A Definitive Look at the Black Branch Knights

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Note: This manuscript discusses the old school of the Knighthood before the Belladonna Sodality seized power in Balthazor in 1261. While the purpose of the Knighthood was to rid the world of Undead, the Sodality would not accept the Knights' use of Necromancy as a tool in the battle. As a result the Knighthood was purged along with the hordes of Undead...

Families | Black Branch History | Kan-Fhih History | Kan-Fhih Systems
The Holy Falling Fist | The Holy Splitting Fist

The Black Branch is an independent and hereditary order of knighthood that is geographically based in the Barony of Padrical in Southernmost Balthazor. The Black Branch Knights have devoted themselves to the elimination of the Undead. This devotion has caused them to take up the Gift of Necromancy so that they can better combat their foes. However, the order possesses strict rules concerning necromancy and it is forbidden for a knight to use their gifts to harm the living or control the undead. It is used as a tool of destruction and entropy, and nothing more.

The Black Branch is almost universally hated and feared despite their obviously altruistic purposes. They are believed to be necromancers of the worst degree, guilty of devouring children in the night and stealing the souls of infants before they are even born. The reason for this undeserved reputation is three-fold. First, they are technically necromancers despite the methods in which they use their necromancy. Second, they are a highly secretive order and have never really felt it necessary to make their cause known to the world at large. Third, the Balthazoran governing bodies (specifically Irmaa Vep) have spread countless foul and false rumors concerning the Order that most individuals are inclined to believe.


The order of the Black Branch was founded three hundred years prior to the reign of Emperor Tumian Dreven. It was founded by Hildebrande Lorraine, a member of the ancient and now defunct order of monks known as the Ebon Claw. The Ebon Claw had become corrupted by an ancient and powerful lich and so he left the order and ascended Mt. Padrical, a towering mountain in Balthazor. There he encountered the aged and wise black drake known as Koth-Seretmatep. She educated Hildebrande in necromancy and on how to combat the undead. He descended from the mountain after three years of exile and banded together the eight other monks who still retained their virtues. Together they defeated the Lich and the corrupt monks and founded the Barony of Padrical as well as the surrounding baronies of their descendants. They then entered into an agreement with the pacifist monks of the mountain who later traveled there under the direction of the Kan-Fhih master and originator, Jiang Fang. With this partnership they crafted the order of knights that exists today.

The Black Branch Knights are the sole inheritors of the first Kan-Fhih fighting system, Kan-Fhih'Dan (The Holy Fist of Dust) and originated from the order of monks that first perpetuated the system. Kan-Fhih is a martial arts system comprised of six techniques with each technique based upon one of the six elements. Kan-Fhih'Dan is the technique based upon Death, and is a sharp and quick fighting system that focuses upon nerve pockets and a series of highly effective death touches. Victims of Kan-Fhih'Dan often find themselves either dead or permanently paralyzed in one or more of their limbs. All knights of the Black Branch must demonstrate significant skill in Kan-Fhih'Dan to be part of the order. Knights of the Black Branch must also demonstrate skill in the chain whip (a length of chain with weighted ends), the scimitar, and the staff.

The Black Branch has gone through sweeping political changes. The Black Branch's previous antagonistic relationship with the Silver Moon was unofficially smoothed over when the head of the order, Lord Keeper Lad Partaene, married a Knight of the Silver Moon, Arya Lannister of Oceanuus. The Lord Keeper's second in command is Mal du Payenne.


The Families of the Black Branch

Unlike the Silver Moon, the Black Branch is not open to anyone and everyone. It is only open to those who are descended from one of its six families, and even those descendents must pass the rigorous training involved in learning the fighting art of the Black Branch, Kan-Fhih'Dan. The training to even be considered for the knighthood lasts sixteen years for truly serious disciples, and even then some simply do not make the grade as very few actually inherit the necromantic gift. The current head-count for the Black Branch stands at one hundred and thirteen fully trained knights.

The Bonnuille Family
This family of baronial knights has a long and proud history of service in Balthazor. It is a family of astute politicians and wise generals, known far and wide for the capable military leaders that it provides. This family has had many knights in the position of Lord Keeper and this has always marked them as one of the noblest families of the Black Branch, a reputation that they carry with great honor.

The Taylor Family
This family of baronial knights is of less military inclination than the other families, preferring instead to focus upon more the scholarly pursuits of the order. The Taylors are largely responsible for developing the order's strict ethical codes concerning necromancy as well as the unique training methods that it employs. There are very few members of this family that do not possess some wisdom, and they are the first to question any brash course of action for the good of the order.

The Lorraine Family
The family of baronial knights is the most honored family of all largely because they are the direct descendents of the order's first Lord Keeper, Hildebrande Lorraine. They are true nobility and extremely traditional in their practices, often succumbing to arrogance bred from the knowledge that their forefather is the reason the order exists. Still, they are might warriors and superb leaders, and they always have the order's best interests at heart.

The Partaene Family
This family of baronial knights is commonly regarded as the least of the baronial families. While it is certainly no less in honor or strength, it is the least cosmopolitan of the families. The Partaene family is very rural by nature and they come from the noble stock of solid country folk. They are often given to keen common sense that is often clouded by young idealism, and they are most well known for being the breeders of the fine horses known as Padrical Blacks.

The Du Payenne Family
This family of baronial knights is dark and Machiavellian in their pursuits. They are perhaps the easiest target when outsiders speak horrible rumors about the family because the Du Payenne family guards its secrets jealously and those who do not know its members might assume evil is afoot. This is far from the truth of course. The Du Payenne family is actually extremely honorable, often to the point of fanaticism, and will do whatever is necessary to defend their honor.

The Morgan Family
This baronial family is another fine family of country folk and are of proud and honest blood. They typically espouse the virtues of simplicity though they are also very liberal in thought, and most of the liberal members of the order come from this family. The Morgans are often referred to as the light of the order, largely because their outgoing and friendly attitudes keep the order vital during times of darkness and trouble. But be warned, for they are fierce enemies when aroused.

The Te Qang Family
This baronial family is best known for its temper. They are often referred as the Mad Qangs, largely because of their incredible lust for battle. They are outspoken and often brash in their decisions, though they seem to possess an unfortunate degree of luck that has gotten them out of many difficult situations. They are powerfully separatist in their opinions and believe that the order should stay as neutral in imperial affairs as possible, an opinion they defend quite loudly.

There is a sub-family within the Te Qangs known as the Qehns. The Qehns occurred as a result of outside marriage with an Oceanuusian peasant girl. While they do not possess the legendary temper of the Te Qangs they are equally anxious for battle. Perhaps the calm Oceanuusian blood has cooled their spirits a bit.

The Pishenko Family
This baronial family is a secret one and is the source of much of the spies within the order. They watch the affairs of Balthazor and guarantee that the order's interests are being protected. Typically the Pishenkos are quiet and do not choose sides when dealing with internal politics, preferring instead to move with the flow of the order's overall desire. They are a family without controversy, full of guile that grants them considerable edge against their foes.

The Telsen Family
This baronial family is comprised of staunch loyalists who take the internal politics of the order very seriously. They were once a respected family but the betrayal of Gregor Telsen, who sought to overthrow the Lord Keeper by dishonorable means, has tarnished their family name. Because of this they have been forced to repress their previously vocal desire for tradition and the old ways of the order. But they speak them still, at least quietly.

The Philosophies and Faith of Kan-Fhih

The philosophies of the Kan-Fhih system (collectively known as "Tembo") are significantly different from the religious beliefs of the rest of Lyran Tal. The difference in primary beliefs is often believed to be the real reason for the self-imposed segregation of Kan-Fhih practitioners from the rest of the world. However, without this basic belief system someone cannot truly be considered to practice the art of Kan-Fhih -- at that point, all they are really learning to do is fight well, and the cultivation of their De will never truly occur.

According to the Kan-Fhih system, the universe is not actually guided by the gods but is, instead, guided unconsciously by a potent series of forces that play a role in the manipulation of all things. Even the gods themselves, regardless of their power, cannot truly escape these forces -- no matter how hard they try.

All things in the universe are mutually governed by the two powers of Fate and Luck. Fate is that which is set down for the lives of all men, women, and gods; Luck is that which simply occurs along the wayside, the things that come unexpected and without warning. Ultimately, both of these forces are truly beyond the control of men and the gods.

The Four Directions of the world also exist, eternally turning the Celestial Wheel of Fate and Luck. These directions serve to guide all of mankind, deciding at the moment of birth the path that the individual's life will follow. The directions of the Celestial Wheel are also closely tied with the Four Elements of the World, and are intimately responsible for the balance that exists between these elements.

Each of these forces are woven into the De of each person, animal, substance, god, and so on, working together to create a dynamic being whose path is harmoniously linked to the turning of the Celestial Wheel. Those born facing the North direction are the wild and unpredictable free spirits who continuously force changes upon the world. Those born facing the West direction are bound by responsibility and duty, doing that which they know they must do. The East direction gives way to the casual and thoughtful, those philosophers and scholars who prefer to live a life of knowledge rather than a life of conflict and battle. Finally, those born of the South direction are the traditional and stringent, allowing the past to continue on into the future.

A primary and important philosophy of the Kan-Fhih system is the belief in De, or personal life force. As opposed to mancers, who use their internal De in synchronization with the external De of the world around them, in order to achieve a desired external affect, Kan-Fhih's manipulation of De is entirely internal. With it, the Kan-Fhih master can achieve powerful strikes that no normal man could ever hope to achieve. They can also achieve a level of serenity and personal mastery that is unrivalled by any common man.

Note: "De" is the notion of the energy that courses through man, very similar and almost identical to the Earth Chinese notion of Chi. It is comparable to the "Spirit of Man", as true cultivation of one's De allows effects similar to magic. Likewise, one who is truly capable of cultivating De to such a degree is mysteriously unable to utilize any of the Gifts.


History of Kan-Fhih Martial Arts in the Silver Moon Empire

The world of Lyran Tal is a vast one, and within its myriad regions it holds numerous secrets that have yet to be truly discovered. Kan-Fhih is one of those secrets, and the majority of its true power comes from the fact that very few people have ever really heard anything about it. It is a secret, one kept both by pacifist monks and warrior-poets. But its history has not always been so enshrouded and hidden. At one point in time, its existence was common knowledge -- and a common problem.

The brotherhoods and sisterhoods of monks, of which there are six, are actually older than the Kan-Fhih system itself. The monks originally served as religious and arcane clerics, keeping records of the world around them and generally seeking to understand the nature of existence itself. Some served religious icons, while others served the Arch-Mages. Ultimately, however, their scholarly and cloistered lives left them sedentary and ill-fit where physical concerns were involved. It was common knowledge that they could not defend themselves, and their only option for defense was to rely upon the hopefully good graces of those around them.

A wandering monk by the name of Jiang-Fang (Jih-wong-fong) had observed this sedentary lifestyle and found it to be beneath the dignity of these men and women who had devoted themselves to the pursuit of knowledge. And so he took it upon himself to increase their physical capabilities, and so traveled from order to order with the intent to improve their condition. He did this by bringing to them a series of callisthenic exercises based upon each of the six elements: Fire, Air, Earth, Water, Life, and Death. With these exercises he brought his philosophies of the world around him, and while the calisthenics would lead to the development of Kan-Fhih, the philosophies would lead to the development of Tembo, or the Kan-Fhih Philosophy.

As Jiang-Fang traveled from temple to temple he found that his teachings were become gradually more sublime in nature. He had ultimately begun with the order known as the Ebon Claw, teaching them what would later become Kan-Fhih'dan, and ended with the Plum Breath Whispers, teaching them what would eventually be known as Kan-Fhih'jorendu. As such, he is considered the universal father of each of the Kan-Fhih Fists, and the reverse progression of their nature (Death to Life) is believed to indicate the progression his ultimate Enlightenment.

After Jiang-Fang's disappearance from the earthly world, the Six Orders of Kan-Fhih sought to bring their philosophy and fighting art to the rest of Lyran Tal. However, the drastic difference in beliefs between the monks and the reigning Arch-Mages and religious orders of the time did not make this easy. The people of Lyran Tal, who had been told by the Arch-Mages that the monks did not believe in the gods or in the supremacy of magic and were thus evil, universally shunned the monks of Kan-Fhih. Fortunately no direct persecution was ever taken against the orders as a whole, and the monks simply came to realize that the world would not accept them or their beliefs with ease. Instead of fighting back, they withdrew into themselves and allowed all temples, save the primary six, to fall into ruin and disarray.

As generations passed, the common peoples of the Empire came to forget about the monks and their unique fighting system. However, the Arch-Mages did not, and many of them still keep a close eye on the activities of these orders, hoping silently that retaliation is not part of the monks' agenda.

The Kan-Fhih Systems

Kan-Fhih is a two-part word and directly translates to the common phrase of "Holy Fist." It is a fighting art based upon the callisthenic exercises originally developed for sedentary monks by a wandering warrior named Jian-Fang. The overall system of Kan-Fhih is divided into six primary techniques and styles, each style embracing a different aspect of the fighting arts: external boxing, internal boxing, grappling, felling, punching, and kicking.

The six techniques of the Kan-Fhih system are as follows:

Fist Name Translated Name Element Region Temple
Kan-Fhih'dan The Holy Falling Fist Death Balthazor The First Temple
Kan-Fhih'jorendu The Holy Crossing Fist Life Luminii The Sixth Temple
Kan-Fhih'kenrutsu The Holy Splitting Fist Fire Thermador The Second Temple
Kan-Fhih'botai The Holy Meteor Fist Earth Arboria The Third Temple
Kan-Fhih'gang The Holy Whirlwind Fist Air Cloosidian The Fourth Temple
Kan-Fhih'ho The Holy Push Fist Water Oceannus The Fifth Temple

Ultimately every style of Kan-Fhih requires mastery of four basic physical attributes: speed, coordination, strength, and endurance. However, each style does put a different level of focus upon each of these attributes, finding some to ultimately be more important than others. For instance, Kan-Fhih'botai, a devastating grappling style, puts more emphasis on strength than speed. Meanwhile Kan-Fhih'kenrutsu puts more emphasis on speed and coordination than either strength or endurance. But, in the long run, all of these must be developed for true mastery.

A primary and important philosophy of the Kan-Fhih system is the belief in De, or personal life force. As opposed to mancers, who use their internal De in synchronization with the external De of the world around them, in order to achieve a desired external affect, Kan-Fhih's manipulation of De is entirely internal. With it, the Kan-Fhih master can achieve powerful strikes that no normal man could ever hope to achieve. They can also achieve a level of serenity and personal mastery that is unrivalled by any common man.


Kan-Fhih'dan: The Holy Falling Fist

Perhaps one of the most esoteric fists of the Kan-Fhih systems, Kan-Fhih'dan is taught at the First Temple, which can be found in the Balthazorian barony of Padrical. It is only taught to those who seek tutelage at the Temple, and though it is not restrictive to gender, all but one of its current practitioners is female. Coincedentally, she is also the Grandmaster of the First Temple.

The primary focus of Kan-Fhih'dan is speed and coordination, as it embraces the art of external boxing, using quick and powerful blows to deliver fatal pressure to their opponent's de meridians and pressure points. Even it's most common of maneuvers are very graceful, and very quick, allowing opponents little time to react to the lightning-quick and often fatal blows that will be delivered unto them.

The main fist-type of this technique is the open palm and the two-finger strike. The most popular kick is the heel kick with the foot flexed. Primary stances are usually very grounded but very light, allowing the fighter to move from maneuver to maneuver with speed and grace.

Kan-Fhih'kenrutsu: The Holy Splitting Fist

This specific fist of Kan-Fhih is probably the fastest and most furious out of all the systems. Emphasizing speed and coordination over all else, the true disciple of the Holy Splitting Fist becomes capable of executing a number of fast and devastating attacks in a single moment, usually disabling or out-right killing his opponent long before a weapon is ever drawn.

The sort of individuals that are drawn to Kan-Fhih'kenrutsu consist of both boys and girls, finding both types of pupils easily pliable in their Temple's search to create an ever faster and ever more potent warrior. A majority of this fist's maneuvers consist of high and elongated kicks, as well as fast, elongated punches developed to attack an opponent at a slightly farther distance than one arm apart. The execution of the attacks flows from one to the next, taking more attacks than other similar fists such as Kan-Fhih'dan, but executing them nonetheless in the same brief period of time.

The main fist-type of this technique is a closed fist and claw, seeking to use a powerful and furious series of punches and raking movements to disable the opponent quickly. The main kicks are circular in motion, allowing the fighter to whirl around from one attack to the next in a blinding haze. The most common stance is the Cat Stance, placing all the weight of the body upon one leg while the forward leg barely touches the ground. The Crane Stance is also popular within Kan-Fhih'kenrutsu.


Note: This manuscript previously appeared in the "Organizations" section of the Almanac.

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