Totem Spirits of Corruption
How can you claim to protect a tree if you will not taste its fruits nor prune its branches?
Corruption. The followers of the Totem Spirits of Balance are quick to use this word when they speak of Hydra and those that walk her path.To them, it's a means of identifying something that has strayed from the path of balance and that strives to drag others with it. Many describe way of Grandmother Hydra as a staircase that leads down no matter the direction you walk, that no matter your intention once you step upon her path there is no escape and no good that can come of your choice. This is, of course, a very subjective view, in the opinion of those that hear the call of Hydra.
To those who've heard her question and found the path of balance to be a thankless, cyclic, and fruitless one this is the means to change that. Followers of Balance seem content to maintain a system of constant suffering, one doomed to repeat the same pitfalls over and over. All the while they are forbidden from actually changing anything or even indulging in the world they tend to. They cannot interfere in life's natural process, they cannot eliminate troublesome twists in the development of life, they cannot drink of the land too deeply, they are not allowed to sculpt new creatures, interactions with the intelligent races are kept to a minimum... so much sacrificed in the name of an ideal that offers nothing in return. For many spirits and their followers this was cruelty they could no longer endure. And thus, Hydra's offer became impossible to refuse.
Her offer: Serve me and together we shatter the old way and rebuild this world into one worthy of being saved. That was an intoxicating opportunity to those that felt shackled to the path of balance for so long. To actually have a hand in shaping the world was up to this point only a dream. During Hydra's first appearance in prehistoric Tairos that message swayed only a few. The world was still pristine and full of so much possibility then. But, after The Queen's Rebuke that all changed as Tairos starved and life stood upon the brink. Now, more than ever, this promise of hope she offered rung true.
Yet, every devil's bargain comes with a cost. One paid both in blood and soul. Those that joined Grandmother soon found the rush of indulgence offered by the land to be addictive and the the feeling of power that came with sculpting the future equally consuming. Passion quickly turned to obsession and indulgence into ravenous madness. Once goodly totem spirits concerned with making Tairos a better place soon became monsters starving for the attention of their master and for the very life energy of the land.
This is the true corruption within the ranks of these fallen spirits. Hydra's venom is one that infects the very soul, giving power to the dark urges that are best left buried rather than indulged. That, at its core, is what the the Corrupted Ones are, beings who have been eaten alive from within by their blackest desires.
Maintaining the balance is the most important task that Bear and all his kin work toward in their own way. They know that life cannot endure if the system swings too much toward one end or the other. Without death their can only be stagnation, overpopulation and suffering. Without preservation life cannot evolve, prosper and seek knowledge. The Corrupted are those totems who have lost sight of the balance and become obsessed with their task to the point of derangement. These fallen spirits seek only to force their idea of perfection upon nature while breaking the back of anything that might threaten their vision. They are led by the first to fall, Grandmother Hydra, who perfectly represents the many-faceted madness that is their way of thinking. The old stories say that Hydra struggled to understand what the point of her existence was if all her efforts were always to be diluted by those of Whale and the others. Her many heads craved to let loose and fully embrace her destructive potential but such forbidden by Old Father Whale for it would jeopardize the balance. It's said she scoured the ether and mortal realm for answers but found known. It was only when she stood on the shores of the Endless Night and stared deep into their hungry waves that she found her answer. The stories... they say she entered Endless Night and rather than be erased as many others had been she returned. Or, something did. The Hydra that came back claimed to know a truth that the others didn't. That their purpose was not to maintain a balance but to decide which way the scales should tip. Grandmother Hydra came back to the ether as a thing of pure, unending, hunger. And she spread that message to other totems, teaching them to embrace their passion rather than temper it. She taught them to gluttonously devour all they desired and to drink deeply of the Endless Night. To harness its hunger to fuel their feasts. And so, the Corrupted Ones were born.[/justify
PROMINENT MEMBERS OF THE TOTEM SPIRITS OF CORRUPTION
Below are just the most notable spirits in the ranks of corruption. There are countless entities that fill the roster of Balance Spirits, many known and many others yet to be discovered by Tairos' druids and rangers. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
Grandmother Hydra- Unlike the rest of the spirits of Tairos Hydra was not born of this land, she slithered into it from the void above. Her very nature is something often debated by scholars and druids alike, many of whom suspect she is some kind of alien entity or even an aspect of the Traveler. Whatever her origin she has become a totem of strength, tyranny, and temptation. Those that follower her are often consumed by madness or sacrificed to her hunger but those that last become the hand by which Grandmother builds the her new world. Sadly, her worshipers often find out far too late that this new world has no place for them in it. Sister Hyena- The Eater of Bones. She Who Laughs With Blood. Hyena joined Hydra to satisfy the burning hungry she felt inside her belly. She felt that Bear would never let them be free of hunger and that he ruled over them by deciding who could feed and how much could be taken. Sister Hyena has come to represent greed and gluttony. Yet, she is also a trickster spirit who deeply despises her whimsical brother on the side of balance, Coyote. Hyena also expert in the fields of pack hunting, terror tactics, and sadistic murder.
The Old Crone, Gloomwing Moth- Old Crone was the first to join Hydra, long ago during Grandmother's first coming. She was resentful of Butterfly's favor among the totems, hateful of her petty little place in the world, and despised Old Father Whale for choosing this fate for her. In fact, Glooming turned before Hydra even arrived. She was an oracle of sorts and in her dreams she heard the murmuring thunder of her new master's approach. Moth is the herald of Hydra, her rumor monger, spy, and prophet. Those who follow this totem are wise and experts of the subtle ways of politics, diplomacy, and divination. They seek to convert others to the path of corruption while turning the world against the balance Bear worked so hard to preserve. All of this serves to satisfy Moth's greatest craving... to be important.
The Viper Sisters- Sister snake was once a prominent totem among the family of balance. She represented swiftness, wisdom, and patience to those that followed her and to Bear she was a dependable warrior. Crone lured her into a trap and Heron killed her so that he might have an offering to present to Hydra that would secure his own passage into the ranks of the Corrupted Ones. Grandmother gathered the shattered essence of Snake and dipped it into the realm of Endless Night from which she herself was said to be born. What emerged was a psyche carved into three maddening pieces but all bound by a single mind. The Viper Sisters are the daughters of Hydra and crazed oracles spouting the incomprehensible secrets of Endless Night. Those that follow these broken spirits are themselves reckless seekers of forbidden knowledge and willing to betray any bond to achieve it
Brother Walrus, Lord of Nothing- Walrus was always a spirit of solitude, might, and the short-tempered. He craved nothing more than to lord over his little, lonely, kingdom far from living things or the chatter of other spirits. He only reluctantly followed the commands of Old Father Whale in the early days and one Bear became the overseer of balance he ignored his duties entirely. Gloomwing converted the dour, decrepit old spirit to Grandmother's cause with a simple promise: All the loneliness he could ever want. Coastlines devoid of life or spirits all for him to enjoy. Quiet waters to fish in. And, hushed night skies forever.
Thunderbird, The Sky Tyrant- The Fastest. The Greatest Hunter in the Sky. Strongest Claws in the Sky. Thunderbird never missed a chance to prove himself in a contest against the other totems, especially other birds. He craved the attention that came with such lofty titles and seethed with contempt toward any that could best him. He would have joined Hydra during her first coming had one of his rivals, Brother Shrike, not already pledged loyalty. He took to the skies during every spiritual battle to confront Shrike and tear him apart for all to see. As Hydra was slowly trickling back into the land Thunderbird found himself haunted by the brother he killed so long ago, by Shrike. It taunted him, reminded him of all the contests he'd lost to Shrike in life, of how the other totems had ignored his accomplishments and looked down on his glory. Thunderbird's pride made him eager to join with Hydra upon her return so that he could prove he was the better warrior, not Shrike. And to prove it to both the family of balance and the children of Hydra he joined with Grandmother.
Sister Peacock, The Ambassador- The Glorious One, as she is sometimes know, is one of the most nightmarish spirits to have joined with Grandmother. Few totem spirits better represent the frustration so many of their kind feel in having to maintain nature's balance. Peacock was always a spirit of creativity and passion so the chains of duty wore heavy upon her. When Hydra first came to Tairos Peacock leaped at the chance to join with a new master, one that would let her bring beauty to Tairos and actually preserve that beauty rather than let it wither or be devoured. Under Grandmother's tutelage, Sister Peacock learned how to sculpt life to suite any of her whims no matter how fleeting. Her idea of perfection became more and more abstract, surreal, and unsettling. And, so did her creations. Peacock hid after the first war and roamed Tairos taking in all the new horrors that would come into being. Vampires and their eternal youth fascinated her. The imperious ways of the Ximezci and The Empire of Skyrir inspired new and terrible aspirations within her. When the New Gods came she sought out the callous company of Wynte to indulge in his art. And, most recently, she lurks in the Bitter Depths and studies the gruesome endeavors of the Drekh Inoculators. She acts as an ambassador of sorts to these other wretched powers on behalf of Grandmother and the rest of the Corrupted Ones.
King Lion- Even among the Corrupted Ones there are rivalries. King Lion views Grandmother as a usurper, a pretender to the crown that should be his. This history of jealousy has roots in the earliest days of the totems when Old Father Whale first favored Bear as his chosen second. King Lion hated Bear's benevolent approach to enforcing the laws of their kind; it seemed weak and Lion always believed that weakness begets weakness. Lion believed that the totems needed to be ruled, not nudged down the proper path. He saw the coming of Hydra and the betrayal of many of their kind as vindication. Yet, when Whale passed on he gave leadership to Bear rather than him. When Hydra returned King Lion saw her message for what it was: imitation of his own beliefs. He joined her ranks so that he might eventually take command and impose his regal tyranny upon Tairos. While in her service he learned of Endless Night and the power it offered. He now seeks a way to topple Hydra and claim the secrets of that strange realm for himself. He dreams of a version of Tairos where the bones of his former kin and the gods themselves litter the land and where he reigns supreme over anything wise enough to kneel before him.
Grandmother Hydra sits at the head of this dreadful family of spirits and directs their efforts through fear, force, and manipulation. She does so wielding a power that dwarfs that of regular totem spirits. More similar to that once wielded by the gods. Gloomwing acts as her herald, secret police, and faustian agent rallying more spirits to the cause. Meanwhile, King Lion serves with reluctant loyalty while building his own forces and biding his time for the right moment to strike and take what he believes is his.
Take control of Tairos' future by force and put it on a permanent path of prosperity. To make sure the spirits are rewarded for their part in culling nature of its weakest links. And, to bring the power of Endless Night to the land so that the totems might reign supreme for all time
Unlike with the totems of balance the corrupted ones often demand individual patronage by their followers and seem to derive great pleasure is amassing such cults. While all of these cults acknowledge the cosmic important of Grandmother Hydra they dedicate themselves to accomplishing the whims of their chosen spirit.
While members of the intelligent races can often fill the ranks of these cults it is equally likely that monsters may occupy them or even lesser spirits in service to the totem. These groups are a menagerie of disgusting souls obsessed earning the favor of their master. This often takes the form of spreading their territory and creating places of power where corrupted spirits loyal to the totem patron can manifest
Broken Ones, Corrupt Ones, Fallen Totems,
Cover image: Totem Spirits of Tairos by Ric Ow