The society of the Empire of O is ruled by an ornate hierarchy, at the top of which is the emperor, the ShionDo, the Dustless One.

O is a clan-based culture. Over millennia, individual clans have formed with other clans into associations, each association differentiated by a Mark – a Zor, an emblem.

The Marks themselves are divided into two main groups — ZonO, and ShiO.

For much of the Clouded Era, the unfathomable period of time before the establishment of the empire, the most prestigious Marks and clans were ZonO. These clans valued blood, terrestrial power, wealth, property, and cultivated a world of fashion, wit and manners. They ruled the various city-states and kingdoms that made up the western lands in the Era of Clouds.

ZonO clans looked down on the more austere, spiritually inclined Marks who called themselves “ShiO“.

ShiO clans valued a more ascetic, philosophical way of life than ZonO. ShiO clans read and followed the wisdom of the sutras. These sutras, gathered together in the AmorZine, the “sacred book”, taught TanZo – the pure Way. For hundreds of years, ZonO regarded ShiO as a joyless and humourless  culture, given to useless “celestial” speculations, believing in a system that insisted on great discipline and patience, and denied worldly pleasures.

The last phase of the Clouded Era, however — known as the Era of Rival Clans — saw a gradual shift of power, away from corrupt and inefficient government by ZonO, and towards the more disciplined and organised ShiO Marks. Though smaller in number than ZonO, the ShiO clans were largely revered by the wider population, and were seen as pure and just.

Eventually, the rise of the ShiO clans and Marks couldn’t be resisted by the old ZonO order, and after thousands of years of rule, the world of “Society” and the aristocracy was overturned. Following decades of bloodshed, intrigue and struggle, control of LuinShar, the greatest city in O, passed into the hands of ShiO.

The effective end of ZonO power came when the first emperor of Shar, and of O, was declared: this was Jara-so-zirma I, who, after climbing the Five Thousand Steps, in the sacred precincts of the Palace of the Changing Moon took the Lotus Crown, and ordered the calendars to be set to a new system, with Year 0 starting on the first day of his rule.

Jara I and his immediate successors, steeped in their ShiO tradition, ruthlessly purged ZonO, and in many cases broke and destroyed ZonO clans, accusing them of deviating from the Way. Many ancient bloodlines were destroyed: properties were seized, possessions scattered. Nobles whose families had ruled their fiefs for hundreds of years, and were used to honour and the submission of the crowd, found themselves cast out from their lands, and – if they were lucky – sent to live in the public streets, covered with dust and with no way back to their former eminence.

For tens of centuries, those ZonO clans and Marks that survived the creation of the empire were forced to live remote from the Court and from the government. Their lifestyles were curtailed, and they were obliged to follow the Way. Shows of luxury were prohibited, and the ShiO laws of the empire were systematically and pitilessly applied.

Slowly, however, the ShiO tide began to wane, and the zeal that accompanied the formation of the empire began to recede. Once the whole Land of O was conquered and integrated into the empire, the imperial government began to relax its laws, and ZonO clans and Marks were permitted their ancient luxuries.

A historical coolness between the Court and the ShiO Marks developed, which in the long run benefited ZonO. With the waning of ShiO influence over the emperor, ZonO was once again allowed to rise, and to regain terrestrial power.

While each clan is unique, and each Mark distinctive, allowing for many different shades and nuances of opinion, there is no doubt that, fundamentally, there exists a deep traditional bitterness between ZonO and ShiO. ShiO despise ZonO for its deviation from the Way, for its love of pleasure and luxury, its devotion to appetite and matter. ZonO resent ShiO for its power, for its devotion to the Way, for its insistence on ritual and discipline.

Such is the main order of division between the clans and Marks of O: ZonO, and ShiO.

Those who before did not bow, now bow • and those who were kings and queens are sent either to the void or to the streets where the masses toil • Those who ruled are now ruled • and those who sipped wine from crystal cups • must now beg each breath • a sword forever crescent • over their bared necks | This is the fate of impurity • for impurity attracts dust • and dust gathers power | Only the Dustless are beyond the fate of the rising and falling, the living and dying, the strong and the weak | Only the Dustless cannot be sent to the dusts | Therefore, consider the fates of these lords and ladies now brought low • and how the trivial conceits of terrestrial power • end in a beggar’s death • lonely beside a busy road • dust filled with dust • while on the Way • calmly, the Dustless move ever on

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