The Priestess and the Tarasca
Long ago, before even the blood soaked days of Jaffar, there was a small town niched at the foot of the Irrana Mountains. By all accounts, it was a sinful place. No one knows how the people degenerated, but one way or another came a time when the words of the gods were forgotten. Maybe the excessive remoteness played a part, maybe a foreign influence was at work, but the result was the same. Gone were charity and humility, solidarity and devotion, all sense of honor and dignity. Nobles were fickle and oppressive, exploiting their subjects to unknown levels to satisfy their debauchery and interest in dark knowledge, as they passed obscene pacts with Those Who Dwell in the Tunnels. Peasants and artisans mimicked this behavior in their own petty ways. They robbed and killed each other, brutalized their families, disregarded the poor, the children and the venerable alike. The temples were abandoned and left to fall apart through years of shameful neglect. The priests died or left, their warnings unheard, until only one remained.
She was a priestess of Myrmidia, still young and therefore ignored rather than mocked. After her superiors gave up on the town, she started living in the temple, keeping it holy even as the town deserted it. She acquired a reputation for madness for she never spoke to anyone, never voiced an opinion. She lived in silence, surrounded by sin and dark pacts. Never fighting, but never leaving, as if waiting for something.
Then came the day the tarasca came down from the mountains.
Tarascas are a hideous sight, and even more dangerous. Imagine a creature the size of a coach. The body of a dragon with the face of a bear, a shell covered in spikes and a repugnant grin full with razor sharped teeth. Slow, heavy and inhumanely patient, they prowl the Irrana Mountains, hunting for cattle and humans alike, tearing them apart in frenzied attacks, leaving only splattered blood on their path.
One of such monsters one day left its lair, settled in the hill country surrounding the sinful village and made it into its hunting ground. It started with sheep and an occasional shepherd. No one noticed until entire caravans left for far away markets and returned a few hours later, decimated. Soon the creature started roaming the town, killing horses and peasants, and worst of all, preventing anyone from leaving.
With the town under siege, the nobles send their hunters. Then their militias and best swordsmen. Then the bravest went themselves. None returned. At night, the people could hear the tarasca and they knew their fathers, sons and brothers had died. The town was paralyzed by fear. No one dared to plow the fields, to shepherd the vanishing herds. All those who tried to flee were ambushed and soon the town faced famine. Traps, poison and spears all failed, as the creature proved to be far smarter than its brutality suggested. The nobles, who had failed spectacularly in their task, began to fear their own peasants might kill them in desperation.
Desperation only one person seemed to be unaware of. After several weeks of blood and hunger, someone noticed the young priestess had not altered her routine and seemed completely unfazed by the events. Some concluded this proved her simple-mindedness but others, less sinful or more desperate, started wondering if this meant something deeper about her, and about them.
Eventually someone dared. Someone went to the temple of Myrmidia and found the priestess cleaning the place, fighting a losing war against wilderness. This person kneeled in front of the young woman and spoke at great length about the tarasca’s unrelenting campaign, the many victims, the starvation, the impotence of the masters and the hopelessness gripping everyone. He then begged the priestess to ask the goddess to take pity on the town.
The priestess listened patiently and when the visitor was done, she said the first sentence anyone heard her spoke in years:
“I will ask him to stop”.
Then she left the temple, walked to the gates and vanished into the night, heading for the hills.
Most who heard of this laughed bitterly, saying nothing else could be expected from a madwoman. Soon the worst ones, convinced she had abandoned them, called her a traitor and sacked what remained of the temple as revenge.
No one knows what those heathens thought when the next day the priestess returned, followed by the tarasca.
They were walking together, the priestess opening the march, the monster following her peacefully, its savage grin betraying no desire for violence. Under the population’s astonished sight, the young woman crossed the gates, always followed by the tarasca. The creature did not even look at the people who cowered in its presence. But inevitably, curiosity was stronger than fear and the whole town followed them to the town square. Slowly, drop by drop, the entire town, nobles and commoners alike, gathered, while the priestess waited, one hand on the creature’s head.
Once all were gathered, silence fell on the square. All waited for the priestess to speak.
She laconically did:
“He agrees. It is over”.
Then she waited…
It was as if a dam had broken. There was no celebration, no thankfulness, no happiness. Instead, the heathens, now sure the danger had passed, pulled their knives, their stones, their mattocks, and without a thought for their savior rushed the tarasca and ripped it apart with savage glee. The creature never fought back or tried to escape. Overwhelmed with bloodlust, they took their revenge on their tormentor. Children splashed in blood puddles, friends fought for teeth and claws, a noble grabbed the tarasca’s head and raised it in the air, boasting about his new trophy. Then he stopped boasting when a spear impaled him through the chest.
The bloody carnival stopped and all looked at the priestess, only now remembering her presence. It is said those closest to her died of fright, for her palpable wrath seemed the stuff of Myrmidia herself. Another dam had broken, and the town was in the middle of the incoming wave.
With words that would have banished daemons, the priestess chastised her flock. For years she had kept alive the hope that they were not beyond saving, beyond the light of Myrmidia. The goddess teaches that no living thing is impervious to her word, but it seemed the goddess had been wrong. The tarasca had listened. The monster had bowed to the light of Myrmidia and refused to harm her people. Something the mob gathered there had proven to be incapable of. They were animals, all of them. Less than animals, less than the creature that had terrorized them. There, in that square, in the presence of the temple they had desecrated, they had proven their unworthiness.
There are many versions of her impromptu sermon, but all agree on one thing: when she was done, the people fell on their knees and wept in desperation. They had seen themselves for the first time, in a mirror with a monstrous image reflecting back. It is said some took their lives, unable to carry such unbearable guilt. Others confessed their sins and dark dealings and begged for a single chance at redemption. Every noble house was extinguished that day for their guilt was greater, but once the deed was done, the priestess reminded the heathens there will be no easy atonement for them.
Soon, all Estalia spoke of a war raging in the mountains. Beastmen and greenskins fled or were destroyed. Corrupt towns and deviant cults felt the blade of the goddess. Those Who Dwell in the Tunnels crawled back to their burrows, fleeing the light of day and the retribution it brought in the shape of a priestess and her flock. It is said tarascas rallied to her, and that her army never retreated, for they all knew redemption was at the end of the road.
This is the tale estalian children learn on the Day of Atonement, when processions fill the streets with priests and the tamed tarascas from the Cult of Myrmidia. Estalians feed them and pray for them in gratitude. They no longer fear the beasts for they remind them that no one is beyond the goddess’s mercy.
As for the town, no one knows where to find it or if it still exists. But many tercios carry a banner with the likeness of a tarasca, and many towns claim to be the resting place of Ciriana, Myrmidia’s Warden of the Wild.