Sakashtalen

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Racial Characteristics
Average Height: 3'
Average Weight: 65 lb
Hair Color: Lavender, Grey, Teal, Orange, Black
Eye Color: Silver, Violet, Blue, Yellow, Orange
Other Information
Country of Origin: Zul Kiras
Significant Populations: Mountain Enclaves, Drache Splinter
Language: Akhet, Arangothek, various trade languages
Major Religion: Cult of the Walker
Related Races: Vuulari, Humans


Race Origins

The exact origins of these diminutive cave-dwellers is at this point speculation; their own historians have suggested in their limited contact with anthropologists to be the product of social engineering and selective breeding. They claim to have been created as a slave race by the Vuulari of all things, though their current habitats within the territory of Zul Kiras makes this claim suspect. What can be verified, however, is the relationship they share with Vuulari and Humans of various tribe and nation.

According to excerpts of their texts and lore the Sakashtalen were made, not by the gods, but by the hands of greedy mortals, to be capable of delving deep within the fires and pressures of mountains and volcanoes, in order to harvest the minerals and metals that dwell therein. Their physiology supports this, at least, as they are individually very hardy specimens, and don't seem to be bothered by either high heat or tight spaces; indeed most Sakashti prefer to be indoors or underground wherever possible, though their small stature puts them at risk of being stepped on by inattentive beings of a larger size.

Though they have shared a basic history with archivists and historians, there is some reason to believe that parts of the Sakashtalen tale may be exaggeration or outright fabrication. Be that as it may, the Sakashtalen's lorekeepers and shamans are highly reluctant to share the full details with outsiders, considering it to be an integral part of their self-identity and holding to the belief that to allow a full accounting of their past to fall in the hands of the Tall Folk would be to invite renewed exploitation...or so they've said.

Culture

Sakashtalen society is focused on the community: while there are those who specialize in a particular trade or skill, when the number of skilled laborers needed is greater than the number available, a sort of hive-mind is established, which can number from anywhere between a mere handful to several dozen 'joined'. The individual Sakashti volunteering for a cluster will receive the memories of the tradesman, effectively allowing the 'master' to override their own personalities, in so doing fulfilling whatever role is most needed at the time and then reasserting their original selves once the task is complete and the cluster is dissolved. Race-wide they are a convivial people, enjoying many festivals and holidays, though there are also many solemn affairs as well.

Weddings and births are especially celebrated, with revelries lasting a week or longer before normal life resumes. Names are given according to no apparent pattern; as often as not they are chosen by throwing on a blindfold and pointing at mundane objects as they are taken from a list or given to honor a favored ancestor.

Having only recently adopted money and then only to trade with outsiders, Sakashtalen still rely mainly on the barter system within their enclaves; their community is organized to ensure that nobody lacks for anything and that there is always someone to supply what is wanted. It is not to say that things are freely given, of course, a quid pro quo system in place to ensure that gluttonous behavior is minimized, but generally speaking if you find yourself among Sakashtalen and in need of something, most times all you have to do is ask, and someone will see to it you get what is requested. As a result of this barter system, thievery is one of the worst crimes that they can conceive of, and anyone caught stealing is punished harshly. Exile, maiming, or even execution are common punishments, and as such theft is a rare occurrence among the Sakashtalen.

For the most part, however, they seem ready and able to address whatever a person wants, so long as they demonstrate themselves willing to reciprocate such generosity, and understanding to avoid abusing the good graces of the community. The community is therefore mostly self-policing, and while a council of elders known as the Circle of the Wise (twelve individuals chosen for their age and experience) does exist to guide the population, a standing army has not been observed; what fighters they do have are sent on infrequent patrols less to secure any imaginary borders and more to ensure that no trouble is approaching their holdings. Most often, those Sakashtalen bearing weapons are on the hunt for game animals.

As far as magical powers go, Sakashtalen do not display very much in the way of expressive magic, though they are exceptionally talented enchanters. Given that they have a ready supply of precious metals and gemstones to work with, including magically conductive ores and minerals, it is only to be expected that they would learn to manipulate these properties. Most tokens and talismans crafted by the Sakashtalen smiths are protective in nature, from simple charms against pests and insects to guardian totems that can turn a mortal injury (such as falling from a high ledge) into a merely serious one. They also have several types of transformative talisman, though these are guarded jealously, not least of which because they also tend to alter the user's psychology significantly.

Military

As prior noted, the Sakashtalen do not have a military as such; given their normally genial attitude to their fellow beings this is not surprising, though even these gregarious folk recognize the need for self-defense and the occasional prosecution of war. This necessity is filled by a volunteer group, called the Scouts due to their typical role, individuals who undergo a ritualistic process that fundamentally alters not only their physiology but also their psychology.

Those who succeed in the transformation from citizen to soldier have a noticeable increase in aggression and curiosity, investigating (and occasionally stabbing) things which they perceive to be of note and which may pose a future threat to the safety of their kin. Physically, being transformed into a Scout affords a Sakashti enhanced hearing and visual acuity, as well as increased durability and resistance to traumas such as shock or knockouts, but the psychological changes are much more pronounced. Scouts are universally inured to bloodshed and violence, and lose the inborn tendency to altruism and kindness common to their cousins, and exhibit a tendency for embellishing facts; the berserker state shared by all Sakashtalen is, appropriately enough, much more easily induced, and in some individuals is capable of being deliberately triggered. Curiously, they also seem to develop a marked growth regarding indulgent behaviors, which can at times be detrimental to their ability to perform their assigned tasks.

For the most part, though, Scouts exist as an expeditionary force of sorts, to both explore new territories for possible expansion and to interact with the many races outside the enclaves. Though it is uncommon, it is known that they will be assigned missions to carry out against aggressive neighbors, and in rare instances sent on preemptive strikes to deal with problems before they arise.

Religion and Laws

Sakashtalen do not have religion as such; they recognize that other races and societies believe in gods and goddesses, and they do have superstitions the same as any other race (that the existence of the supernatural can be proven is a pragmatic move on their part), but the closest thing they have to a deity is a being known to them only as the Walker.

Sakashtalen legend states that long in the darkness of the past, they were an oppressed people with little rights and little hope for the future. Though they eventually rebelled against their masters and gained their freedom, they spent the next millennium in a warlike state, consuming each other with rage and violence. It was at the peak of this conflict that the Walker appeared. He subdued the strongest fighters of the war-bands and then united them under his banner, but rather than continue his conquest, he instead gave to them the spirit of law and the voice of reason. Seeing that the Walker's united force could not be defeated, the rest of the war-bands instead laid down their arms and offered themselves as slaves to him, but he would not take them as chattel, instead accepting them as brethren. Despite this insistence, however, the people he freed still elevated him to the position of a monarch; th only king they had, the Walker led the Sakashtalen over a reign of 100 years. At the end of this rule, the Walker left to parts unknown, leaving the people he guided with only his teachings and the laws he set forth for his subjects to govern themselves with.

Various depictions of the Walker do exist, and each family within a Sakashtalen city has at least one effigy of this mythological figure, though the exact details of his race and physical characteristics have been stricken from all of the race's history and iconography. It is said this is to prevent him from being worshiped as a god, though that has not stopped the descendants of those he freed from their own warlike ways from holding him in high reverence. Therefore most idols display him as a Sakashti like those he ruled, to maintain this spirit of humility.

In terms of immoral acts there are surprisingly few in Sakashtalen beliefs, but those that do exist are prosecuted with a vengeance when they are found to have been committed.

For the curious, a breakdown of Sakashtalen law is as follows: Take only what you need, and leave the rest for someone else; If it harms none, do as you will (this one in particular has rather vague interpretation and seems to be the foundation for the more hedonistic portions of Sakashtalen lifestyle); Suffer not the thief or the liar, let them be ground beneath your heel; Do not kill for sport or pleasure, and never in revenge for a slight; Go not to war, for that way lies ruin.

The actions of Scouts aside, the only apparent exception to their "no-kill" rule appears to be in regard to insectoids and related creatures, possibly due to the need to keep their farms free of pests, though it may also be an instinctual revulsion. Spiders especially appear to earn their undying hatred, for reasons they adamantly refuse to discuss with anthropologists.

A full list of the Sakashtalen laws regarding acceptable behaviors and endeavors can be obtained from their councilors on request.

Typical Racial Characteristics

Sakashtalen all have uniformly dark skin, ranging from a deep gray to a polished obsidian black; they are on the small side, averaging only three feet tall though individuals range in height from two to four feet, with rare individuals reaching almost five feet tall. This is believed to be an adaptation to their subterranean habitat. Brightly-colored or multicolored hair is a common trait, and nearly all Sakashtalen have luminous eyes, which are seen in a variety of hues, from deep violet to a bright silver. Sakashtalen have a wide variety of builds as well, and much like many other elven and halfling races have pointed ears, though theirs are long and slender, sweeping out to the sides rather than being flush with their skulls.

Biology, Lifespan, Health and Other Notes

What can be determined at this point in time is that Sakashtalen share a common ancestor with the Vuulari; whether they are a divergent species, a constructed race or true halflings, however, is difficult to determine at this time. They are rather resistant to invasive study, and though they do possess a good understanding of medicine, are reluctant to discuss the secrets of their physiology with foreigners. What can be known, however, is that they are warmblooded, having traits of both mammals and reptiles in a curious but effective balance; males and females have the typical mammalian dimorphism, though women appear to have brighter luminescence to their eyes than males. Additionally, they have also been observed to secrete a gelatinous substance from their skin that hardens into a flexible carapace shortly thereafter. This carapace can be absorbed back into their body to avoid having to replenish the stores, though some is inevitably lost in the process. In terms of strength, Sakashtalen are fairly average, most healthy specimens capable of running for long distances, or lifting several tens of pounds, though like any other species are able to train their bodies to sustain higher or more intense levels of activity. Those that have undergone a specialized and secretive training process are much more physically potent, having the ability to maintain a jogging pace for a full day, attenuated reflexes and incredible strength, lifting several times their own weight with little difficulty. (For reference a typical Sakashtalen weighs between 60 and 90 pounds.) Additionally, there seems to be little discrepancy between males and females in pure physical strength. Sakashtalen can easily live to reach eighty or ninety; examination of existing records and interviews with individuals reveals that living past 100 is not uncommon; it is rare to live past 120, however, and only a scant few have ever made it to 200. These are spoken of in almost reverent tones, and seem to comprise a pantheon of heroes.

As mentioned before, the race is universally hardy, their biology specifically tailored to the environment in which they live. Extreme heat does not seem to bother them very much; adult Sakashtalen are easily capable of withstanding temperatures up to 2000 degrees with little difficulty, though higher temperatures (and molten rock) tend to be avoided whenever possible.

Cold environments however do have a tendency to render them sluggish or inert, and temperatures below freezing are just as dangerous to them as to most other races.

Their diet consists mainly of fish and game, as well as what they can grow in their underground farms. Various types of moss, lichen and fungus are therefore staple foods, though being omnivorous they will eat whatever appeals to their individual palates. As such they are quite eager to trade with other societies for luxury goods like sugar, wheat, fruits, and especially beer and other intoxicants.

Interestingly, Sakashtalen all seem to share a similar sort of 'berserker' mode (alluded to earlier). When seriously threatened or locked in prolonged combat, a Sakashtalen will become much more aggressive, tapping into reserves of strength and agility at the cost of higher reasoning and cognitive ability; this rage is indicated by an increase in body temperature, as well as more visible signs such as a molten red glow suffusing their veins and eyes. This berserker state is easily drained, fortunately, and is rarely seen; as well that they have few natural predators and little reason or inclination to fight.

Death and Burial

Despite being a mostly secular culture, the Sakashtalen do have some concept of an afterlife. This is like their other theistic practices mostly a practical matter; they have seen ghosts, wights, and other such spirits and undead, which in turn suggests that there is an existence beyond a person's demise. As such they have, as a people, developed a belief system of their own. This belief is in the Sea Beyond, a somewhat mystical passageway to a land of eternal rest, where those who have died are free of any of the troubles that weighed them down in life.

Upon a person's death, there is a mourning period lasting approximately one week; during this time no festivals or celebrations are held regardless of where this period falls on the Sakashti calendar. While the community mourns the dead, his or her close family and friends will prepare them for the journey. A seaworthy bier will be constructed, and the deceased will be dressed in fine clothing. Trinkets and tokens will be collected, along with objects they used in their daily life. Copies of books, tools, games, toys, and other such things will be placed with the deceased on their funeral barge. At the end of the mourning period there will be a convocation, and the barge will be carried to the community's main water supply, usually an underground river or aquifer. The deceased's life will be recounted in summary, and the remainder of his or her belongings will be distributed among the gathered mourners; they will then place the barge in the water and cast it off, allowing the current to carry the fallen Sakashti to the Sea Beyond. Once the barge is no longer in sight, a prayer will be spoken, and the mourners will disperse. Upon the next sunrise the mourning period will be ended for the community at large, though individuals related to the dead may choose to observe a longer period than is mandated by tradition.

This prayer asks for safe passage to the lands protected by the Sea Beyond, appealing to those who have gone before to guide the way for the ones now on their last journey; the exact wording varies depending on the person, but the general gist remains the same, a prayer to ward the traveler against malevolent ghosts and disasters that may keep them from their final rest.

(Of curious note, it is in fact this method of laying members of their community to rest that was in part responsible for their discovery. While there were other factors involved, the primary cause of their exposure to the outside world was their habit of sending their dead downriver. For many races, water is life, and a once-uninhabited floodplain became host to a fishery; as a result of the settlements that sprang up around the river flowing from the Sakashti Home Delve, funeral barges were witnessed being carried towards the ocean, arousing curiosity and prompting explorers to seek out and discover the source of the boats that carried these unknown decedents to their final rest.)