The Tale of the First
“Listen now and hear my words, for they are the words of truth and they are the legacy of our people.” Toltep, the eldest of the Cuada and their leader spoke in a trembling whisper. His voice was thin, like that of all of the cuada, but it held something else, a depth created by the passage of years, and the perseverance of a great and terrible soul.
“All that you have been raised to know is falsehood and fable. There are precious few who remember the truth, and even though we shall continue to wear the mantle of the Firstborn of the Gods of Water, we shall do so while keeping the truth of our kind known. This is important lest we forget our enemies of old, and the font from which we sprang.” The young cuada sat attentive. The illusion of age was deceptive. The student was in his fifth century of age, and deep in the lore of magic and the ancient world.
“We are not the children of any god, we are the creation of men, sorcerers of Kasmir…” Toltep said, the words twisting his small mouth like bile. “Once we were a meek and petty race, hidden in the bogs and the mires of the Great Dismal Dark, a swamp on an island that no longer exists. We lived in the muck, and spent our days foraging for the soft riverweed, ageless as we are now, but possessing no greater intellect than a cunning animal.” Femnon had prepared herself for heresy, for secrets profane and terrible, but not for something like this.
“We were made into the thralls of the Sorcerer Kings of Kasmir. They found our island home, and made us into slaves. We carried their food, and we did their labor. They were cruel masters we must remember, but they were lofty and mighty in their power. They threatened the gods themselves, and there must have been some genuine danger, otherwise the gods would not have spoken, let alone released their wrath against them.”
“Thus the Kings came to our island. The lord of the island was curious as to our lives, the nature of our biology as we did not show the wear of time as they did. We were unharmed by illness. They wanted this for themselves, and sought to wrest that from us. Their plan was not so well thought out, and the spells served as a conduit, one that could take away as well as bestow.”
“The bond was created, and instead of drawing the essence of immortal life from my body, the sorcerer found his will being drawn away, his essence of magic and wisdom flowing from his body into the open well of his poor, miserable servant.”
“You speak as if it were you?” Femnon asked, feeling a new reverence for the ancient one even as he spun a tale of deceit and treachery. The wizened cuada merely nodded his head. “But how can we be immortal, time has shown its hand on you, the white spots and the infirmities of the skin?”
“It was I, the first of our race. We were created by accident, an unforeseen circumstance of magic improperly used. We are not truly immortal, just very long lived. This is why we must be judicious in our use of magic, and of our own powers. The Kasmir were mighty, and thus became arrogant. Hubris, arrogance in the face of the gods, and for it they were punished. I would not suffer their fate. This is why the tale of our origin must not be lost.” Toltep said. “If we falter, and allow ourselves that great pride, we will be swallowed up whole by the Brave People.”
“So we were spawned in error, yet these Kasmir Sorcerers took no steps to rectify their mistake?” Femnon asked.
“Not so. They created another race, one immune to our powers to strip bare a mind, and bend it to our will. They created the Hellbenders, the Taccredi.” Femnon forced herself not to recoil in horror, but she could not help from wincing. Was there no greater beast, no monster more terrifying to the minute amphibians. “Immune to our mental abilities, immune to our poisons, they were made to hunt us down and kill us. The hellbenders have no hand on the leash, but they know for what purpose they were created, and they fulfill it to this day.”
“They were our creators weapon, to be used against us…“Femnon said, she could see the value of something as horrible as a hellbender kept on a leash, but it was suicidal, they were driven to destroy them, the cuada, not those of their choosing.
“Now you know the darkest of our secrets. We were not born, but created, just as we create our own young. The gliding dance only produces the eggs that if left unenchanted hatch into small slimy creatures, lowly things of animal intelligence. This is what we are, and I pray you understand why the secret is kept, and why the secret is passed on as it is.”
The Cuada are a race of salamanders, soft skinned amphibians without teeth or claws. The tallest barely reach four feet and all have tails that droop down almost to the ground. Contrasting the drab colors of frogs and toads, the Cuada are brightly colored, garishly colored. Much like living mood rings bred to tropical birds, their skin color is as much involved with communicating as their words. Despite being almost harmless in terms of physical combat, and brightly colored, the Cuada have several potent abilities that have not only allowed them to survive, but to thrive.
The first is that all Cuada, regardless of age or sex secret a potent neurotoxin from their skin. This slime functions as a paralytic to reptiles and fish, allowing them to escape from said predators. The effect against mammals is much worse, usually being a fatal paralysis of the cardio-pulmonary system. Enough of their toxin and a mammal will simply die. This is part of the reason that the Cuada are as brightly colored as they are. A calm specimen would evince colors of blues and greens, rage flickers red and orange, fear sickly yellows. with skill, some are able to control this color change, creating special patterns, natural camoflage, or striking displays of riotous color.
The second and far more insidious power is the psionic or psychic ability of the species. Each is able to Sense Motive at will, as well as psychic versions of Sense Magic, Sense Undead, and Know Alignment 3 times a day. This, tied in with a basic ability to detect surface thoughts of others (limited telepathy, but no real mind reading or probing, yet) makes it nearly impossible to decieve one of these diminutive amphibians.
Savants and Sorcerers
Magic comes easily and naturally to the Cuada as they were born from magic. Savants are among the clergy of the Cuada, serving as the conduits to the Gods of Water, of whom they claim to be the firstborn. this is a farce, and the ‘clerical powers’ they call upon are actually their own mental powers that have been sharpened by decades or meditation and practice. The Savants are feared by non-cuada, who know them as the Inquisitors who can destroy minds and souls, leaving behind still living husks. While such things are possible, the effort required for a Savant to completely destroy a psyche is quite excessive. In such cases, the Savants will order assassins, poison, or some other more mundane method of eliminating a foe. The Savants specialize in the clerical domains of law, healing, and the elemental aspect of water.
Sorcerers are less common as the training to become a full fledged magic user generally mutually exclusive to their psychic talents. As such, Sorcerers are considered to be semi-isolated from the Cuada as their ability to tele-emote with other Cuada is reduced, and attempts to establish said contact with a sorcerous Cuada is hampered by their altered and arcane mode of though. Most Cuada sorcerers specialize in the magic schools of Summoning and Conjuration, the elemental aspect of water, and illusions.
The Raite of Saining
Toltep walked slowly along the avenue, it would have been easier to swim along in the viaduct, but he had made it a point to not do the easy thing. All to often the easy path lead to ruin, and he had not survived so long by taking shortcuts, or the easy road. The market, what was above water, was abuzz with conversation. A large school of blood-crazed lurdi had been diverted into an ambush where the brave people had slaughtered the monsters. There was some worry, Toltep gathered, as a few had escaped.
Some of the eshal had noted him, making gestures of obeisance and respect. Accordingly, he made a gesture of blessing with the honorific, ‘glory before the gods, brave people.’ If even the least of their warriors had taken the idea to attack him, he would more than likely perish. Time had worn his skin dry, and large diffuse white spots had appeared on his hide. His normal sky blue skin, and black stripes seemed to be on the verge of being eaten by the dull spots of white. Even agitation, which usually turned him a roiling shade of orange and red failed to run through the white spots. Everyone though him immortal, but he knew that after all of these years, he might be the first cuada to die of old age.
He slipped into the viaduct, a few hundred meters from the Cuada temple and felt refreshed as the water seeped into his half-dried skin. He no longer held moisture the way the younglings did, and he would be peeling like a root-bulb in a few hours from his walk in the dry air. The gates of the temple were massive, a remnant of Tarrod’s ancient past that they had occupied. Here they conducted the ceremonies of the Firstborn, and lead the leaders of the eshal from their impressive chambers. Concern gnawed at him, ships had come across the ocean bringing humans…humans again. He though he would never see one again, had prayed he would never see one again. He shook his diminutive head, today was a joyous occasion, a birthing day, and he wouldn’t let that joy be tainted by the worry of humans, or the waverider heresy, or the whisper of the hellbenders.
Half a dozen cuada awaited him inside. Dour Julec with her green and yellow striped head, and Femnon the warrior who rode into battle astride one of the ranchowen, they were his children. All of the cuada were his children. He greeted them with the blessings of the Water Gods, clasping Femnon’s shoulder with his wizened hand. There was nothing but reverence and awe in her wine dark eyes. If the years did not weigh so heavily upon him he would find her quite attractive, and her youthfulness invigorating. It didn’t help that the warrior would consider it a great honor to lay with him in the gliding dance even if the dance never produced offspring.
“First among the first,” Toilas, the youngest of the six greeted him, “The hopefuls await the blessings of the Water Gods.” she said. He nodded and lead them down a half flooded corridor. The birthing chamber was near, where the females would come to discharge their eggs. The priestesses would minister to them, and chose out the strongest of the eggs, the best in shape and the most vigorous in activity. Those were taken to the Saining room, where they would be blessed, the others were taken away as a sacrifice to the gods. Toltep knew what became of those unblessed eggs, and for a moment, envied them.
The Saining chamber was dry, one of the few chambers that had not been penetrated by the tides. The structure had been built by human hands, and had sunk into the water when the rest of Tarrod had. Two-dozen stone pedestals lined the sides of the long chamber, each held an egg half the size of his head. He could see the growing youngling through the translucent shell, wiggling their long tails, still living in the blindness and ignorance of the animal mind. He walked along the rows, the women behind him muttering orisons of blessing and protection.
Of the 24 he selected eight, a large number. The others were taken away, until only the eight remained. He looked at them, six would be male, and two female. They would be strong and cunning, and he hoped wise as well. He gestured, and spoke the eldritch words of power, tendrils of essence streaming from his fingertips. The power flowed from him, taking hold of the unborn, and changing them. Altering their minds and accelerating the metabolic growth of their partially unformed bodies. He faltered, the essence snagged and pooled, but he corrected quickly. His hands trembled as the last of the spell was completed. Within half an hour the eggs would split open and the new-born cuada would rise from them, he would be there to see the next grouping of children born.
He leaned against one of the Saining pools, his breathing labored and his skin prickling dry. Toilas and Julec wordlessly began to give water to his skin with sponges harvested from beyond Tarrod’s watery coast. “Eldest, I am concerned.” Femnon said, “In the century that I have been honored to witness the Saining, never have I seen you falter. We are all concerned that you will return to the gods soon.”
“Don’t you know that we are immortal, Femnon?” he asked in his thin voice.
“We say we are immortal, but nothing lasts eternally.” Julec said, freshing the water in her sponge from the unused saining pool. “Your step is troubled, and your skin shows the white spots. This is no illness or disease, otherwise the healers would have reversed it some time ago.”
“This is true, mayhap we are not immortal, but so long in years that the short-lived brave people believe us to be immortal, just as they believe us to be the children of the gods and the first-born of all races.” Femnon said, stroking the back of his head.
“You are wise beyond your years,” he said, “But now is not the time for this conversation. It will not be long before the younglings escape the birthing egg. This is my pleasure and perhaps afterwards we can discuss other matters.” He said with a note finality.
The eight eggs hatched, their occupants voraciously hungry. The seven attended to them for the better part of the afternoon before allowing the other priestesses and acolytes to take them away. Toltep was pleased that all eight had come through with no infirmity or malady from his almost botched spellcasting. The others had noticed, but why wouldnt they, even if they were not truely the firstborn of the gods they were still cunning and intelligent, and observant as well. They were his children and he would have accepted nothing less from them.
Biology and Psychology
The Cuada, having been uplifted from barely aware newts to sophonts have largely retained their basic diet. As newts they primarily fed on soft water plants and supplmenting this diet with worms and carrion that was waterlogged and rotted. In a more culinary fashion, the Cuada prepare many dishes that are as much a presentation of color and texture as flavor, though the fundamental of Cuada cuisine is the fact that it is very soft, as they are toothless.
The Cuada are unable to procreate as normal species do. They do engage in the basic act and the females produce clutches of pear sized soft shelled eggs. If untampered with, these hatch into the original form of the Cuada, a small and basicly immortal salamander. To turn one of these newts into a full fledged sentient lifeform requires a Cuada sorcerer to infuse the eggs prior to hatching with the correct magics. Once done, the eggs hatch and within a decade grow into physiologically mature adults.
The learning process is likewise swift as young Cuada learn literally by osmosis, though they find the sorcerers fascinating as only their thoughts are concealed from the neonates. Cuada can actually learn from anyone, though they best assimilate learning from other Cuada. To further accelerate the process, when the young nest together to rest, they learn from each other, diversifying what they learn.