Tir na n'Og - The Codes of Ohma - The Factions - The tainted - To be chosen - Triads, Ironlords, & Triumphants
"Never turn your back on one of the tainted. They might start out human, but over time, they take on more and more of the nature of the beasts they so resemble, until they are reduced to ravening beasts, killing for the joy of it." - Folk legend
"I used to come to this place all the time when I was human. My money was good enough for them then. Now? I can't even have a quiet drink by myself without risking life and limb." - Jade the Elf
"I'm lucky if I'm not shot on sight." - Rakshasa
"Pocket magic does naught but bring out what's already within. The tainted are forced to be honest about it." - Rowan of Killaloe
"RRRRRAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRR!!!!!!" - Unknown Sobaka bandit
Anyone who's ever survived a Sobaka raiding party or come face-to-face with a Liontaur on the open plains knows that, in many cases, every terrible thing ever whispered about these former humans is all too true. Since most tainted keep to themselves and avoid the more settled areas, the rest of the human race never has a chance to see or know them as anything but the terrifying, bestial savages they hear of from battle-scarred caravan guards and the elaborate tales of wandering minstrels.
What are tainted?
But what are the tainted, truly? Are they the abominations spoken of in the Codes, more beast than man? Or simply strangers among us, no
more and no less than each individual proves him or herself to be?
Most of us know that when a Greater Fey casts a major spell, a magical residue often remains, like a sort of radiation. This residue, in time, becomes something called "pocket magic." Any non-Fey creature who stumbles across pocket magic is affected by it -- usually by dying. But not all who are so poisoned die of it. Some are changed, mutated into something else entirely. This change can be all at once or it can build up over time, affecting the victim in stages. Like Circe's spells, pocket magic bestows upon its victims the physical attributes that best reflect their inner nature.
The three most common forms are the Elf, the Sobaka, and the Koshka. Of course, victims of pocket magic sometimes mutate into other forms as well; one hears rumors of the graceful, birdlike Aerians, and there's a swamp-dwelling, reptilian creature sometimes rumored to be tainted, at other times thought to be a lesser Fey. Variations are usually solitary cases, however, and without the support of others of their kind they do not often survive for long.
It is commonly believed that tainted gradually devolve into true beasts. Is this a true magical side-effect, or purely psychological? Certainly it is all too human to take on the characteristics of the mask one wears. And as anyone who has raised children learns, people usually behave the way they think they are expected to behave. But in the case of the tainted, it is difficult to say which came first, the form or the spirit.
The Elves are by far the most common of the tainted. Elves usually began as humans with a natural affinity for the earth, the deep forests
and far, wild places, who lived their days by the rhythms of the land and its seasons. Free spirited, curious about the world and its workings, and
often fond of solitude, those with elfin tendencies are usually found in those walks of life that cater to their need to be close to nature. Many are
fisher or farm folk, herdsmen, hunters, gardeners, and the like. Those with a wandering bent are often drawn to become Rangers. Once tainted, they drift
away from their human lives, usually heading deep into the forests.
Physically, the change affects Elves least of all the tainted. Though they sometimes will become shorter and slighter of build, only their pointed ears are sure to betray them. Their eyesight is far superior to the average human's, but this is not a change that is obvious to any but the Elves themselves. Of all the changes that come with the taint, the most remarkable is the sudden ability to utilize human magic, even if they couldn't before -- though of course, not all Elves realize it, or choose to explore this new sense.
The second most common of the tainted is the Sobaka. The Sobaka are those of a more feral nature. Once tainted, they begin to take on the
physical characteristics of the wolf, the dog, the jackal, or the hyena. Sometimes, these changes are subtle, such as fangs, or yellow eyes, or longer
ears. At other times, the change is more obvious; a muzzle-like snout, blunted, clawed fingers, excessive body hair. In extreme cases, Sobaka can be
almost indistinguishable from true beasts, save that they usually continue to wear at least vestiges of clothing and often insist on walking upright.
The sight is disconcerting, to say the least, made more so by the fact that most such heavily-tainted Sobaka lose the ability to form comprehensible
To call someone a dog, a jackal, or the like is, of course, a quick way to start a fight. Most people tend to think first of the negative aspects of the canines. But Sobaka are not necessarily evil people. After all, wolves are admired for their courage and the closeness of their family ties, and dogs are commonly referred to as "man's best friend," prized for their loyalty and protectiveness. Even jackals and hyenas are respected for their cunning, their ability to survive in a hostile environment, their sense of community to their pack. True, a Sobaka can be predatory, cowardly, and ruthlessly savage if he or she started out as a human with those tendencies; becoming Sobaka only makes them more openly so, and more dangerous. Many Sobaka do, in fact, turn to banditry, hunting in packs as openly as their truly animal brethren. Because they are stronger than humans, faster, with keener hearing and an uncanny sense of smell, they are more than a match for most single humans. It is said that a big Sobaka can take on a trolkien one-on-one, though how you'd find a living witness to such a sight is difficult to say.
But there are Sobaka who simply enjoy the hunt, who understand the strength to be found in order, yet honor the follower as well as the leader; who treasure courage and honor, and value love, friendship, loyalty. It is unfortunate that this is rarely the type of Sobaka one encounters during travel.
Sobaka tend to prefer living on the open plains or steppes, but they can be found in almost all parts of the land. There is a mountain range just outside of Torsick known as the Sobaka Mountains for the number of packs who make their homes there, but even these tend to descend to the plains to hunt. Among some peoples, the Sobaka are known as "the Lords of the plains," for few humans, coming upon a Sobaka pack in the wild, will choose to dispute their sovereignty.
The Koshka, less numerous than the Sobaka, are born of those whose natures were equally feral but more solitary in nature, and so turned feline.
But not just any feline; though there are occasional variations, Koshka most closely resemble the lion, the King of Beasts. Their ears may be small and
rounded or long and tufted, and their eyes may be green or gold, but nearly always they develop the exotic markings around the eyes and the sharp,
tearing teeth and claws of the greatest of the big cats. Male and female alike usually grow full, thick manes. And, oh, they do love the hunt. And they
are very, very good at it.
Though they do sometimes congregate in prides, the Koshka lack the solidarity of the Sobaka. Again, whether a Koshka is good or evil depends upon the individual; they can be vain, selfish, cruel, and ruthlessly cold-blooded, or simply independent, sensual, and self-reliant. They tend to be quick to anger and are fierce combatants. Koshka generally prefer hill country, but, like other tainted, can be found anywhere. Like the Sobaka (whom they naturally dislike) they are stronger than humans, faster, and keener of hearing, though instead of a superb sense of smell, the Koshka develop superior vision. Koshka are far less likely than Sobaka to start a fight with a passing human -- but they are more than capable of finishing it. Wise travelers steer well clear of any area said to be the hunting grounds of the Koshka.
There are the other, less common tainted as well, though these are even more rarely encountered. Centaurs, for instance, are the result of a horse and rider who stepped into pocket magic together. Though usually forced to live apart from human society like other tainted, Centaurs remain social creatures, sometimes lingering on the outskirts of their former towns or seeking out communities where they can continue to live among people, if they cannot find others of their own kind. They prefer to hire out as caravan guards and mercenaries (they are, after all, the ultimate cavalry soldier) rather than live off the land as do the Sobaka, Koshka, and Elves. In some ways, it is easier to overcome one's natural fear of tainted around Centaurs, for they retain their intelligence, their personality, all the other aspects that make them human in everything but body. It's just that they're so very large. And powerful. And dangerous.
Liontaurs, the far deadlier and less human version of the Centaur, are perhaps the rarest of all the tainted, and this is usually accounted as a Good Thing. Like the Centaur, the Liontaur is the result of a horse and rider who encountered pocket magic and tainted together, with one major difference; the human was the sort who should have tainted into Koshka. The full Liontaur has the head, arms, and upper body of a Koshka, but the lower body of a lion. They are, as one might guess, terrible opponents in battle, and are strenuously avoided by human adventurers. As a result, little is known of their social habits. Survivors of Liontaur encounters are as rare as survivors of encounters with trolkien.
Life as a tainted
Pocket magic has the added effect of rendering all who encounter it sterile or barren. There are no little Elf children, no Centaur
foals, no Koshka or Sobaka cubs. Survivors, almost always instantly outcast from all human society and sometimes hunted as abominations, leave their
human families and seek out others of their kind, banding together for safety. Most generally live nomadic lives or settle in small, tribal communities,
far from human settlements.
Even tainted who are members of Triads rarely dare enter human towns openly, but must either disguise themselves or enter in secret, after dark. This makes life even more difficult for the Triad. Further, the legendary, magical Gates that allow the knowledgeable to travel instantly across great distances are blocked to tainted, as if somehow the magic can no longer affect them. And though some Factions show a marked preference for choosing tainted because of their special abilities, there are Factions that choose to break Triads when a member becomes tainted rather than continue to utilize them once their effectiveness is so hampered.
The Green and Brown Factions, of course, are well known for using tainted indiscriminately, and Blue and Gold both have had Triads with tainted members. But such occurrences are rare among the legendary Triads of other colors, and virtually unknown among the Red and Black despite the fact that some Sobaka are drawn to the Red Faction, where their preference for teamwork serves them well.
All in all, the lot of the tainted is not a happy one. Though many come to accept themselves, even to revel in their altered forms and the abilities that go with them, most would endure almost anything to be human again. Since the only hope they have of being restored to their former selves is to gain the favor of a Greater Fey, who can remove the taint, they may be driven to foolhardy acts of daring in the quest for recognition.
It is hard, when looking into the snarling face of a wolfish Sobaka or cold-eyed Koshka, to see anything but the terrible differences, the sometimes monstrous aspects so terrifyingly presented. But try to remember that no matter how hideously changed, this person was once much as you or I. It is perhaps wisest to forget the outer seeming and pay attention instead to the intent, the actions by which they declare the state of their souls. As an ancient wise one once said, "By their works ye shall know them."
Just be aware that their bodies took that form for a reason.