There are few commandments of our Blessed Lady that the conniving Shan has not yet seen fit to defile, as the Church that clings to Her name grows too flabby and corrupt to enforce Her holy edicts. But as slave-taking, heresy, rape, and blasphemy fill the streets of Song Shan, even the Shan pig bends knee to the Second Law: “Pervert not the gift of mortal blood to foul magic.” Though you will find maleficers in Vau Shan, as you will in any land, even there they are looked upon as criminal filth, and surrendered to the tender mercies of the Inquisition.
It is easy, in this context, to forget an impolitic truth about our faith and Menora the Unifier. It is no coincidence that when we speak of maleficy, we speak in the ugly words of our ancient enemy. For it was the Shan pig who first so perverted the mortal blood bestowed upon them by the gods they scorned. It was the Shan pig who built an empire of slavery upon the shin tsuai. It was the Shan pig who so provoked our beloved Unifier to lay forth the Second Law, as she scoured our ancestors of the malefic chains that bound them.
For this reason, I offer to the august patrons of the Royal University this research and testament to the true history of maleficy: that we may not forget our ancestors who bore the han tsuai.
There are many foul ends to which the blood art can be perverted. For the Shan, their chosen wickedness was the han tsuai, a means of shackling their slaves far more sadistic than any mere iron.
The han tsuai was formed much like an emator’s cuemara. A slave would be stripped and bound to a table, and a tattoo placed on their body, typically on the face or other visible part of their body. But these tattoos were formed not of the starblossom’s sap, but of the blood of master who fancied herself to own one of our proud people.1 And far from granting numinous power over the mortal world, the han tsuai bound a slave to their master’s will.
I would not be accused of bombast and exaggeration by those who seek to dismiss my work.2 To that end, I willingly subjected myself to that loathesome force that bound so many of our ancestors.3 After much prayer and fasting to seek the blessing and forgiveness of our Lady and the Four, my trusted partner Amari and I undertook the han tsuai ritual, tattooing a small circlet of their blood upon my arm. As I watched, my thoughts clouded by the tattoo artist’s pain medication, I saw the mark spread across my skin, and the occasional flicker of a malicious red light within. It was, to be sure, only a simple and weak facsimile of the lavishly-detailed slave marks favored by the Shan slave-lords – but even then, its power was horrific.
I did not experience outright control of the body and mind, a power some have attributed to the han tsuai.4 But with little effort, my partner was able to exact a terrible pain upon me, a pain I can describe only as though fire were consuming the flesh within my afflicted arm, as well as a profound physical weakness, as the mark glowed a with a hateful, brutal red light. In turn, they could feel my location almost instinctively, and in a simple test of hide-and-seek, Amari was able to locate me almost immediately. Had a person of wicked intent inflicted this mark upon me, I would have been powerless to stand against them.
Greatly distressed by these discoveries, my partner refused to experiment further, and we called upon a discreet Beladan emator to remove the mark. I confess that, even through the rock-hard armor of the scientific spirit,5 I felt degraded by the experience, and knew a crippling terror that I can only imagine would have been multiplied ten-thousand fold for the ancient slaves of the Shan, their bodies polluted by the blood not of a trusted lover, but of a hated master. To this day, this experiment still gives me nightmares.
For all its cruelty and power, however, the han tsuai is a limited application of maleficy. A slave so branded can still flee their master, for while the master might have some innate sense of a runaway slave’s destination, the mark cannot cause pain except in the presence of both the slave-lord and the one marked. And the mark can be removed in much the same manner as the cuemara, through branding with a hot iron or excision of the offending flesh - though as so often the han tsuai was placed on the slave’s face, to do so would be disfiguring.
The han tsuai served many purposes in ancient Shan culture. It was, obviously, a leash, by which a slave who thought to rebel against their master’s edict could be brought low, weak, crying, screaming, humiliated, helpless. It was also a way to demonstrate ownership. If it was in doubt which master owned a slave, it would be assigned to whoever could make the slave’s han tsuai light up with the foul red of blood magoc .6
It is this you must understand to truly grasp the significance of our Prophet’s march through Vau Shan. The Book of Dawn captures little with the verse —
|Dusk 12:5||Unafraid the Prophet walked Song Shan,|
|she took the slaves, the downtrodden, and with her touch,|
|saw foul magic shorn from mortal flesh,|
|polluted bodies made clean by the light of Heaven.7|
— unless you can picture the slaves, tortured and humiliated by the sneering Shan, suddenly liberated of the cruel marks that defiled their bodies by the power of the Four, united and manifest through the touch of our Blessed Lady.8
We do a disservice to our faith when we elide this dark truth about our former masters. We trivialize the glory and kindness our liberator Anradi witnessed, the touch of the Prophet she felt before she returned to the lands of her birth, strong in faith, and forged her people into the weapon that would see the vile Shan driven from our ancestral homes.
The han tsuai had another use, of course: one so profane even the Shan did not speak of it openly. Many free Shan given to sexual perversion9 would voluntarily take on the han tsuai of another in secret, relishing the same torture they inflicted on their slaves, or using them to inflict pleasure. These marks were almost always hidden, and the discovery that a free Shan bore such a mark would be a matter of great scandal. They might be ostracized by polite company, or even reduced to slaves themselves. The epithet han tsuai va remains to this day a most vulgar insult, even as the meaning has long been forgotten.
Rang tsuai was practiced little in Vau Shan, but known from the witches of ancient Belad. It is fortunate that the Shan who practiced this art was scarce, for a pious heart quails at the atrocities she might have wrought. It seems that “familiars,” the creatures created from a perversion of reproductive power, were a curiosity of the upper classes, but scarcely present in everyday life, as they yet are in the heathen North.10 It was exotic, but primitive. A party trick an explorer might bring back to entertain his mistress, but would never seriously use.
A favored application of shin tsuai was ngeu tsuai, a fire fed with the blood of innocents.11 It burns hotter than the hottest forge, and melts even the god-metal of Beladans.12 The Shan would coat their arrows in the blood of slaves before marching into battle,13 and set them alight as they fired. Not even the strongest of body armor could protect a soldier from a bloodied Shan crossbow, and the fire would consume even those whose wounds they might otherwise have survived. This weapon of terror Shan slavers deployed with relish against those who dared oppose them.
When Anradi returned to the mountains to build the Talli resistance, she taught her people the weakness of bloodfire: though it burns bright and hot and scorns mere water, its rage is brief, and only fresh blood will serve. Her fighters found great success striking at Shan occupiers before they could ready themselves for battle, and built layered stone fortifications that even bloodfire could only chip away at.14
Certainly it must now be clear that pre-Menoran Vau Shan was not merely a cruel Merayan slave state, but also a land of wicked sorcerers. And it must be clear that we Talli above all people must be dedicated to the eradication of this foul art from Anve. Every act of blood magic in the world today is an insult to our ancestors, and one we must avenge.