|Habitat||Ashal Islands, Asha States|
The Taraq is one of the strangest animals of the Ashal Islands, though its original domestication and views by the ancient Asha are lost. The animal is unique for a number of reasons: from a strange, feline-like face; to their heavily armored bodies with slightly pointed club tails; to their live births next to the river estuaries they live near. The creature has been sought after by many outsiders for centuries for their meat, and the glory of felling such a beast, though the “danger” factor of the myths around the creature have greatly diminished since knowledge has been shared of their herbivorous nature.
The Taraq was long known to the Asha of the old Dewamenet Empire, along with the other animals they rapidly domesticated in their early, long lost years. There are some ruins and fragmentary records that speak of the Taraq before the conquest of the Allorn Empire, but they are confusing at best, and slanted at worst. It is said a union of mammal and reptile was performed at their request, due to their deep love for one another. Their granted union ultimately gave birth to the Taraq, a dumb and slow creature with the worst traits of both its parents, thus consigning it to a miserable existence to be pitied, and cared for by the Asha. However, as is obvious to anyone who knows Asha society, this story is clearly in the vein of warning against the mixing of different bloods, and was likely tampered with by the Asha translators. Regardless of origin, mythological or not, by the time the Allorn Empire began their warfare, the Taraq was also known to them, and was seen as a key animal of transport, though there are also scattered reports of their usage as weapons of war that were ridden into battle. When the Dewamenet fell, the Allorn committed slaughter unseen to date in Aloria, and the Taraq was butchered alongside the other species seen as Ashal in nature and loyalty. Some, however, did survive, in distant corners of Westwynd.
Over the coming centuries, the Taraq remained a rarity, isolated in small pockets, yet its description echoed in memory. Asha cherished what they knew of the animal, any negative feelings supposedly present within the Dewamenet Empire long erased, while the Allorn came to view the beast as worthy of hunting. As the millennia wore on, and while the Allorn Empire was still weakened, Ailor also became involved. The tales told of the creatures sharply contrasted with those of the Asha, and made the creature out to be a fearsome predator, a lion twice the size of any Human, with scales, spines, a human face, and a great scorpion tail. These myths of the “manticore” would eventually expand to other regions, and following the Cataclysm, explosively spread across the rapidly developing Ailor world. But for the Asha, following the Cataclysm and The Great Journey to their new homeland, one of the first animals they encountered were the Taraq, brought out of hiding by the descendants of the free Asha who had hidden when their Empire fell. The Taraq’s population rapidly recovered, as the Wildering had also given many of the populations in isolated pockets of Westwynd safety, allowing them to grow in number. On the Ashal Islands, the animals returned to their former role, serving as valued transportation animals when domesticated, though most remained out in the new wilds of the island chain.
Yet, the Taraq’s fortunes on the mainland were about to take a precipitous drop. The tales told of the manticore brought hunters, and great scrutiny to the docile animal. One by one, its small refuges in Westwynd were swept away. But, the secret could not hold forever. Eventually, hunters revealed the animal’s far different appearance and temperament, forcing many thrill seekers to look elsewhere for rare, exotic and dangerous kills. But the Taraq kept the attention of some others, who still saw them as valuable given their unique body armor, and physical features. Today, the animal thrives on the Ashal Islands under the care of the Asha, but also remains in small pockets scattered in Westwynd, hunted by those who would claim exotic meat, skins, and bones.
The Taraq is a formidable creature, sitting at a length of twenty to twenty-six feet, a height of six to seven feet, and a weight between five and seven tons. Their head is the strangest part of their body, featuring an extremely feline appearance. Their snout is short, with a thick black gleaming plate and two small nostrils serving as a pseudo-nose, under which sits a broad mouth containing an array of large, grinding teeth suitable for chewing on vegetation. The rest of their head is covered in a thin layer of hair, with two large eyes sitting further apart on the face than a normal feline. Their ears are round and large, and sit nestled in a thick growth of hair that forms a mane, which exists on both genders of Taraq. It should be noted that their face is lined with scales around the eyes and on their neck as it fades back into the mane. However, immediately after this mane, their body enters into a fully reptilian form.
Its neck is thick, and after the thick scruff of mane hair, it joins the body with scaled skin. This body is thickly armored, reflecting that of a turtle, and greatly protects the animal from surprise attacks. These thick boney plates cover its back and sides, with a few even reaching down to its underbelly, while side and top spines serve to further ward off predators. Their six legs, three to each side, are somewhat lacking in armor, though they do possess fortified kneecaps with a small bone plate, while each of the feet possesses four, thick-clawed toes. The animal’s physical form is also unique, in that its hind two legs are raised up above the front set, allowing the animal to walk with a swing in its step, which leads to its final feature: the tail. This tail is short, between four and six feet behind the animal’s rear legs, and has two thick bulbs of chip-resistant bone fused together into a slight point at the tip, ending off the physical body. This club is unable to move much on its own, requiring the Taraq to swing it for use as a weapon. The color palette of the Taraq is diverse, and is detailed below.
As mentioned above, there are a number of colors the Taraq can possess. Most specimens possess green eyes, though a rare few also have blue and even yellow irises. The next coloration is their hair. Most Taraq hair is a tone of light or tanned brown, with their mane of hair following a similar color spectrum, though a rare few will have a dark brown, if not an outright black mane. Finally, there are the colors the animal has on its scaled, armored body. The most common color pairings are dark gray scales and pale gray bone formations, however, some possess brown scales and black bone formations. Only one was ever known to possess an exotic blue tone to their scales, and a pale white to their bone protrusions. The animal’s tail club is always black though, regardless of its color palette. However, it should be noted that the immense amount of time the animal spends in the water often results in moss, lichen, and other forms of river vegetation or scum to grow on their bodies, significantly greenifying their color palette. As for the gender differences between Taraq, both populations are roughly equal in number, with females being on average larger than the males.
Lifespan and Development
Taraq are live-born in groups of up to three, though it is far more common for them to emerge as an only child. This occurs on dry land in a live birth (an oddity for reptiles), near the river their parents most commonly inhabit. Another factor differentiating them from other reptiles is that Taraq mate for life, and males do not leave once children have been produced. As a result, Taraq babies are raised by both parents. In domesticated surroundings, Taraq birthings occur in stables or suitable ground, usually helped or witnessed by Asha caretakers. Taraq babies start out without any bone plating, and possess a pale coloration to their scales and facial hair, which already exists at this stage, albeit much softer and pale in hue. Within a few days, they are already up and walking, rapidly being introduced to the water and somewhat capable of diving into it. Within a month however, their minor tail growths begin to expand which makes swimming more difficult. By three months Taraq babies are now adolescents, and are of a significant enough size to move with their parents into deeper river waters. They remain adolescents for three more years, continuing to grow, gain mass, and develop their body plating.
Finally, at the age of four, they are considered adults, and are free to leave their parents, though most instead keep to their home herd. In domesticated surroundings, this choice is naturally made for them. Taraq are also considered mature enough to mate at this stage, though most young adults don’t mate for another few more years. The Taraq mating season is generally short; only two months in autumn, and it lacks much in the way of competition between males, as instead females select who they wish to pursue. It is between them that clubbing matches with their impressive tails take place and only occasionally, between aggravated males. Once they have mated, it is the female who can initiate a breakaway, though this rarely happens. Taraq can live up to 125 years old, with many who reach such extreme ages having gray manes and battle scars to match such a long lifespan.
Taraq are docile herbivorous animals, feeding on the vegetative bounty provided by rivers. They do so at a leisurely pace, and can often stand still in a river for as long as an hour as they slowly consume a patch of river lilies within reach of their heavy bodies. They are similarly docile with Aloria’s Races, though those with experience in the past with hunters will often be more direct and prompt in confronting any threat. The Taraq within Asha captivity are naturally positively peaceful when engaging with Aloria’s Races, though their strange faces often give them a fierce look to those unfamiliar with them. When threatened, Taraq have the benefit of their dense body plating, with its pointed spines along the rim and spine to protect them, but if loud bellows, standoffs, as well as jostling and movement isn’t enough, the creature can bring its tail into play. While slightly pointed on the end, the real damage the tail can do is blunt force, and with the beast’s six legs and uniquely positioned eyes, they can better locate those not directly facing them. They use their legs to rapidly push their bodies, and can swing their tails with shocking precision to crash into their foe, or at the very least force them back. Taraq are also highly protective of their young, with even domesticated varieties needing to be kept an eye on by animal trainers to ensure they are comfortable with how the Asha are handling their offspring. If their child is threatened, both parents will spring into action, and the results are rarely pretty.
Territory and Groupings
Taraq exist in small herds of ten to thirty out in the wild, made up of family units. However, domesticated herds often reach numbers as high as a hundred, though their reliance on rivers and vegetation often requires such larger herds to be carefully rotated out between feeding zones. The same is true even of wild herds, who “migrate” up and down the river estuaries they call home to ensure they have plenty to eat, all times of year.
- Apparently, a young Taraq once ran wild in an Ithanian coastal town after escaping from the Asha ship that had been transporting it. This “Beast of Avareles” was eventually captured and brought back on board the ship, apparently with the help of a young Ailor woman named Martha.
- The rare blue Taraq mentioned earlier was slain in 300 BC by Fin’ullen hunters, who kept the bones intact, forming it into a trophy still kept within the city of Orraal, now part of Talant Ilha Faial.
- Some Taraq may thrive in Fendarfelle of all places. Unclear reports of a similar beast seen among the vineyards of the Ithanian colonies around 230 AC suggest this, but others believe the myth of the Manticore is to blame for turning the singular actions of a Giant Scorpion and an escaped big cat into tales of a Taraq.