Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Freed Lands: Wheruls

Wheruls are my wild and crazy barbarian horde race. You know, the ones whose approach is heralded by a huge dust cloud on the horizon and who leave devastation in their wake.

Their origins lie in the savannah of Hafe, to the south of the Freed Lands. Wheruls had been ravaging the Morven Ghannem region for centuries before the elves of Immovenst conquered it. The elves attempted to spare their new territory from further attacks only by providing the wheruls with quality arms and armor, and encouraging the wherul raiders to demonstrate their prowess with them further south. The wherul hordes happily took the elven weaponry, but never stopped testing the borders of Morbenhann, ensuring that the elves (and their subjects) never lowered their guard.

Wheruls respect displays of power, but never bow to it for long. That power will be tested time and again until a weakness is discovered and exploited, and the wherul is once again revealed as supreme. Wherul society places might as its highest virtue. Wheruls exalt in strength of arms and personality, and believe to risk life and limb is to live. A wherul horde will rob, sack, and pillage, true, but this is an only an expression of their near-pathological need for supremacy. However, they are not a conquering race. Once that horde feels that it has established that supremacy, it returns to the wherul homelands - the sunny plains to the south that are their unquestioned domain. There, they rest, rebuild their numbers, and prepare their next demonstration.

Wheruls have no religion per se. There is a perception that they worship spirits of nature, but this is a mistaken one. They may pause to admire a waterfall or a great canyon, or to respectfully observe a tiger bringing down its prey, but they are not animists in the true sense. They are just as likely to divert the river for their needs, or to kill the great cat for food. Wheruls have no concept of agriculture or domestication, but they take pride in capturing and training wild animals, especially predatory ones (many of which they bring along on their raids).

Wheruls are reptilian in appearance, but are warm-blooded, and bear live young. They begin life as quadrupedal creatures very similar in appearance to a monitor lizard, but upon reaching adolescence, changes begin rapidly as the young males engage in violent (but non-lethal) combat for the right to breed with the wherul females.

After mating, the winners begin a rapid transformation into a massive, semi-quadrupedal form covered in iridescent scales, with a heavy tail used for balance when using the forelimbs to manipulate objects. Males are physically powerful, capable of running at high speeds for great distances, but are considerably less mentally capable than the females, and serve as hunters, warriors, and (during long-distance travel) mounts for the smaller females.

The females, after bearing young, become fully bipedal, with roughly humanoid proportions. Unlike the males, their mental faculties are not dulled by the maturing process, and thus they take up the planning and leadership of their yearly raids.

The males that lose the breeding combats become neuters - dull brown, sterile humanoids similar in appearance to females. Wherul neuters develop highly sophisticated vocal chords capable of reproducing sounds outside of the human range of hearing, which may be amplified to very high volume by their inflatable throat sacs. The wherul battle language makes use of these far-travelling frequencies, enabling them to secretly give complex orders across great distances.

The wherul mouth is designed only for biting prey and eating flesh, and thus, wheruls lack the ability to speak words in the fashion of other races. The lizard-like face of a wherul displays no emotion, and their language consists of strange barks, chirps, and hisses. When dealing with other races, wheruls rely instead on their neuters' talent for mimicry to communicate in a strange, broken syntax of words and phrases, perfectly copied from the speech of others that they have heard. The sight of a neuter wherul "speaking" in this fashion, switching voices in the middle of a sentence without moving the lips, can be unsettling.

(Much of this will be familiar to those who followed my old Freed Lands journal, but there's a good deal that has changed. It's my hope that the style of this entry gives you a better idea of the way I'm approaching races in this setting: I'm going for a sense of realism and originality without turning into a biology text or going completely off the wall. We'll see if I can do the same for some of the more typical fantasy races.)

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