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The Aruaki Clanhold

The nation of Aruak is located on the northwestern coast of Alastari. Small so far as land area goes, it is nonetheless densely populated. Its original inhabitants were closely related to the people of Convincia to the north, farmers and fishermen with close ties to the land. Several hundred years ago, after the last of the Chaos Wars, a new people migrated up from the unknown lands to the south. They came from the country of Ratan, which lies some 1,000 miles to the south of Alastari, having been driven from their homeland by the workings of a peculiar curse.

The Archmage of Ratan, one Callenthar, was considered the premier wizard of his (or perhaps any) time, rivaling the power, and certainly the skill, of Sheila Greywand herself. Callenthar's foremost work was his experimentation in the magic of gene restructuring, an esoteric field the secrets of which died with its creator. Among his more famous creations were the lionmen of Ratan, mixes of human and feline DNA. (It might be noted that Callenthar used several other kinds of cat besides lion in his experiments, but the name "lionman" was the one that stuck, as lions were the most common large cat in the area.)

After Callenthar's death, many of his spells unraveled, as is common with most wizards. The children of his cat-human hybrids were born wholly human, and many intermarried with the pure humans of the surrounding lands. In a few generations, however, it became obvious that the results of the wizard's spell were to outlast him. Children born to the descendants of the lionmen began to transform into cat-shape on full mooned or moonless nights. Confused, frightened and untrained, the young shapeshifters often caused great harm and damage to their families. The kingdom of Ratan was at that time undergoing a period of decline, and the werefolk were an easy target and took the brunt of the blame for everything going wrong. Callenthar's most famous student, Nurtish "the Angel," discovered a way to identify the "tainted" genes for shapeshifting, and soon men, women, children and whole families were being hunted down and stoned in the streets at the mere accusation of were blood. Widespread rioting was imminent; the army was called out to restore order and incidentally drive the tainted families from the kingdom.

Calling themselves Aruaki, "the betrayed," the werefolk of Ratan fled their home, moving ever northward, for each new people they settled among eventually discovered their "curse" and drove them out. During this wandering period the werefolk developed an iron sense of clan and family responsibility. Even today an Aruaki who cannot recite his entire genealogy six generations back from memory is the exception rather than the rule. Blood was all; the individual lived to serve the clan and the clan existed to protect each individual member. The worship of Demnat, the Beast God, also originated in this time. The "curse" of shapeshifting was accounted as a blessing from the god, and those in whom the gift ran strongest were chosen as priests.

At last the Aruaki's wanderings came to an end in the land they now call home. The native farmers welcomed them, though cautiously. Their oldest city, Aruak, is founded on the site of that first camp.

Some years later, another wandering clan, the Narsh Untur, also stumbled into the Aruaki hills. Like the Aruaki themselves, they had been "cursed" with lycanthropy--in their case, by an elven mage, Melean the Teacher. Melean had cursed the tribe for their refusal to aid him in the conquest of the elven kingdoms to the west; the tribe was even now pursued by an army of orcs at Melean's command. The Aruaki welcomed the fugitives, and banded together with them to defeat the orckish army. The Narsh Untur joined the Aruaki and settled the town later called Lyratilan.

As the clans settled and grew, other cities were founded: Arkers, Tobir, Seam, Solven, Ti, and Zorpunt. Caleam, Point and Iaye, though now part of the nation of Aruak, are not populated by people of Aruaki descent; Caleam was settled by exiles from Bonsur, and Point and Iaye (once a single city) were once part of the Kraelian Empire. The Aruaki love beauty and craftsmanship; Aruaki cities tend to have the air of large villages: quiet, spread out, with every building carefully planned to fit into the landscape. With so large a population in so small a space, every available piece of land is put to use. A visitor going from one city to another might be hard pressed to tell where the city leaves off and the interlocking jigsaw of tiny, manicured farms begins, or where the farms blend into parklike wilderness.

Not every Aruaki is a shapeshifter by any means; perhaps one in ten shows the ability and another four in ten have a recessive form which may come out in their children. The clan priests often arrange marriages between lines designed to bring out these latent powers in the next generation. Aruaki are magically talented in general, and even the so-called normal ones make very fair wizards. Aruak is foremost among the nations of the Andorian League in its magical capabilities, its artists and musicians, and its schools, libraries and parks: having been deprived of these things once, the Aruaki are determined to preserve them now. Despite their high level of culture, the Aruaki retain a great deal of respect for the practical, and the ability to survive in the wild on one's own. Tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds, honesty, and reasoned daring are traits to be admired. Lack of manners, grandstanding and seeking the simple way out of a problem are traits to be avoided. As the Aruaki were hard hit during the Chaos Wars, they dislike trolls and other "Chaos creatures" on principle. Due to the Narsh Untur's experiences with the elf-mage Melean, they also tend to distrust elves and elven motives.

Physically, the Aruaki are of average height and build, graceful and agile beyond the norm. They tend to have olive or golden brown complexions, darker than average for northern Alastari. (Caleam natives are even darker.) The most common eye colors are gold and green, with blue a distant third, and hair tends to be dark. Due to the intermarriage with Convincian and Frafrejan humans, however, lighter hair and darker eyes are not unknown. The "typical Aruaki" has gold eyes, olive skin and black hair and features with a slightly Asiatic cast.

A popular misconception (which the Aruaki do little to dispel) is that the shapeshifters are capable of transformation only on the full or dark of the moon--though most werefolk say that the urge is strongest at those times, any well-trained were can change shape at will. It should be noted that clothing does NOT magically disappear, nor does size change. A 150 pound human will change into a 150 pound cat. Tigers and lions are the most common wereshapes, but panthers, leopards, jaguars and other, even rarer types are known. The change does take effort--attempts to switch rapidly back and forth between shapes, or to halt the transformation in the middle, will cause disorientation and exhaustion. The werefolk of Lyratilan take wolf-shape, but in other respects their condition is very similar to the catfolk. Werefolk can be killed by normal weapons. There is some foundation to the legend about them being difficult to wound in their cat form, however. While in "transition" between cat and human form, the body of a shapeshifter is in a state which encourages rapid growth and regeneration of tissues. Minor wounds (bruises, scratches) may heal in transition. More serious wounds may be partially healed--but it is extremely difficult for a shapeshifter to stay in transition for more than a few moments and the attempt to do so may cause disorientation, muscle spasms, and even seizures. Other possible problems with this method of healing are, for example, healing a wound too quickly, before it can be cleaned, thus leading to infection.

Today there is still some friction between the Aruaki and the "native" population. As the werefolk hold many positions of authority, the "ordinary humans" often feel powerless and oppressed. On the other hand, laws in many cities exalt werefolk as representatives of Demnat on earth, while effectively tying them to temple service for life--forbidding them to own land, hold government positions or marry without permission. Originally written to "protect" the normal citizens from marauding weres with temple immunity, oftentimes these laws are not strictly enforced, but they remain on the books. In the past generation or so, young shapeshifters chafing at the restrictions of their lives have been emigrating from Aruak, sometimes concealing their heritage. Clan elders now worry that the wereblood will thin and disappear, and there is talk of rescinding some of the laws--but as yet, it is only talk.

Aruak is the major outlet for the northern branch of the Great Eastern Route, and Aruak makes a great deal of its living off of trade revenue. Tobir and Zorpunt are the main ports.

The Aruaki are on good terms with the kingdom of Convincia to the north and the Frafrejan Empire to the east. They admire the Frafrejans and feel a debt of gratitude for the aid that kingdom extended during the last war with the Delarquan Federation, but they remain a proud and self-sufficient people. Though their military might is small, they feel that their knowledge of battle sorcery more than makes up for that lack--and if the Aruaki army is small, its individual warriors are among the finest in Alastari. The merchant fleet is extensive, and shipbuilding is a highly developed craft. Again, Aruak does not maintain much of a navy, relying on magic and mercenaries from Ardivent for defense of its shipping. As the ruling house of Ardivent has a strong streak of elven blood, the Aruaki tolerate elves, though they do not enjoy their company.

The Aruaki Clanhold is divided into several earldoms, based in part on the ancient clan divisions. The position of earl (and that of king) grew out of the old clan warchief positions, and only comparatively recently have they come to rival and even outstrip the power of the church--something the church is not very pleased with. Oldest of the earldoms is the Aruak Hold, including the cities of Aruak and Seam. Aruak City is the seat of King Jorian and the site of the main temple of Demnat; the High Priest Orn Olharin of Olharin Clan wields a great deal of temporal power in the city as well. Solven has, at times in its history, been considered part of Aruak Hold; at present it is an independent earldom under the control of Lirian Olharin of Olharin (Orn's granddaughter) one of the few female shapechangers to hold temporal power in the Clanhold.

Point Hold includes Point and Iaye, and is under the control of Earl Draggoran Vaill of Vaill. In practice, Iaye pays very little attention to mainland affairs and is mainly ruled by its own Governor and Mayor. The governor is appointed by the earl and the mayor is elected by the citizens.

Ti is not part of an earldom; it is ruled by the Baron Ehan Veyral Diamayn. Ehan's family, descended of the pre-Aruaki inhabitants of the country and the exiled Dashkent of Desshian, have no formal clan affiliation.

Zorpunt Hold includes the city of Zorpunt and the small islands off the Aruaki coast, and is ruled by Earl Yort Desshian Torres of Desshian. Caleam is also an independent city, ruled by Terr Desshian of Desshian, often styled Earl by courtesy. Lyratilan, ruled by Lokthar Torres of Torres, is independent.

Tobir Hold includes the city of Tobir and the countryside to the Ardiventi border, and is ruled by Earl Lorivan Torres Dellon of Dellon. Lorivan's grandfather was part of the temple's unfortunate attempt at crossing the feline bloodlines of the Aruaki with the lycanthropes of Lyratilan--his father, Hirrivan, was most fortunate in escaping the madness which often attended the children of such crosses, though he was unable to take either wolf or cat shape. Lorivan is not a shapeshifter and the Temple is anxious that he marry well to assure that his children will be. There is considerable infighting amongst the clans as to which will provide his bride, as ultimate control of Tobir Hold rests upon the clan-line of his children.

Arkers Hold includes the city of Arkers and the countryside to the Convincian border. It is ruled by Earl Iridi Marah of Dellon, one of the few female earls.

The Aruaki Clans are Olharin (lion), Desshian (tiger), Vaill (leopard), Dellon (jaguar) and Torres (wolf). The Torres Clan is almost completely confined to Lyratilan and is the smallest of the clans; in that city they still refer to themselves as the Narsh Untur. The Dellon Clan is in a severe decline. At present, the Olharin Clan is the most powerful, but this has not always been the case. There are, as mentioned above, other possible cat-shapes, but they are too rare to comprise clans of their own.

The Church of Demnat is the most powerful single institution in the Clanhold. Demnat was originally a very minor god of Ratan, patron of predatory animals and hunters. The Aruaki adopted him as their major deity during their trek north. Worshippers and priests of Demnat aspire to the virtues of the cat: ferocity, cunning, independence and curiosity. Enemies of the church point out the attendant weaknesses--pride and callousness.

Demnat is a rather active god as the Alastarian pantheon goes and has been known to manifest to his followers, though like most gods he would rather maneuver mortals into doing his work for him than fling miracles all over the place. He generally takes the form of a male human of Aruaki descent, or a silver-striped black tiger. His is the archetypal cat personality--aloof, impeccably groomed, incurably curious. He is well aware of his promotion from demigod to major deity, and feels that it's only what he deserves. He is the patron of wizards and scholars as well as the more traditional association with hunters and shapeshifters.

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Published on: 2002-07-14 (1451 reads)

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