Monday, January 7, 2008

Godtouched Races: Valdrex

Having dominated the northern half of Rensvan, the valdrex are among the most civilized of the godtouched races. This is arguable however, because while they have a highly organized and advanced civilization in organization and science, their personal outlook on life and how to treat others is very alien to our own sensibilities. Valdrex are insects first, and have the point of view of insects.

A valdrex's appearance greatly depends on how it has decided to clothe itself. When dealing with humans or other godtouched, a valdrex will typically wrap itself in linens so only its eyes are visible, then don an ornate robe with sleeves that are so long they almost graze the ground. In this robe they appear as 9 foot tall humanoids. They usually wear a fancy hat, and five massive clawed fingers wrapped in linens drag along the ground, just barely poking out of their long sleeves. On their stomach they have a very large pouch, that whenever they need to manipulate something, opens and reveals two long and spindly arms. These arms can poke up and through the pouch and manipulate whatever the valdrex needs, and will usually then retreat back into the pouch. This pouch can also be used to store items, gold, weapons and magical artifacts.

Valdrex dress this way when "in public" because they have in recent centuries become merchants and slave traders. They've found that presenting themselves as such increases their ability to properly deal and barter with other races, who are usually too horrified and intimidated by their true form to be willing to do any business with them.

A valdrex's true form is that of a massive insect. Their body resembles that of a wasp and praying mantis, with a mantis's long neck and head, and a wasp's body and abdomen. A valdrex has no wings, however they do have three sets of legs. They are bipedal and their rear legs support all their weight, and are quite long and flexible. The feet on their rear legs split forward and backward, which almost makes their back legs act as two. Their middle pair of arms is the aforementioned long and spindly manipulator arms. Their front pair of legs are quite large, like a praying mantis's, but instead of being giant scythes, its hands actually have five crescent bladed fingers, one of which acts as an opposable thumb. These hands are easily large enough to grab and crush/slice apart a human's torso.

A valdrex that is not wearing its "merchant's garb" is usually 8 feet tall (it stoops forward slightly) and 8 feet long from its head to the tip of its thorax. They are typically 700 to 1200 pounds. Valdrex individuals tend to live for 80 years.

A valdrex's prowess in melee combat is second only to a dragon's, and they can easily best almost any other godtouched in hand to hand combat. Their elemancy is quite weak comparatively, with only 1 in every 300 individuals having access to the ability. Valdrex usually do not depend on magic, though their priests are well respected in their community, and they have learned human wizardry and use it as their primary magical skill in combat. Valdrex are cunning and intelligent and individuals can easily learn a system such as wizardry, and some have even improved it in a few ways beyond even the humans' abilities.

Valdrex society itself is complicated, and the subject is perhaps more easily approachable from how they are different from the other godtouched races. The valdrex god is Chentri, the feminine and insectoid goddess of domination and self-interest. The valdrex themselves are still notorious, thousands of years later, for helping their goddess end the war of the gods by killing the gods Gretash and Retla. Chentri herself still seeks domination, but goes about it in a slower, more stable way now. Her valdrex see slave-trading and forcing other races to become economically dependent on them as a method of control.

Valdrex believe that whatever benefits them the most is the correct course of action, and tend to take pragmatism to the most selfish of its extremes. They have no concept of morals, and murder is seen as a justifiable course of action. They have no sense of ego - an individual valdrex lives for its hive, and individual accomplishments are seen as a glory of that individual's hive's genetics. A valdrex will actually see itself as a tool to be used as long as it benefits the hive, and to be discarded at the hive's convenience.

A hive itself tends to have a queen - but this queen does not dictate policy, and instead only provides pupae for the rest of the hive. Like ants, a male valdrex is rare, and his only duty is to provide genetic material for the queen. Particularly successful hives will export its males to other valdrex hives in order to improve the genetic integrity of the valdrex race. Valdrex themselves communicate via a complex combination of chemical markers and a hissing/clicking language. A valdrex hive is dominated by a kind of groupthink - a social consciousness that is more vast and intelligent than any one individual. This consciousness is not psionic in nature, and has no magical component. The sounds of a valdrex hive - a constant low pitched droning - is the major method that provides a hive with stability and communication among individuals. The droning is also how Chentri makes herself known to her subjects, and how she influences their behavior, and lets them know her pleasure or displeasure at their actions. Valdrex individuals who practice divine magic and worship Chentri do not have any special place in the hive, being priests is simply a role to fill, like any other. Other typical rolls filled by valdrex individuals are scientists, wizards, torturers, warriors, janitors, guards, merchants, slavers and diplomats. No job is considered beneath the others, and no job considered above.

Merchants, slavers and diplomats separated from the hive tend to continue to carry the hive's best interests at heart. Valdrex travel in groups of three, six, or nine, and in front of others they will remain silent - but in private they begin resonating with one another in order to make decisions. This does not imply however that a solitary valdrex is not capable of making decisions on its own - far from it. However, if more than one valdrex is present, they will always make decisions as a group, pooling their experiences and knowledge into a whole greater than the sum of its parts. In combat, valdrex are extremely vocal if they are in a group - and tend to stink very badly. This is them communicating with one another so they can continue to make group decisions quickly - even in the heat of battle.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the valdrex is the way they treat their slaves. Valdrex scientists have studied mammalian psychology closely, and have developed a rigorous routine of painful torture and psychological mind-games. They break their slaves with these methods, instead of using a form of magical domination, or even restraints and whips for coersion. Once conditioning has been completed, a valdrex slaves serves the hive just as willingly as any valdrex. The slave in fact even feels like it loves the hive, and will protect the hive from danger at the cost of its own life - even from past friends or family.

This conditioning cannot be undone with magic, divine or otherwise - only years of psychological deprogramming has ever been effective at restoring the slaves' previous allegiances. Even then, the scars last a lifetime and the person never truly recovers. On top of that, very few godtouched races have enough interest in the subject to have developed the psychological expertise required to help a slave towards recovery.

A valdrex slave is also perfectly conditioned to be sold to other godtouched cultures willing to buy them. In fact, slaves conditioned by valdrex masters are highly sought after for their obedience and single-track minds. A little-known fact about valdrex slaves however is that they will always serve a valdrex master over the master they have been sold to. Valdrex have often used the slaves they have sold to others as covert spies and assassins, though the use of this practice is kept to a minimum. The valdrex do not want their prospective clients to realize that the slaves they are receiving are not as loyal as they seem.

Thankfully, the valdrex are ill-suited to the afterlife. Valdrex individuals are normally sent to the hell of paranoia, where they should fit in just fine - if only for the fact that breeding is not possible, so hives cannot form. In the afterlife, valdrex tend to suffer from psychological breakdowns. They refuse to resonate with one another, and refuse to adopt themselves back into groups. They become fiercely individual and regress to an almost mindless state. Occasionally a valdrex individual will form an ego and begin to interact with other creatures in the afterlife as constructive member of society, but this is quite rare, and such valdrex tend to remain self-serving and backstabbing. When this sort of personality surfaces in a valdrex who is still alive, it is treated by the hive as a type of insanity, where the individual valdrex believes itself to be a complete hive. Such still-living valdrex are quickly disposed of.

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