Who are the Ven?
They called themselves “the ven.” Translated, the word means “all of us” or even just “we.” They called the world around them “Shanri;” a word meaning, “the Great Enemy,” giving a vivid clue as to how the ven viewed the world around them.
The ven are creatures of undiluted passion, what they feel they feel strongly. They are driven by needs and wants and tend to act in the extreme on almost all instances. They are ambitious and will take what they want. The Blooded value strength and they value cunning. The Blooded do everything with style and never hold back.
They look pretty much identical to us. Their skin is a darker tan, the stand fairly tall averaging around 5’10″, and live no more than 100 years. Their eyes are often vivid colors and come in far more shades than our own, including radiant gold and dark red. They are physically more capable than us, able to perform heroic feats like the heroes of myth and legend, but they can die as easily as we can.
The most unique quality of the ven is that when they grow into old age they lapse into Solace rather than die. As they age they grow taller and thinner and thick, web-like, translucent strands grow from their body. These strands are known as vaq’in – “webs of dreaming”. Eventually a ven enters into a deep sleep from which they never awake and their vaq’in form a cocoon around them. They become suaven. Ancestors revered and venerated like gods, forever slumbering gods who can still affect the waking world in strange ways.
Because of Solace, ven do not believe in a soul. They have no concept of it or of an afterlife. Solace is sacred and to be deny a ven of it is the greatest sin most ven can imagine.
The ven are divided into two castes: the Blooded and the Unblooded. The Blooded are the nobility of Shanri. They rule over it by sorcerous right. To become Blooded a ven must undergo a secret ritual that raises them to the noble caste and imparts upon them every right. The right to conquer land. The right to wield weapons. The right to own people. The right to wield sorcery. And so much more.
The Unblooded are most commonly called veth, “people of the soil”, dirt. They are peasants and they live and serve at the whim and will of the Blooded nobles. They own nothing as what they have belongs to their community. They live simple lives, they try to survive, they try to avoid drawing the ire of the Blooded. The most successful amongst them may be lucky enough to rise to become merchant lords, “proud dirt”, which are a fairly new concept in Shanri. A budding class of people who are slowly gaining power and fortune that could one day rival the nobility of the Blooded. One day, perhaps, but not yet.
The Ven Language
The ven are known to use three languages – High, Vulgar and Old Tongue. Ven nobles all speak the High tongue, a language of hidden meanings and popular slang that changes almost as often as fashion trends amongst the Blooded. Vulgar is the tongue of the veth. It is forbidden to be spoken in front of the Blooded so as not to offend them with it. Lastly there is the Old Tongue, the language of the Sorcerer-Kings. Used for ritual and sorcery and kept from the ears of the peasantry.
Ven find names and their meanings to be very important. Names are how you are known and remember. It is cried out in passion by your loves and bellowed scornfully by your enemies. The meaning of that name colors everything you do; choosing your name is choosing your destiny.
Every Blooded ven has three names. First is your family name. Every House of the ven has many prominent family lines. Your family defines you and in a way owns you, thus ever noble ven takes their family’s name as their own.
The second is their public name. A name their have chosen for themselves. This is the name others know you by.
The last is their secret name. Whispered into their ear by their mother by when they are children and never told to anyone else. Knowing another ven’s secret name means that you know the true self and that gives you power over them – especially if you are a sorcerer.
Veth take the name of their mother or father and the region they are born in. Few are audacious enough to choose their own name and take their fate into their own hands.
The Olivana – The Sacred Animals
The ven regard twelve animals as sacred and totemic, animals so important to the ven that their Houses are named for them. Only the Blooded may hunt the olivana, and even then, only on holy days.
The olivana are – Bear, Uvandir (Boar), Kachka (Cat), Khanurdante (Elk), Shivu (Falcon), Q’al (Fox), Ilderim (Horse), Avala (Serpent), Agotha (Spider), Eshanu (Wasp), and Drende (Wolf).
The last olivana is the Avanadande (Dragon). To the ven dragons are not physical creatures, but the manifestation of moments. Intense moments of powerful emotion that are very rare experiences.
The Houses are allied families and lineages of ven who have risen to power since the fall of the sorcerer-kings. They take their names from the olivana and hold considerable power across the world. Most are born into their House and become Blooded of that House upon reaching adolescence. Some rare veth are brought into Houses by the Blooding ritual.
Currently the Senate, the governing body of the Blooded, recognizes only six Houses. Once there were ten but in the past two centuries some Houses have been veiled, forced to take the black veil of shame.
Every Blooded ven is a noble and thus holds a title based on the land they hold the vassals sworn to them. Within ven society the following formal titles are recognized: Knight, Baron/Baroness, Count/Countess, Marquis/Marquise, Duke/Duchess and Earl. While a Duke has more power and holdings than a Marquis or a Baron, there isn’t a set pecking order. A Baron isn’t expected to defer to every Marquis, just the Marquis that is his/her liege lord. He’d be wise to show that noble respect but only out of concern for retaliation not because of he is out ranked.
The title of Earl, which is considered gender netural, represents a ven is the head of his respective House. The Senate recognizes six Earls one for each unveiled House. Earls are in all other respects considered Dukes.
A ven’s title is based upon holding and maintaining large swathes of land as well as having Blooded ven sworn to them as their vassals. The more land they hold as well as the more vassals they have, the higher their title.
A ven’s formal title is what grants him rights as a noble. Nobles are entitled to following rights that peasants are not:
- Exemption from taxes
- The right to hunt
- The right to wear a Sword and have a coat of arms
- The right to own land
- the right to Revenge
Outside of formal titles, many ven hold lesser titles they have earned through their actions and deeds. As well as those given to them by their peers and enemies out of fear and respect. A ven may have many lesser titles.
The Senate, is the voice of the ven, those who own land and guide Shanri’s destiny. They sit in the Senate because they fought for that right and killed those who stood in their way. Every Blooded ven is recognized as a Senator a number of votes within the Senate based on the number of provinces he holds. The more land he holds the greater his number of votes and the higher his title likely is. The Dukes of the ven lead the Senate and call its meetings to order and setting precedents.
The Senate meets on the first new moon of each Season in Davfanna Aldrena, The City Whose Walls Challenge the Sky. Any Senator may bring issues before the Senate if they are recognized by at least three other Senators who out rank them. They may speak before the Senate as long as they may hold the floor. When they are done, comments are heard and then the Council of Dukes calls for a vote.
The Senate has the right to appoint investigators known to the ven as vashna. They bare the colors of the Senate, black and gold, and no ven is above their authority as they carry out their duties on the Senate’s behalf. They hold the authority of Dukes and may use it on their behalf as they travel to parts of Shanri the Senate cannot. Vashna are usually disenfranchised nobles who’s only means to power is to serve as an investigator for the Senate. They cannot declare Revenge. Their only honor is that owed to the Senate and the Senate does not declare Revenge.
Ven trace the laws they abide by back to the Code of Jonah Drax. When the sorcerer-kings fell, he was among those who drug the ven from under the ruins. It was Jonah Drax and his rajan or “paladins”, who gathered the ven together and built the beginnings of ven society. His Code was adopted by the early Senate as a standard for the Law. All ven follow his Code. Or, at the very least, pretend to.
Insult & Injury
Violence is illegal in Shanri, except under specific circumstances. Those circumstances are “the Three Offenses,” conditions upon which a ven may rightfully commit violence against another. Under the Law, only the Blooded are allowed to commit violence. No unblooded may commit violence under any circumstance. When a ven breaks the Law, he has committed Insult or Injury or both. If it has been found that a ven is guilty of Insult or Injury, recompense must be administered. Not fairness. Not equity. Only Revenge.
The Forbidden Art, senva, the power of the Blood. The Ven are creatures born of magic, their blood is magical in the most literal sense of the word. Long ago the Sorcerer Kings would sacrifice hundreds of their servants to power arcane rituals. When the Sorcerer Kings fell this dark art should have fallen silent with them.
But no Blooded ven can resist the call of such easy power. Sorcery has become a common occurrence in the courts of the ven, though illegal, almost every hand is stained with the Blood of Ritual. The sorcerous arts offer great power to the nobles who utilize the Blood, but at what cost?
It is said that each House keeps within a minor noble untouched, unsullied by the rites of blood, just in case accusing a rival of the terrible and illegal arts of Sorcery should be needed.
While sorcery of all sorts is illegal, the ritual of the Blood Oath is the its last legal remnant. This oath binds an agreement in magic and anyone who breaks it has the word worloch, meaning “oath-breaker”, appear in black marks on their forehead as if was branded on them. This lasts for a year and a day.
No War. That’s what Jonan Drax said when he laid down his Seven Laws. A sensible idea backed by harsh realities of ven life. By order of the Senate warfare amongst the ven is illegal and no ven would ever dare wage war on one another. Unable to wage war on a large scale, the ven have mastered waging war on a small scale. This is done by exploiting the law’s allowance for ven to have enough personal guards to defend themselves and their lands. There is no strict limit and as such a force of personal guards may well rival a small army.
Of course a large enough force of personal guard will draw down the Senate’s ire and investigation but that doesn’t stop ven from doing so. Some even go so far as to train their guards until they have shaped them into a proper secret army that they must keep hidden from the Senate at all cost. To raise an army would be seen by all ven as an act of warfare and not to be tolerated. Yet even after what happened to last Emperor there are still some ven who wish to conquer all of Shanri.
In the language of the Ven it is known as Vrentae, the hate. The Ven believe a red spirit posseses the heart, hungering for satisfaction. This is not an analogy or an allegory, the Ven believe that the magic of their blood births a spirit of Revenge within them. The only cure for said revenge is what caused it. To make that which caused your anger and your hate to feel the same. Satisfaction must be achieved and the Ven will do anything to achieve it. It is a passion that drives the Ven, until they cannot eat, they cannot sleep, they can only seek that which is the cause.
Revenge, sanctioned by the Senate, is the only legal instance in which one Ven may slay another. The Law recognizes the passions of the Ven and their need when wronged to seek revenge on those that wronged them.
For minor crimes, or wrongs the Ven often seek recompense with a Jury of their peers at whatever social gathering the wrong occurred. But when the wrong is great and the issue beyond something that can be easily resolved the Ven seeks High Revenge.
In the language of the Ven it is known as Vrentae, the lust. The Ven believe a red spirit posseses the heart, hungering for satisfaction. This is not an analogy or an allegory, the Ven believe that the magic of their blood births a spirit of Romance within them. Love, a dirty four letter word to the Ven, Poets have been put to death for writing about it, baronies torn apart because of it.
The Ven existed in a world of arranged marriage, of political relationship, into this came the passion of lust, the burning heartache of love. That feeling that drives you mad, that desire that pushes away all others, until you cannot sleep, you cannot eat, you cannot live without the cause. It is a notion that has changed Ven society and undermined the social order. It is a poison and a sickness, the only cure the cause, exactly like Revenge.
Art is very important to the ven. Their word for art is tala which means “when we are reminded that we are not alone.” For the ven, the entire purpose of art is to transform the viewer from the mundane to the sublime. The wretched to the holy. The profane to the sacred. The ven don’t paint fruit. They paint people. People in motion. Laughing, crying, loving, dying. The purpose of Art is to unveil the truth. There is no truth in a basket of apples. Ven art bears a strong resemblance to German Expressionism. Extreme angles. Beatific and grotesque. Details fall by the wayside.
Opera – The High Alchemical Art
The highest form of art the ven have is that of opera, which they call The High Alchemical Art which is in its golden age. Ven Opera is a spectacle to behold. The thunder of the music cracking the plaster in the walls. Actors bursting their throats, their eyes full of rage and tears. Musicians in the pit, playing beatific anger and furious joy. Choirs chanting choruses over and over and over. There is no word in the ven language for “overstatement.” Their operas are tragedies in the theatrical sense, their ending must include the death or undoing of the hero. Also, the hero of the tale must be responsible for his own undoing. The ven seem to find great joy in Blood and death and calamity.
Because the ven obsess over only the best and truest expression of their art, only seven stories are worthy of the stage which are known as the Great Works. Authors and composers work to re-tell these seven tales with different voices, using each to communicate a new moral, a new truth. The Great Works each revolve around a different character known to the ven as one of the Seven Fools: the Actress, the Dowager Duchess, the Husband, the Rake, the Swordsman, the Wife and the Wise Man. While the appearance of the characters may alter—the genders, the names, the relationships—the Seven Fools are consistent through all the Works.
Like the ven themselves, ven fashion is extravagant. Exaggerated. Opulent. Magnificent statements of Beauty and glamour. The specific details of ven fashion matter as much as how their garments typically were designed to express their nobility, power and grace in bold ways. What is is know is that ven assigned meanings to various colors common in their fashions.
Probably the most important of those meanings to note here is that black is a color of shame and disregard. Those who wear it are ignored and overlooked because they are ‘veiled’ in the black. Only servants and those being punished wear this color.
One of the most important traditions in ven culture is that of Hospitality. When a noble invites another noble into his home, he has the opportunity to extend the rights of hospitality. These protect the noble from all harm of any sort. In exchange, the visiting noble tacitly agrees not to respect the home he visits and bring no harm to it or cause any trouble. This a sacred tradition to the ven and those who violate it are not tolerated and wind up wearing the black.