The race of warrior-giants called the Kro'Taruk (Crow-Tah-Rook) are no more than a myth on many worlds: Their strength, ferocity, and skill in combat are matters of legend, but in this case, the legends fall short. If you hear someone telling a tall tale of Kro'Taruk might, chances are they're not telling it tall enough.
The Kro'Taruk are large-framed endothermic humanoids covered in a thick, crocodile-like hide, making them warriors as much by biology as by culture. They are a massive people, ranging from eight to ten feet in height, with males generally being taller. A good portion of the typical Kro'Taruk's mass is in their hyperdense skeletons, which posess a material toughness roughly equivalent to tool-grade steel. Their nervous systems do not register pain as sharply as most other species- no Kro'Taruk has ever been observed to go into shock. What wounds do make it though their thick natural armor tend to heal very quickly, even in a septic environment. The species' digits feature an enlarged, hardened nail that covers the entire dorsal region of their fingers and toes. The Kro'Taruk skull typically supports two to six horns in two rows along the top of the skull, usually starting from just above the brow. These horns vary in size and shape according to hereditary traits, and serve to identify members of other genders- and often other tribes, as a given gene pool will feature a set of typical horn shapes.
Skin coloration and scale profile vary according to ancestry and gender, in the same manner as their horns. Females typically have larger and thicker scales than males, a trait that assists in the various courtship and mating rituals typical to the entire species. Scales are shed in a regular cycle roughly equivalent to four lunar months, individual scales that are split or otherwise broken through are replaced quicker. Damaged scales fall away from an embedded cuticle as the replacement pushes from beneath. The repair process can take from a week to a matter of hours, depending on the health and age of the individual. Scales are typically thicker and more dense, but smaller along the head, shoulders, and the entire back. The abdomen features several large semi-flexible platelike structures which do not shed as often, generally regenerating damage as opposed to dropping away. Kro'Taruk tend to grow dense hair on top of their heads. Males also possess hair around the mouth. This hair is a sort of attenuated scale, and serves as another aspect of gender identification.
The species is omnivorous, with a marked preference for fresh meat. Their sharp teeth include prominent tusk-like lower canines. This is why humans perceive them as being perpetually scowling. Kro'Taruk will generally subsist on an exclusively carnivorous diet, though they are capable of digesting some forms of vegetation when no prey is available. They will readily ingest cooked or raw meat, but can not tolerate meat that is spoiled. Culturally, they believe carrion is food only for scavengers and insects, and thus is beneath their pride. This is almost a universal belief among the various tribes, with the exception of a number of salt marsh tribes.
Their eyes are red, with orange or yellow corneas that give the appearance of a solid iris. They are able to see well in both extremes of light and dark, but pulses can trigger severe disorientation or an aggressive response.
Reproduction and Lifespan
The Kro'Taruk mating practices are both, biologically and culturally, strictly for propogation. This is thought to be a symptom of one of the most painful copulation practices for a sentient race. Males can only reproduce three times, as parts of their anatomy essential to the act are expended during coupling. This may be an evolutionary adaptation essential to population control, given the incredible lifespan of healthy individuals. Most cultures on Taruk are monogamous, as the reproductive act and the successful birth of a healthy child is a major event in most tribes.
Unlike most reptilian beings, the Kro'Taruk give live birth. They have a gestation period of two years, marked by an increased appetite for protein and calcium. The added hormones present in the female's body causes her horns to grow at an expanded rate- A female Kro'Taruk well into her pregnancy will have horns similar to the branches of a small tree. After giving birth, the heavy horns will be shed over a period of several days. These enlarged horns are thought to assist in frightening away predators, as they add to the female's observed size. These horns are often fascinating to male Kro'Taruk- there is a subgenre of Kro'Taruk poetry dedicated to their description. When the horns fall off, they are often saved by the mother and given to their offspring during the wedding rituals.
The Kro'Taruk are an incredibly long-lived species, with some individuals reaching a millenium of life. Most individuals, male and female, die at two to four hundred years old. The leading cause of death for the typical Kro'Taruk is wounds sustained in combat, owing to the species' highly aggressive tendencies.
Taruk, The Kro'Taruk Homeworld
Taruk is a brutal world. It is 30% larger than earth with gravity twice as strong. Temperature shifts between day and night are extreme, due to a atmosphere thinner than typical of habitable planets- approximately 85% of Earth's density. An interesting property of the planet is it's dense magnetic field, an effect of the unusually high metallic content of Taruk's mantle and core. This protection from solar radiation is the planet's only kindness to its inhabited life- because of temperature shifts and predators, most unprotected offworld species would die on the planet's surface within a day.
There are no major bodies of surface water on Taruk, making the great mountain ranges that cross the planet's surface the common divider for climate. Some basins may contain arid deserts, while some may dip into the planet's ground water and become vast salt marshes. There is generally very little variation between these two extremes, owing to the unusual height of the planet's typical mountain range.
Moreso than anywhere else on the planet, the mountains are a brutal place. Freezing winds and biting snowstorms rule the peaks and force its inhabitants to adapt. The ranges are typically composed of metal ore; the deepest roots of the greatest ranges hide cores of pure Krotujite. This makes most rock formations extremely hard, and thus slow to erode- despite their age, the oldest mountains are still spectacles of sheer cliffs and towering peaks. Sharr'Mok, the highest peak on Taruk and a sacred place to the Kro'Mok mountain tribes, is almost twice the size of Mt. Everest. Sharr'Tuj is an active volcano, and features a pool of unusually pure, molten Krotujite in its caldera.
The mud flats have a persistent but very low fog that is usually ankle to knee high when weather does not disperse it. The saline surface water mixes with purified water from the aqufiers, producing a large scale estuary across entire regions. Often, the salt marshes connect to the massive underground rivers via navigable caverns, where exotic and frightening creatures will occasionally find their way to the surface. This interconnectivity with cavern systems often leads to the formation of great sinkholes filled with gluey mud and quicksand- a dangerous combination when one considers the everpresent mist.
The deserts are ancient ocean basins, dotted with massive skeletons and husks of prehistoric aquatic animals. These areas' temperatures vastly fluctuate over a given day and night cycle, baking rocks that were frozen hours before. Gargantuan sand dunes cover incredibly dense bedrock in these basins, effectively sealing off the most ready source of water on Taruk. Natural openings to the underground river network are rare and prized by desert inhabitants. Fierce desert winds stir up vast duststorms of ore rich sand, which over the ages have eroded entire mountains to expose their Krotujite cores. Giant arches of eroded rock dot the landscape, a feature unusually common in this setting.
Taruk is not a heavily populated world: the last census placed the population at about 528 million Kro'Taruk inhabitants. The elements and the Kro'Taruk's own violent ways combine to ensure a sharp atrophy of the warrior race.
Taruk, The Kro'Taruk Homeworld Flora and Fauna
The wildlife in the mountains is resilient (if a bit lethargic), often with thick pelts to warm themselves against the harsh environment. This region sports the highest population of mammals on Taruk, being the only animal life that can thrive in such cold climes.
One of the capable survivors is the Onuk, a large wooly biped with thick canines and a short trunk. It heats up air through its large nose, making it easier to breathe the dangerously cold wind. Though it is an omnivore, it prefers grazing to hunting as it is quick to tire.
The Bothtar is a massive grazer that travels in herds. These furry quadrupeds have large fat deposits in their back humps and tail to help stay alive during the leaner seasons. The massive horns that crown it's bald head are used for sparring with one another, and for self-defense against predators. When their intent is to kill they will often pin the predator to the ground and suffocate them with their sheer mass.
The Broguth, a large and heavily furred cat-like creature, is the peak predator of the high mountains. With ease it is able to leap from rock to rock without breaking stride. Its quick reactions are almost preternatural, an ability that has proved invaluable in catching prey.
The quick quadrupeds known as the Arbik are the favored prey of the Broguth. Arbik are easily startled and relatively weak, for hardy mountain life. They are opportunistic scavengers and frequently sweep large swathes of range clear of edible material. Owing to this, Arbik can afford to produce large litters of young year round. Most items like garments and tents among the Kro'Mok are made from Arbik hide.
Little of the mountainous region allows for the growth plant life. What exists has adapted to grasp the unforgiving rock ore ranges with their root systems, as true soil is a rarity among the peaks. Some desert scrubs have been able to adapt over the millennia to this cold environment, but they are small and stunted. Fields of a prolific species of ice algae act as the primary food source for the herbivores, often filling entire protected valleys.
The Raktor is a repto-mammal that strikes in organized packs in the dead of night. This deadly Taruk scavenger travels in packs, scouring the desert for the dead, the dying, and the weak. Although not the most dangerous creatures on Taruk, they are still a force to be reckoned with. Often a young Kro'Taruk's first substantial kill will be a Raktor.
The Oss'Voks , or Bone-Eaters, are large, lumbering reptilians that inhabits the deserts of Taruk. While it also eats vegetation, it gained its namesake for its habit of eating bones it comes across. They do this because they require the additional calcium to grow the incredibly dense plating that lines its back. The Kro'Taruk use the Oss'Vok's bones as a building material due to its incredibly sturdy and dense nature. They are also known for eating chalk formations for this calcium.
Feared even more than the Avatar Creatures (see below) are the dreaded Kom'Rij , the massive sand worms of this world. They are able to burrow through the sand dunes as easily as a whale swims through water. Their bodies are fully plated from end to end in an organic metal carapace. No creatures have claimed as many Kro'Taruk as the Kom'Rij. If a warrior manages to kill one a great festival is held, both for the glory of the slayer, and to honor the memories of those that the Kom'Rij has slain. Although it insect in resemblance, it is actually a serpent, and thus still a worthy trophy for the Kro'Taruk.
Water here is rare, and can only be found in the massive Gua'Pa plants that have been able to pierce the bedrock and reach the precious water below. Because reliable sources of water are so rare, settlements and communities are built around these monolithic plants.
One of the most beautiful of Taruk's flora, and easily the most deadly, is the Garr'Pa. From the center of the plant is a giant bloom, filled with bright reds, yellows, oranges, and blues, but from its base extends heavy, barbed vines that grow almost faster than they can be cut back. Once, there was a species of herbivores that was plentiful on Taruk, and was able to hold back the Garr'Pa, but the Kro'Taruk hunted them to extinction. What little plantlife there is quickly choked out, and not even the sturdy structured of the Kro'Taruk are safe from harm. With permission, the Vrok eradicated this plant from Taruk, eternally earning themselves a place in the halls of the Kro'Taruk.
The mud flats are home to many dangerous and exotic creatures. They are smaller than the colossi that wander the deserts and less resilient than the mountain dwellers, but often deadlier than either. The venomous predators of this region have adapted to use the fog to their advantage, poisoning larger creatures that blindly stumble by. Many are capable ambush predators, while others secrete natural venoms.
The Bal'Mog is a bizzare-looking creature by almost any species' standards. These large, rotund creatures has a hooked beak framed with tentacle-like waddles. Its tall eyestalks, ten single-toed legs, and quilled body give it an almost worm-like appearance. While it is as slow as it would appear to be on land, in the water is it a deadly creature. Its quills can sense the subtlest of movements, even the beating of a heart. Its heavy, muscular body, which is so awkward on land, can move like lightning in the water.
Though relatively small compared to most life on Taruk, the Skreek is no less horrible. These parasitic creatures are equally at home on either land or water, hooking onto its victim with its circular fang-filled mouth, and constricting whatever limb it has attached itself to with their saw-like tail. Wherever there is one, there is usually more, and it is easy for any creature, even a Kro'Taruk, to become overwhelmed by these tiny terrors.
The plant life, which is most heavily concentrated here than elsewhere on Taruk, is no less dangerous, often resembling much larger versions of Earth's carnivorous plants and possessing a rudimentary intellect.
Avatar Animals: There are three creatures that rule their separate areas of the animal kingdoms. They are monsters of immense size and power, on an almost impossible scale. The three dominant animals are believed to be the living embodiments of the gods of the Kro'Taruk, and tend to stay in their respective regions though migration is not unheard of.
Grok'Marok is a desert-dwelling reptilian biped roughly one hundred feet tall. Highly carnivorous, the Grok'Marok has a mouth filled with massive teeth. It's hide is a mass of overlapping, dense plates rivaling tungsten in strength, with very few vulnerable gaps. At the end of its large limbs it has long talons that it uses in combat, as well as burrowing. Its spine is lined with a series of large spikes, which are evident when it burrows underground to cool down. It is a custom for Kro'Taruk youths to leap onto the back of a slumbering Grok'Marok and place a string of beads and bones around its back spikes and leave unnoticed. The more wreaths you manage to put on them, the more honor you receive from your peers.
Living near the base of the cold mountains is the omnivorous Mok'Marok. Easily the heaviest of the three, the Mok'Marok is a biped around fifty feet at the shoulder, and one hundred twenty feet from head to tail. While its entire body is covered in a thick hide, its back is heavily plated, making an attack from above almost impossible. These back plates branch out into serrated spikes near the end of the tail, forming a jagged club. Perhaps most impressive is its beaked head. A forward facing horn grows from its snout, and two large tusks grow from its lip. Adorning its skull are two massive shield-like crests.
The Tuk'Marok is a true monster to behold. The flying horror, with a wingspan of over two hundred feet, terrorizes its territory in the salt marshes. Its black scales are broken up by yellow stripes. Its high-pitched roars have a debilitating effect on most of its prey, causing them to freeze in their tracks. The serpentine creature has a large pouch of flesh under its jaw, where it stores a paralytic venom that it will spit upon its quicker prey. The Kro'Taruk value with substance greatly, and will go to great lengths to acquire it.
Kro'Taruk Society and Culture
The Kro'Taruk are a warrior culture, holding honor and skill in combat as sacred. Because of this, Kro'Taruk are easy to offend, which almost always leads to a physical confrontation. Due to their elitist code, they often clash with other alien species, and the Kro'Taruk are often unforgiving and unwilling to compromise.
Many sentient species have difficulty being able to socialize with a Kro'Taruk, even with the most mundane of activities. Even a simple question as "pass the salt" can result in a violent outburst (ie. if the Kro'Taruk perceives the questioner as being quite capable of getting his own salt, and thus the request is effectively reducing the Kro'Taruk to a slave role).
They will also treat different species based on what "class" they are. They see themselves as being superior to all, followed by other reptilian sentients, then mammals, then avians, then piscesians, then botanoids, and finally insectoids. Within these species categories, hunter cultures garner more respect than scavengers.
The Kro'Taruk believe that everyone should act according to their position in the hierarchy; the Kro'Taruk should be considered in higher regard by all others, and insectoids should be crushed under foot. Their hatred of insectoids is legendary. The Visser in particular have earned their scorn, and they will crush the "bottomfeeders" on sight, regardless of provocation.
In addition, the Kro'Taruk will refer to others differently according to how they classify them. Their distain is obvious for those they regard lowly, often using a derogatory term followed by their phylum. A human, for example, might be called a "puny mammal". Someone who has formally introduced themselves to a Kro'Taruk and shows proper levels of respect will be addressed by a physical description followed by their full name and title, if they have such a thing. For example, John Smith would be known as "Tiny mammal who is called John Smith". Finally, if someone has not only shown respect to the Kro'Taruk, but fought by their side for many years and thoroughly proven their honor, they will be called only by their name and world, but with the Kro'Taruk prefix of Kro, meaning either "The Warrior of" or "The Warriors of", depending on the context. For example, Jane Doe would be called "Jane Doe of the Kro'Terra".
To earn such respect from the Kro'Taruk is no simple feat, and sometimes leads the recipient to be given the honorific "Spiritkin". A Spiritkin is someone who is so close to the Kro'Taruk in mind and spirit that they are considered souls separated from their world, finally reunited with their true people. A Spiritkin can be of any race; the most famous and certainly most odd choice for a Spiritkin was Skriiong, a female Vrok wildlife warden who helped establish positive connections between the Kro'Taruk and the rest of the galaxy.
The Kro'Taruk strive only to make the clan and species stronger, and is most highly reflected in how they choose their mates. It is up to the males to choose their mate, but choosing alone is not the end of this journey. He must perform great feats of bravery and strength, and collect trophies of powerful creatures from Taruk and often beyond in order to gain her favor. When he has sufficiently gains her attention, he will present to her the trophies and then attack her. It is customary for the male to grab the female by the horns and drag her to the ground while shouting the poetry of his people. If he is able to defeat her, then they will become a mated pair. It is not unusual that the male will be killed by the female in this process. This ensures that the strongest mate and create he strongest children, and the weak are culled.
Pregnancy and childbirth are very long and dangerous processes, and the first years of Kro'Taruk "hatchlings" are no less so. This, added with a male's ability to only have three offspring, the Kro'Taruk value the life of their young without measure. The whelpling is put through rigorous training in order to survive the brutal planet, but is not put in direct harm's way until his or her fourteenth year, when they undergo their right of adulthood. Oddly enough, this behavior often manifests itself with how they treat the young of other species.
The Kro'Taruk put no preference towards male or female. Either can become whatever they desire, be it craftsperson, warrior, or shaman. They believe that once you discover your path, you must dedicate your life to it. It is this mastery that the Kro'Taruk put value in.
The Kro'Taruk have a shamanistic religion, with a pantheon of gods, each controlling different aspects of Kro'Taruk life.
The Three Gods of Creation
Kro'Taruk believe that the Cosmos was created through the efforts of several gods. Most of the gods focused on creating multiple lifeforms on multiple planets, choosing to indulge their creativity by creating a vast and diverse Universe, but with little focus or attention to each entity that they created.
Three of the gods were disgusted by this, finding it disgraceful to fill the universe with weak, stupid creatures not fit to live. They were three siblings: Or'Grok the gargantuan god of strength, power, and rage; Or'Mok, the grim god of the earth, metal, poetry, and wisdom; and Or'Tuk, the feral goddess of primitive savagery and wild beasts. They shunned the other gods and focused their energies on creating a single world, a world which they called Taruk, "The Mighty".
The Three sought to build a perfect world, one where the weak are quickly weeded out and the strong would know no equal. They all agreed that the world would have to be harsh and unforgiving, leaving no room for the weak to survive. Or'Mok created the world, singing his grim poetry as he raised up steep mountains, turned the vast waters into deserts and salt, and created volcanoes with his smoldering glare. Some of the rocks that listened to his poetry became as grim and hard as he, becoming the sacred metal known as Krotujite.
Once the world had been created The Three wished to populate it, but Or'Grok and Or'Tuk would not agree on what species would be best. They argued over what the perfect species would be and eventually came to blows. They were both relentless, and much blood was spilled that day. Only the grim Or'Mok noticed that creatures arose from the blood of his clashing siblings. With a mighty sweep of his tail, he stopped his kin and made them observe the blood. From the blood of Or'Grok arose mightily-built reptilian humanoids, and from Or'Tuk arose many ferocious beasts of tremendous size and power.
Or'Tuk saw the titanic creatures and proclaimed victory, seeing as they dwarfed the significantly smaller humanoids that Or'Grok spawned. Her victory was short-lived though, for soon thereafter chaos reigned amongst her creatures. They all fought and killed each other until only the largest and most powerful remained. The surviving behemoth spotted the smaller humanoids and charged, expecting an easy victory. Instead, it received death, for Or'Grok's spawn, though smaller, were intelligent and loyal to one another. In an organized strike, they leapt atop the beast and tore it apart, piece by piece. When it had died, they bellowed in victory. The outcome was clear; Or'Grok had won.
Or'Tuk was filled with rage at her loss, but she was still full of honor and pride, and acknowledged defeat. Together, the Three agreed that the Kro'Taruk were destined to rule the planet, but they all agreed that Or'Tuk's creatures were ferocious and also worthy of life, and would provide a challenge for the Kro'Taruk, as well as a source of food, clothing, and housing.
When the world was as they say fit, they each went their own way. Or'Mok burrowed to the center of Taruk and entered into eternal grim meditation. Or'Grok's eyes can be seen during the day as the twin suns, looking over the Kro'Taruk. The twin moons are the eyes of Or'Tok, illuminating the darkness so that her creatures might hunt.
The Legend of Ro'Zyj
The Three completely shaped their world, from the mountains to the beasts to the Kro'Taruk themselves. One addition, however. was never meant to be: insects. The Kro'Taruk believe the insects were brought to Taruk by the god-thing known as Ro'Zyj, who took it upon Itself to spread its vile creations across the cosmos. According to the legend, the Kro'Taruk took such offense to the presence of Ro'Zyj that they slew the god-thing.
The Kro'Taruk believe insects are the lowest forms of life because they embody everything the Kro'Taruk oppose. They are small, weak, mindless, spread disease, and have no qualms with eating the dead. They see such creatures as being completely without honor, worthy only of destruction. Sentient insectoids are perceived as the children of Ro'Zyr, their nemesis made flesh. Therefore, acceptance of any contrary opinion regarding insectoid species is a blasphemy.
The head of Kro'Taruk religions are shamans. They serve as wise men and counselors, and are the few people in the culture that can get away with telling young warriors to calm down, and more than once in the history of Taruk, a circle of shamans have kept the warriors from wiping out the planet's population.
The most important role played by the shaman is that of the keeper of the metal Krotujite. Through meditation and training, they know how to "listen" to it and master its "memory" more quickly (see below). They are the only ones who can grant (and deny) permission to possess or forge it, and rank among the best metalworkers on the planet. They are also the keepers of lore and ritual, and often the finest poets and taletellers on the planet.
There is a Kro'Taruk prayer for almost everything in their day to day life: from a feast for a hard-earned victory, to the death rites of an honored elder. Its done in a similar manner to the human Mongolian throat singing, but much deeper and harsher. It is believed to be how the mighty Or'Mok spoke.
Despite being a race with starship technology, they are still incredibly primitive in their beliefs regarding the supernatural. Some Kro'Taruk are born with telepathic and telekinetic abilities, which allows them to 'hear' the sentient metal Krotujite (see below), and control the elements through pyrokinetics, cryokinetics, and terrakinetics. Through their cultural filters, they interpret this as speaking with the spirits and control over the natural elements. Other sentients have learned that it is unwise to question a Kro'Taruk's belief in these fundamental 'truths'.
The Clans of Taruk
Given the ingrained prejudices of the species, it may come as a surprise to many
that the Kro'Taruk are capable of variation. However, the clans of Kro'Taruk belay that commonly held opinion. The peoples of Taruk are divided into clans devoted to worship of one of the Three.
The deserts are home to the Kro'Grok, the sons and daughters of Or'Grok the Blood Father. They honor and respect all of the Three, but to them Or'Grok is the mightiest, and thus most worthy of respect. When other sentient species refer to the Kro'Taruk, they are often thinking of the Kro'Grok, and with good reason. The most famous Kro'Taruk gladiators in the intergalactic arenas come from Kro'Grok clans. Kro'Grok are loud and boisterous, and more prone to violence than their other kin. They make excellent warriors, and take pride in the fact that they are as skilled in combat as they are physically powerful.
Those that live in the mountains see themselves of Kro'Mok, the followers of the Metal Father, Or'Mok. Though they still worship Or'Grok the Blood Father for giving them life, Or'Mok is who they have modeled themselves after. Other tribes claim "the icy winds have cooled their fiery hearts", and the Or'Mok do not disagree. They are the most reserved of the Kro'Taruk, shunning the boasting and honor duels of their desert cousins in favor of grim contemplation, being given more to listening that to talking. Their metalwork, however, are the things of legend. They have mastered the art of bending Krotujite to whatever shape is desired. Such attributes lend themselves well to becoming a shaman in Kro'Taruk society. The Kro'Mok are the only ones who can tolerate cold meat.
The Kro'Taruk that live in the swamps are called the Kro'Tuk, after Or'Tuk the Beast Mother. Unlike their brethren, those that live here are said to worship Or'Tuk exclusively. Because of this practice, other Kro'Taruk often dismiss them as heathens. They are an almost feral people, often forgoing such things as clothing, weapons, or cooking. They have learned to thrive in their dangerous environment and are skilled hunters and trackers.
Up until roughly ten thousand years ago, the Kro'Taruk lived without any form of electronic equipment or devices. Though their culture is one of the most ancient to exist in the galaxy, a lack of need for innovation has not pushed them past iron age level technology. This all changed with the arrival of the Dlur.
A Dlur mining fleet was scouting for valuable resources that would help in their war against the Makabari when they found an uncharted world with massive amounts of metals, as well as a supposedly primitive population without any energy projectiles of any kind. Believing victory was assured, the Dlur landed next to the highest ore deposit, a mountain surrounded by vast desert and began to mine.
For weeks they continued, pulling forth more metal from the ground than they knew what to do with, celebrating such a grand find would surely tip the scales in their war against the Makabari. These celebrations were cut short, however, when the Kro'Taruk, attracted by the "descending star" came to investigate in force.
The Kro'Taruk were attracted by the omen, and warriors trekked across the planet to see it. Much to the natives' consternation, the starfall was not a sign from the gods, but a shell that contained hundreds of tiny, pathetic creatures that dared to mock the Kro'Taruk by standing upright in a feeble imitation of their posture.
For the first time in their race's history, a common war council was called. Oaths were sworn, and tribes that would normally have fought to the death united in common cause. The various tribes were organized under three banners; those of the desert tribes, those from the mountains, and those from the salt marshes. With ferocious bellows the Kro'Taruk, from dozens of different clans, attacked the unsuspecting invaders. In less than an hour all of the Dlur were killed, and the Kro'Taruk had in their possession technology beyond their understanding. A council of shaman appointed the Or'Mok as keeper of the starshell, Their ingenuity (combined with some very helpful computers) helped the Or'Mok master the technology. Within a few months they were able to get the mining craft off of the ground.
To this day, the Kro'Taruk are unable to create their own spacecraft. Their planet lacks many of the materials required to construct and fuel FTL drives. However, they have acquired and even won additional spacecrafts over the millennia: either by slaying the owners who were foolish enough to invade them, or as bribes from interstellar species trying to court them for use as shock troops in their wars, or from Kai'Zari arena-masters as a reward to certain Kro'Taruk master gladiators.
There is a small fleet of Kro'Taruk stationed above the planet to defend it, though the ships are in poor repair and their preferred tactics (ramming enemy craft and boarding them) would be highly sub-optimal against an organized attack.
Krotujite is a sacred metal to the Kro'Taruk that is found only on this world. It possesses a unique ability that has defied scientific analysis. It is a form of telepathy that "remembers" tasks that have been successfully performed with it, and passes that memory down to others. Thus a smithing chisel made with a Kro'Taruk handle would pass its secrets down to another user, and a sword made from Krotujite would help a new Kro'Taruk wielder learn combat styles performed with it more quickly (though not instantly; the metal serves as a teacher, not a programmer.) Kro'Taruk blacksmiths are some of the finest in the galaxy.
Kroturjite can also serve as a memory aid: many shaman carry a "poetry staff" so whenever they hear or recite a poem or legend, they can remember the tale more readily and accurately: the more often the tale is told, the easier it becomes to remember. There are also Kroturjite "vow-staffs"; whenever Kro'Taruk make a formal pact, staves are forged for each party involved in the oath. In this way, whenever promises are made, a Kro'Taruk will not easily forget their pledge.
Non-Kro'Taruk telepaths can sometimes sense strange energy emanating from Krotujite, but the metals' inherent abilities will not function for them for unknown reasons. This phenomenon has never been researched in depth, as the Kro'Taruk do not allow outsiders to study their holy metal.
Legend of the Krug Hounds
As the legend goes, the first Kro'Taruk were ferocious and powerful, but primitive and bestial. They were physically perfect, but lacked the intelligence and honor they sought. And so, the gods removed this bestial essence from the Kro'Taruk, and not wishing to destroy such a primal power, forged a new creature from it. As soon as the new creatures were formed, they immediately ran to the sides of the Kro'Taruk, each standing next to the Kro'Taruk from which they had been separated. Thus were created the first Krug Hounds. Soon it became clear that the Kro'Taruk retained some of their bestial aspects, but were dominantly intelligent and honorable. Likewise, the new creatures, though clearly animals, retained some of the traits of the Kro'Taruk.
The bond between Kro'Taruk and Krug is almost palpable. The Kro'Taruk respect the Krug as much as their fellows. To harm or kill a Krug in anger is considered a worse crime than killing a Kro'Taruk, because a Krug would never harm a Kro'Taruk, while the Kro'Taruk are prone to fighting amongst themselves.
Each Kro'Taruk has his or her own Krug, almost always of the opposite gender. The process of this pairing occurs in infancy. The Kro'Taruk parents bring their infant to a Krug that has given birth within the same moon cycle as the Kro'Taruk. She leaves her infant with the Krug mother and her pups for a day and a night. When the Kro'Taruk parents return, they will see that their infant, during that time, had paired itself with one of the Krug pups. Among shaman, a stick of kroturjite wrapped in leather is a common playtoy that helps the Kro'Taruk remember the pet after their death.
Marking is a practice in which the Kro'Taruk will mark his or her Krug with paints, tattoos, scarrings, or pieces of armor or jewelry. They do this because they believe the Krug are as proud as they are and would wish to show signs of their clan, kills, and honor, but are incapable of doing such things to themselves. Each mark is very deliberate, and represents a specific action or deed.
Crime and Punishment
Kro'Taruk law punishes crime very severely. They believe that the dishonorable actions of one Kro'Taruk dishonors all, and honor can only be regained through appropriate punishments. Dismemberment and banishment are used as corrections for such dishonorable actions. If a Kro'Taruk were to lie, his or her tongue would be split in half and they would be expelled from the tribe until it had fully healed. If they return and their limbs have regenerated, then it is deemed that the gods wished this to happen.
Offenders are given only two opportunity to redeem themselves and stop their dishonorable actions. After the third offense, the wound is made permanent, unable to ever regenerate so that all will know what this Kro'Taruk has done. To stop the regeneration process shamans create a salve from various herbs and spread it on the wound. The dishonored Kro'Taruk is then forced to ingest a power venom from an insect of the mud flats that will slow down their regeneration to a crawl.
Some crimes, such as murder, only have one punishment: a dishonorable death.
Landmarks and Notable Sites
The First Arena- Or'Grok the Blood Father created this sacred site by stamping the blood spilled during the first Kro'Taruk battle into the ground. Each Kro'Taruk from across the planet makes a journey to the crater at least once in their life. It is here that several young Kro'Taruk come together to pass the final rite of passage into adulthood. The legend of the First Battle is recreated by having several young warriors kill a fully grown Tuk'Marok, just as it was done millennia ago. When the battle is done and the beast is slain, the victors honor their fallen with food and drink. Meanwhile shamans study and interpret the sun-baked blood splatters. After this the warriors perform the war dance of Or'Grok, to stamp the blood into the ground.
The Heart of Or'Mok- In a cavern deep under the mountain Sharr'Mok there exists a spire of pure Krotujite. Believed to have been carved by Or'Mok himself, it has become a pilgrimage spot for shamans and their apprentices. The "memories" it has gained over the eons is said to induce intense visions in the seers that help them experience lifetimes in the matter of moments. It is not uncommon for a shaman to die during this process, but survivors are often far wiser for it.
Zhur'Taruk- In between the vast mountain ranges and the desert empire is the sprawling city of Zhur'Taruk. It acts as the capital of Taruk, where Kro'Taruk from all clans can come together and be at peace.
It was here that the invaders landed centuries ago to mine their krotujite, and here that Kro'Taruk saw their cousins for the first time from the other tribes so long ago. This is the only place on the entire planet where spaceships can be found, and it is for this reason warriors who have completed the final rite of passage to adulthood seek it out. Ironically, it is also the only place on the planet where violence is forbidden, as a celebration of the unity shown by Kro'taruk long ago.
Relics of the Kro'Taruk
Skull of Or'Grok- A fierce, bestial skull-like helm made of pure Krotujite. It is said to fill its wearer with a godly rage and unmatched skull in combat.
Shell of Or'Mok- An ancient set of armor made of pure Krotujite. It is said to make its wearer invulnerable in combat.
Spine of Or'Tuk- This strange weapon requires a great deal of time to master, but it is undoubtedly deadly. The left hand fits into a skull-shaped clawed gauntlet. There is bone and metal "spine" that coils around the back, with it ending in the right hand as a long, serrated whip.
Tor'Shok- A massive, scarred blade made of pure Krotujite with a handle wrapped in Grok'Garok hide. It is said to make its handler fierce and unrelenting in combat. It is often called "The First Blade", believed to have been forged by Or'Grok and Or'Mok when the Kro'Taruk were born.
The legend says that the Tor'Grok was so perfect in design that Kro'Taruk could master the arts of blacksmithing with just a glance of its blade. When it is not in the hands of someone who is worthy to wield it, it is protected by the Keepers of the Metal, an order of shamans who live near the summit of Sharr'Mok, the tallest mountain on Taruk.
Common Wear and Items of the Kro'Taruk
Harness of Krug Skulls- The krug hounds do not live as long as the Kro'Taruk, and as such each Kro'Taruk will have several throughout their lifetime. To honor their fallen companions, the Kro'Taruk will craft a harness decorated with the skulls of their krugs..
Whelpling Blade- When a Kro'Taruk is still a whelpling, he or she is given their first weapon. Even when the Kro'Taruk grows up, they keep it as a memento, often using it as knife for cutting or skinning a kill.
Necklace of the First Kill- A Kro'Taruk's first kill is a sacred thing. It is not an impressive thing by their standards, usually a beast no larger than a wolf, but it is the first sign that a whelpling is becoming an adult. The remains of this kill are honored by becoming the necklace for the Kro'Taruk for the remainder of his or her life.
Poetry Staff- Kroturjite can also serve as a memory aid: many shaman carry a "poetry staff" so whenever they hear or recite a poem or legend, they can remember the tale more readily and accurately: the more often the tale is told, the easier it becomes to remember.
Vow Staff- There are also Kroturjite "vow-staffs"; whenever Kro'Taruk make a formal pact, staves are forged for each party involved in the oath. In this way, whenever promises are made, a Kro'Taruk will not easily forget their pledge.
To a Kro'Taruk, warpaint isn't simply to look intimidating; it is believed to be the soul of that warrior embodied on the flesh. Like many of the aspects of their life, it is considered sacred. Each Kro'Taruk has his or her own individual warpaint markings that they create themselves. The females tend to have warpaint covering more of their bodies, as they often wear less armor due to their thicker scales and tendency to rely on finesse in combat.
Warriors will seek out a shaman in order to discover what his or her soul looks like. The warrior is put into a heat lodge and given several bowls of paint of different colors. At this point a fire is lit within the lodge using hallucinogenic plants that have been cultivated for this very purpose. The warrior will enter a trance state and use the paints to mark his or her body, and emerge the hut with the mark of his or her own soul.
Rites of Passage
Ritual of Or'Tuk- This is the rite of adulthood that every Kro'Taruk must undertake. The purpose of this is to show the feral goddess Or'Tuk that Kro'Taruk do not fear her creatures, and to remind her that they are the world's true masters. Several young Kro'Taruk must kill a fully-grown Tuk'Marok in the First Arena, just as the Kro'Taruk first did millennia ago. Those who survive are welcomed as warriors.
Ritual of Or'Mok- This is specialized rite of passage for those who follow the path of the shaman. For this, aspiring shamans must spend ten years in the desert wastes, separated from any other individual. Here they must learn to hear the voice of Or'Mok, the language of the winds. When they have accomplished this they must make a pilgrimage across the burning sands to a holy site: A massive pillar of Krotujite called the "Heart of Or'Mok", with the poetry of Or'Mok etched in to it by the great god himself. They then must return and recite this poetry to the High Shaman. If they so much as mispronounce a single word, they must repeat the entire process. After this, they must place their hand upon it are receive the vision of the Metal Father. If they survive, they have become honored shamans.
Ritual of Or'Grok- This is their most sacred rite, performed only by the warrior elite. To pass the warrior must be fearless, strong, and quick, both of body and mind. For this the aspiring Kro'Taruk must go into the wilderness for weeks, taking with him or her nothing but a single weapon of their choice. He or she must survive the wilds by any means necessary, but they are forbidden to return until they have slain the mightiest of beasts: The Tuk'Grok. If he or she is able to slay the beast, they are to take its skull and carve their personal rune into the forehead. When this is done, he or she must take the skull to the First Arena and wait until the sun sets. The warrior then cuts open a vein on his or her arm and covers the skull with blood. Once it is covered, they set it ablaze, inhale the smoke, and wait for the visions to arrive. This is said to summon Or'Grok Himself, who will test the warrior's spirit. If the warrior survives until dawn, then Or'Grok has deemed them worthy to join to warrior elite.
Bonding Ceremony- A male and a female Kro'Taruk aren't considered a "Mated Pair" when the male successfully presents his trophies to the female and sings to her the poetry of his people while wrestling her to the ground (see above). This happens later, at their Bonding Ceremony. The entire clan will gather for this event. The male will place his hand atop the females', and a Krotujite Vow Staff, sharped to a point, is driven down the middle. A shaman will then heat the metal through 'magic' and make them speak their vows. If they flinch, falter, or show any signs of pain during this process, then the ceremony is over and they are not Bonded. If they complete the ritual successfully, each will receive a large ring of metal that is then placed through the hole in their palm.
Funerals- Due to their environment, behavior, and culture, the Kro'Taruk are often killed in battle. Whether they are mourned or not depends on many factors. The due to their low population, inability to have more than three offspring, and fierce parenting instincts, the death of a youngling is always mourned, for they did not live long enough to taste greatness. The younglings are burned; they are honored but have not earned the right to be buried with the Stones of the Dead. The Stones of the Dead is a sacred burial ground where honored Kro'Taruk warriors have crude stone effigies of their likeness erected in their honor with their greatest trophies and conquests around this headstone. It is believed that any who are buried here will be able to travel to the afterworld, where they will join their ancestors in guiding their descendants, as well as joining with their gods upon the astral plane in the greatest hunts and battles ever conceived.
Those who are not buried amongst the Stones of the Dead are believed to wander away from Taruk, where, if they are ready, their spirits will be joined with that of another race, one day to be re-united with their true people on Taruk.