Saturday, December 15, 2007

Godtouched Races: Ghrok

The ghrok are a moderately antisocial race of godtouched who live in the area between Igakari and what was once the Jerol Empire - a valley otherwise known as the Eastern Border. They are arguably the reason the area has remained lawless and free from the control of any human kingdoms. While the ghrok tolerate the presence of human settlements and fiefdoms in the area, they do not tolerate human military buildup and will drop the hammer on any settlement that tries. Their treatment of humans is largely one of self-defense; they correctly believe that if a human kingdom were to take root in the Eastern Border, they would lose the free roaming lifestyle they depend on for survival. Though not in recent history, ghroks have been driven to extinction in other areas of Zenninfal. As a result, they have shaky alliances with human bandits that largely rule the Eastern Border, and ghrok raids of human towns are commonplace, though not supported by the larger ghrok community.

Ghroks have two postures - one stooped on all fours like a primate, in which case they are usually 5 feet tall, or an intimidating posture where they rear up on their hind legs, in which case they are easily six and a half feet. They can comfortably walk in either posture, though they use their stooped posture for running. Their rear legs are short and digitigrade, and resemble the legs of a kangaroo with the exception of their feet, which have three independent splayed hooves shaped like a paw. Their arms are very thick and long, and covered in coarse, matted hair. Their fists are large and they have meaty callouses on their knuckles for galloping at high speeds on all fours. Ghroks are conspicuously tail-less.

Ghroks' bodies and limb proportions resemble those of wereboars, with a razorback tuft of hair running down their spine. They can even be mistaken for wereboars at a distance; however, their faces are decidedly equestrian. The heads of ghrok have the muzzles and jawlines of horses, but without the horse's lips. Their frontal faces are dominated by huge curving teeth that extend beyond their cheeks that they use to root for mushrooms and strip bark off trees. They have a long prehensile tongue that they use to hold their weapons while charging. Their diet is strictly vegetarian and they will only eat meat in desperate circumstances.

A mature adult ghrok usually weighs 400 to 500 pounds, with most of their weight being in their upper shoulders, head and arms. They are top-heavy, but use that to their advantage while running. Some ghrok will even curl into balls while running down the sides of the valleys they inhabit, turning themselves into bowling balls with thick tough skin, sinewy muscle and extremely resilient bone. They have been known to flatten trees, fences and even houses with this method of attack.

Ghroks typically live until 40, and individuals in their 70s have been reported. They travel in great tribes and are highly social. Due to the anatomy of their mouths, the noises they can make are limited, guttural and inarticulate. Their name actually comes from the bark-like sound they make. The ghrok language is actually one of hand signs and body gestures, and can easily be learned by a human who takes the time to study them. The ghrok consider a human's "accent" to be odd due to the different sizes of their arms and legs, but can understand them plainly. Humans who do learn the ghrok language have found them to be an articulate and spiritual people who consider the land and the beasts in it sacred. This is not surprising considering the ghrok are the godtouched race created by Tancoda, the Igakari god of the herds and plains.

Ghroks mate for life and are marsupial. The females have a pouch on their lower stomachs that covers their teats, and in the spring, two to three joeys are born that make a crawl to their mother's pouch. Usually at least one dies, sometimes without the mother even noticing that the tiny red creature has lost grip of her hair. Once in the pouch, the infant ghrok develops, nourished by the mother's milk. The pups will continue to spend time in their mother's pouch over the autumn and winter, though by then they have been weaned and are fed a diet of mushrooms and soft pine needles. By the next spring, the pups become too big for the pouch and are forced to vacate. This is usually just in time for the next generation of joeys to begin their climb to the pouch.

Being herbivores, ghrok have no steady supply of animal skins with which to make any leather clothing, though they will often trade with humans to make it for them. There is a high demand for leather clothing in ghrok tribes due to its durability. They also believe that wearing the skins of the animals of the Eastern Border brings them strength, but have a superstition that they will be weakened by wearing the skin of an animal killed expressly to create leather. Ghrok often refuse to wear the skin of an animal that has not been consumed for food or used in some other way. They often ask their medicine men and women to cast divine spells to insure that the animal whose skin they are wearing was not killed only for its skin and then left to rot. Ghrok who cannot find leather will often weave clothing out of grasses and leaves, similar to the centaurs of the Eastern islands.

Some of the more violent ghrok tribes have a particularly ghastly practice however. They have learned to tan leather themselves, and instead of using herd animals as its source, they create clothing out of the skins of the humans they kill in raids. Their rationalization for this is that the humans could and do fight back, often very effectively, and won't be dishonored by this practice. As a sign of sincere respect, they often use the rest of the body - bones for weapons, tools, silverware and bowls, the fats and oils for lamps and soaps, and the meat and muscles are jerked and then used as barter between the ghrok and tribes of plains and bush ardlins, who are none too fond of humans.

Understandably, due to this behavior of a minority of ghrok, and also due to their very militant attitude towards consolidation of human military power, ghroks are reviled across Zenninfal and normally considered little more than magic-using, literally hideous brutes who would be better off exterminated.

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