The Way of the Claw
Table of Contents
The Way of the Claw is an odd organization of monks cobbled together from humble roots--the slave class of dark folk, goblins and kobolds. With everything stacked against such an organization existing in the first place, the Way of the Claw nonetheless scrabbled its way from subjugation in Yrrkune to prominence in the Far City.
Today, the Way of the Claw has five monasteries, three still in Yrrkune and two in the Kingdom of Farland, with the most important monastery located east of the old Senate Building on the Carinas Hill. In a kingdom and city rife with politics, factions, and in-fighting, the Way of the Claw has managed to remain apolitical, at least seemingly following their own peculiar philosophy and shirking temporal power. The Lord of Wrath finds this a useful stance, for he views the monastic order as one of the few trustworthy institutions in his kingdom. Although they don't always bend easily to his will, when they agree to a command, he knows it will be done.
The Way of the Claw monastic order began in Yrrkune, specifically on the western edge of the Shadow Forest, on a major trade route between Guang and Orc-haven. An orcish work camp, primarily devoted to lumber and farming, was situated at this location, and the majority of slaves in the work camp were goblins and kobolds. As at all orcish slave plantations, conditions were abysmal. The hapless goblins and kobolds were fed little and worked until they dropped. Out of these terrible conditions came Bilik, a particularly pathetic specimen of goblin, lame in one foot and blind in one eye. Bilik had been a slave in Guang to the community's orc overseers, but while there he had had the extraordinary luck to come into contact with a sect of Kunese monks, who treated him for the first time in his life like something more than a slave. This was an amazing revelation to Bilikk--that he was worthy of something other than abuse--but more importantly, Bilik overheard and absorbed some of the philosophy and techniques of the Kunese. Of course, he adapted them to his own species and way of life.
Bilik's time in Guang was short, and before he knew it, he was sold to the orcs who ran the nameless work camp west of the Shadow Forest. But Bilik was not the same goblin he had been. He was suddenly stoic, unflappable. With an unshakable calmness, he would look his overseers in the eyes as they beat him, his gaze never wavering under the worst abuse they could inflict, until they blanched and looked away. The pathetic goblin's preternaturally calm stare seemed to bore into their very souls, accusing without words, and inspiring them to consider things about themselves and the universe they had never considered before. Bilik never struck back against the beatings that were inflicted upon him, but slowly those beatings ceased. His orc masters began to avoid Bilik, seeming not to see him and ceasing to give him tasks. This left the small goblin with time, time within which he could develop his new philosophy and his new meditation techniques. And slowly Bilik gained followers as the other kobold and goblin slaves saw his success at avoiding punishment, but more than that, they saw his contentedness, his internal nirvana.
Not that Bilik's techniques were pacifistic. While the goblin would not fight to defend himself, he would engage in violence in defense of his followers. And when he did fight, it was with a weaponless technique that shocked his orc masters and left them off guard and defenseless, for it was a style they had never before seen. The style would have been familiar to the Kunese monks of Guang, but even they would not have recognized it in its entirety, for it employed new methods and techniques designed to utilize the small claws that Bilik was born with and which he had spent countless hours hardening and sharpening. The other goblins and kobolds begged Bilik to teach them that "claw way" he had of fighting, and they came to call him Master Bilik.
As his followers grew, they came to take over more and more of the work camp, until their orcish guards feared to enter the areas they declared as their "meditation space." Finally, the bosses sent to Orc-haven for help in putting down this slave revolt, and a brutal battalion of gnolls, along with one troll, arrived at the work camp. And put down the revolt they did--they slaughtered all but a handful of Bilik's followers (the survivors were lucky enough to flee into the barracks full of kobolds and goblins that had not yet joined in the revolt, blending in to the crowd), and they captured Master Bilik, intending to torture him to within an inch of his life, and then release him back into the slave population, a broken example of what happens when you resist your rightful masters.
But it did not work out that way. Master Bilik was certainly tortured, and he came out physically broken indeed, but if possible he was more calm and unflappable than ever. And word spread that he had learned from his defeat, using his meditation techniques to steal the secrets of his conquerors. Kobold and goblin slaves flocked to his teachings like never before, and soon the entirety of the camp was refusing to work or obey their orcish overseers, instead spending their time in meditation, philosophy, and practice of strange, new unarmed martial techniques.
The response was inevitable: a new war party soon arrived at the work camp, and it was double the size of the last brutal band. Besides a large band of gnolls, this one contained an oluk captain and two trolls... and they were like straws before the hurricane. With the pristine stare learned from Master Bilik, every one of the goblins and kobolds in the camp employed the new martial techniques they called the Way of the Claw against the gnolls, trolls, and oluk and tore them apart with minimal losses.
At that point, the orc overseers abandoned the work camp and returned to Orc-haven. After all, what did they care if a few goblins and kobolds wanted to spend time staring at their navels? There were plenty more goblin and kobold slaves were those came from.
The former work camp became the first Way of the Claw Monastery, later to be called the Bilik Monastery, for Master Bilik himself long ran it. The dark folk in the area made it very hard for the monastery to grow, for those goblins and kobolds who had never met Bilik or any Way of the Claw monks were easily cowed and even killed, but slowly word spread among the suppressed classes of the goblinoids. The Bilik Monastery grew, until under the direction of the long-lived Bilik himself, another monastery opened east of the original. The second one, called the Shadow Monastery after its location in the Shadow Forest, was led by Bilik's most trusted confident and most gifted student, the Kobold Nop. Master Nop recruited further from the slaves of the area and soon he opened a third monastery in Yrrkune proper, called the Scale Monastery. At this point Master Bilik was dead, though his legacy was growing.
Then came the Dark Conquest, and the Wintervale made it clear that all dark folk who could serve must obey the Dark Will and go to fight in the Western Wars. Although the teachings of the Way of the Claw made the monks of the three monasteries especially resistant to the Dark Will, the orders of the Dweller could not be resisted, or the monasteries would be destroyed, strange fighting styles notwithstanding. Therefore, large contingents of monks from each monastery volunteered and found themselves serving in the armies of the Lord of Wrath. It was immediately obvious to the Captain of the Deadly Lords that these were not cannon-fodder soldiers. In fact, he had never seen their like. But the ever-wily and intelligent Nabarus put them to good use training his captains in new fighting and resistance techniques. So successful where they in this role that after the War was over, the Lord of Wrath invited them to take up residence in the Far City, and the Hill Monastery was established east of the ruins of the Senate Building. Within a century, he allowed the fifth monastery to open in Limera, and this monastery was called the Coast Monastery.
Philosophy and Ordination
Strangely, the teachings of the Way of the Claw--called Noghorû--bear some striking similarities to the philosophy of Edaidus among the elves. According to the elves, this position states that there is one force in the universe and it is amoral, or rather the basis of the universe is a force that encompasses all moralities and viewpoints, a unity called Edai, or the Great Sphere. But make no mistake--the Way of the Claw glorifies evil, and it teaches that while there is only one actual force in the universe, it is the force of evil. Noghorû teaches that Vornoth the Great One is only one incarnation of the Noghor, the Great Circle, just as Heshtail is merely another incarnation. But both of these are evil, seeking to destroy their enemies and win domination and power. They just go about it in different ways. But what matter the way to the defeated and slain foe? Both paths lead to slavery. Thus slavery is the ultimate fate of everyone and everything. This is the first realization of Noghorû.
The Noghorû states that since everyone is ultimately a slave to one evil or another, the only thing one can do is be the best slave one can be. Best to become a good slave. This is the second realization of the Noghorû.
If all are one in the Noghor, you are both a slave and a slaver. You have the right to enslave as much as you are a slave. So in order to enslave, you should cultivate your personal might. This is the third realization of the Noghorû.
The dark folk are among the mightiest races on the planet, but they are divided. Each of the dark folk races possesses a strength. Embracing a strength from each dark race is the path to personal might. Each race has a lesson to teach. Learn from all dark folk and all monsters, for this is the path to power. In fangs and claws there is strength. This is the fourth realization of Noghorû.
And as you are ultimately a slave and a personal spark of the Noghor, your individual being matters nothing. Should you be beaten? What matters it? Do you do the beating? You beat yourself, for you are one with the Noghor. You should cease caring about the exigencies of your own individuality. This is the fifth and final realization of the Noghorû.
When you have accepted your slavery, striven to be a good slave, cultivated your personal might to enslave others, learned lessons from other dark folk and monsters, and ceased caring about your own person, you can then reach the state of baghosh, or mystical oneness with the Noghor. Should you die in this state, the Way of the Claw teaches that you will be reborn into the Noghor, as all are, but you will be reborn into a higher station among the dark folk, perhaps as an orc, a hobgoblin, or even an oluk.
Certain precepts will help one reach the state of baghosh. These are known as the Thrakû, or Right Path. They guide one's daily living. They are:
1. Correct Understanding. Fully embrace as truth the realizations of the Noghorû.
2. Correct Acceptance. Fully accept your own slavery to the Noghor and accept it as right. In turn, accept your right to enslave.
3. Correct Meditation. Meditate at every opportunity to obtain awareness of one's body, mind, and place in the Noghor. Unarmed martial training is a form of meditation.
4. Correct Conduct. Engage in the right behavior. Namely, defend yourself, take what is yours, be not greedy nor miserly, serve when necessary, rule when you can.
5. Correct Hatred. Hate those who revile the dark folk and deny the truths of Noghorû. Hate elves and dwarves foremost.
6. Correct Concern. Care only about those things that will forward the state of baghosh. Care not for thy own person, for thy next person could be better than this pathetic one.
Ordination into the Way of the Claw involves multiple steps. First, a dark folk (for only dark folk races can become monks of the Way of the Claw, and only goblins or kobolds are generally accepted) applies for entry into the Order. The Council of Elders, consisting of the three most senior monks, votes on each applicant, and only a select few are admitted. These new admittees must fast out in the open for 20 days and 20 nights, taking in only water and a sip of blood grog at dawn. Since goblins and kobolds are generally underfed and malnourished to begin with, many of the admittees die during the fast, either of hunger or exposure. Those who survive become official Novices of the Way of the Claw and are given a cell in the monastery. They then attend rigorous training and meditation sessions for four years; during this time, their finger tips are treated with special magical concoctions that cause them to grow claws or that cause the claws they already possess to grow and harden. During these years, the Novices are permitted to speak only to Senior Monks and only when spoken to (or to the agents of the Lord of Wrath, for no monk wants his Deadly Lordship's wrath to come down on the monastery). At the end of this period, the Novices are forced to fight a monster such as an ogre or dire wolf. Those who survive become full-fledged monks of the Way of the Claw.
Like the Kunese monks that influenced them, the monks of the Way of the Claw life an austere life. The exact details of their day to day existence varies based on which monastery they live in, since after the death of Master Bilik, the most senior monk rules his or her own monastery like a fiefdom, setting rules according to his or her own personal interpretation of the Noghorû.
All five monasteries share some similarities of lifestyle, however. The monks dress simply, usually wearing only a black robe adorned with a subtle claw emblem on the lapel. The monks of the Kunese monasteries wear large, shapeless hats, while the Farlandish monks--those that naturally grow any hair--shave their head and forgo hats. The monks are generally nocturnal, in deference to the kobold's natural hatred of the sun and the goblin's preference for darkness. The monks eat two meals a day, one at sunup when they retire to their sleeping pallets, and one at sundown when they awaken. All Way of the Claw monks engage in meditation at least twice per day, once an hour after sundown and once an hour before sunup, as set by Master Bilik.
The monks abstain from drinking alcohol or using mind-altering substances, which is rare among the dark folk, who are generally big fans of drink and drugs of all varieties. There is one notable exception, though: once per year, in celebration of Master Bilik's victory over torture, the monks hold the Brakur, the Ceremony of Torture. During this distasteful festival, the monks obtain a criminal from the local jail (the criminal needs to be a human, halfling, elf, half-elf, or dwarf) and torture him to death. While they do so, they imbibe large quantities of the favorite alcoholic beverage of the dark folk: blood grog, a concoction fermented from horse blood (or human blood, if one can afford the more expensive variety).
Every monastery is generally, a quiet, calm, clean place, which is again an odd sight in a dark folk society, since dark folk races are invariably loud, busy, dirty, and chaotic (save perhaps for hobgoblin camps, which are not chaotic but are loud, dirty, and busy). But a wise creature will not mistake the calm atmosphere for weakness, for the monks will defend their monasteries from attacks by outside forces or by other dark folk, with a terrifying fury.
The Way of the Claw has left a subtle but unmistakable impact on dark folk societies and on the societies of the Conquered Kingdoms. Not least, the monastic order has instilled a subtle respect for goblins and kobolds, the weakest of the dark races, a respect that was previously entirely lacking. If these tiny, stunted creatures could invent such a philosophy, organize themselves, and indeed defend themselves with a strange form of unarmed martial prowess, perhaps they are not quite so worthless after all.
The Way of the Claw has also brought some eastern thoughts and philosophies to the West, or at least it has brought awareness of such practices. Again, this impact has been subtle but noticeable, with a change in thinking among some scholars as well as the actual advent of meditation among some of the western churches.
The Way of the Claw is ostensibly apolitical, and for the most part this is true. The monastic order does not engage in the in-fighting so prevalent in the Conquered Kingdoms, and so especially prevalent in the Far City. This is not to say that it is entirely free of politics; there is of course politicking within the organization, as within all organizations, and the most senior monk of each monastery is obliged to deal directly with the Cancellors of the Lord of Wrath for the good of and in fact continued existence of each monastery. The monastic order does supply bellicose monks to the armies of the Lord of Wrath when required, and Wrath's Crimson Lion Guard generally has two Way of the Claw monks attached to each cohort.
The Way of the Claw monastic order is generally left alone by most other factions in the Far City, and even the Lord of Wrath mostly leaves them to their own devices.