipped, a monstrous and hideous creature best left undescribed. In response, the Xuan had no choice but to awaken their Ancestor to combat it.
The resulting storm tsunamis and earthquakes reduced much of the province to rubble and shattered ports further inland in the Alabaster Sands. In the end, the Sea Folks’ demon was slain, and the Empire was victorious.
The last and youngest of the Sublime Ancestors is the Herald of Endings, the white owl who roosts upon the mist shrouded peaks which surround Mount Tai. The Herald is the Ancestor of the Mu, the third and greatest of the Imperial dynasties. The Mu is the first dynasty not to be beholden to one or more of the provinces, and they held the Empire together during the turbulent decline and fall of the second. The Herald is young however, having surpassed the mortal realm only a few millennia ago.
However, the Herald’s wisdom and mastery of death is not to be looked down upon. In the wake of the terrible invasion of the southern barbarians, the then-Prince An sought wisdom from his Ancestor in bolstering those parts of the Empire which had begun to fail. Upon her advice, Prince An established the Ministry of Integrity shortly thereafter, reinforcing our great Empire and ensuring further millenia of prosperity.
It is upon these foundations which the Empire prospers. Sublime Ancestors form the bedrock of the power which brings us unity and superiority over the barbarous tribes and beasts which surround us. And in those places where those foundations have failed, new ones are laid.
In the ruins of the Golden Fields, the Guo rule from Grandfather Fortress, the mobile capital which allows them to rule that scattered realm. A titanic scorpion who carries all of the residents and his descendants on his back, the beast is not one to tangle with, even if he is not yet Sublime!
In the south, the Duchess Cai has gone further than any before in the creation and enhancement of object spirits. She weaves ever mightier works, and it is suspected that she might be the first to create a Sublime Ancestor that is an object spirit.
Even in loss, even in hardship, the Empire prevails, growing stronger and stronger.
- Preface to Ancestors Sublime, a text penned by Imperial scholars shortly after the beginning of Empress Xiang’s reign