Shan-Ju: Human (Backluni) MonkHidden high within the peaks of the Ulsprue mountains there lies a temple. Falla-nil it is called, in the ancient tongue. The last of the four original monasteries built by the Al D'ai Shatain after the ascension of Zuoken, and the only one to survive the Invoked Devastation, Falla-Nil's sole purpose was to protect the last of the ancient artifacts known as the Scrolls of Zuoken. Or at least one quarter of them, as the remaining were dispersed to the other three monasteries and are believed lost forever. While the monastery is still active, it is but a shadow of its former self. After Zuoken stopped appearing to his followers around the year CY 505, many of the Al D'ai Shatain became D'ar es Shalim, "those who wander," and set out into the world in search for answers.
But those who stayed behind looked for their master another way. They sought his spirit within themselves. By focusing on his teachings and working to perfect their physical and mental disciplines, each step brought them closer to his essence. Some believed that if they achieved a high-enough level of mastery, they would come to find more than just the essence of Zuoken, but might find the demi-god himself on another plane, for the Scrolls of Zuoken teach that with enough focus, one can transport themselves anywhere within the multiverse. So far, none have achieved the level of mental discipline necessary to accomplish such a feat, but this may only be because a human lifespan is short, and the amount of practice necessary to achieve such perfection is more than most can give. But this only makes the Al D'ai Shatain try that much harder.
Shan-Ju was a promising student at the Falla-nil monastery who was raised with such teachings. The masters saw potential in him that they had not seen in generations. But it seems that some gifts come at a price. Shan-Ju, whose name honors the circumstances of Zuoken's ascension, knew he was gifted and, in turn, was impatient to learn new techniques and skills, always pushing to try things before it was time, and often resulting in difficult lessons. The biggest lesson of his life would come when he reached the 7th rank, and earned the coveted title of Master of Secrets. This title took on new meaning in recent history, for now the secret that is revealed to those who have proven themselves this far is that Zuoken is no longer in the world. Though the Disciples of Zuoken are not clerics and they do not pray to their god, he still appeared to them in visions or avatar form from time to time, until just over 70 years ago. No one has reported any contact since. Shan-Ju learned that a few years ago, another group of D'ar es Shalim left the monastery to go east, where they are talking to sages and wizards trying to use divination to reach him. There are many theories as to what has happened to Zuoken, but to Shan-Ju, the most obvious is that he must be lost somewhere on another plane, and if his followers could reach him, they may be able to guide him back.
The masters did not want to indulge such thinking, and tried to refocus Shan-Ju's thoughts, but he couldn't turn away. It became a personal quest for him. He needed to know for certain. The Scrolls of Zuoken were forbidden to him, but he knew the secret for extra-planar travel was hidden within. One day, he snuck into the secret place where the scrolls were located and he began to read through until he found what he needed. The secret that no monk has been known to have mastered before. If anyone could do this, he could. Shan-Ju read what he needed, and began to focus his mind.
The planes are nearly limitless. Where should he go first? He decided the Elemental Plane of Earth would be a safe place to start his journey. At first nothing happened, but Shan-Ju practiced what he had learned every day of every month for several months. Its wasn't easy. His mind clearly was not yet disciplined enough for such a feat, but he knew he would get there if he kept trying. Eventually, he was able to blink away for a moment before snapping back to the temple. So he tried again, and this time, when he saw the rocky caves before him that he knew to be the earth plane, he kept his focus, straining harder and harder. The image was holding, so he pushed his mind harder. And then he felt his body propel forward, leaving the prime material plane. As the prime material plane fell away before him, he caught a glimpse of a deep void. From this void came tendrils of swirling black and purple that seemed to wrap around him, and then pull him. Something was wrong. He was no longer in control. He tried to regain focus and fight this thing that had ahold of him. He strained his mind on the image of the rocky cave, snapping free of the tendrils and slamming into a rock wall. Wounded and dizzy, he looked around, relieved and proud that it seemed to work.
Shan-Ju then set about his mission, exploring a vast underground cavern that was the elemental plane of earth. But after a few days, he began to realize the place he was in was small, only a mile or two across at most. The elemental plane of earth should be nearly infinite in size. If this is the elemental plane of earth, he was trapped inside a pocket. He wandered around some more and eventually found a portal which led to another elemental plane. There were four in all, water, fire, air and earth with more portals leading in and out of each one, and no shortage of danger in any of them. They were all small in size and only connected by the portals to each other. He tried to focus again to shift back to the prime-material plane, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't make even the slightest progress. It seemed he was trapped in this place.
It would be another week or so before he ran into the party. . .