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The rise of the Near-Humansby David Knott
In the pre-history of Mystara, the Brute-Men were the ancestors of the human and demi-human races. In their time they were the most intelligent beings, for the troglodytes had degenerated considerably from their Carnifex forebears, dragons were only beginning to evolve from the ancestral wyverns, and the cleverest of animals remained nothing more than clever animals. Of what was going on under the seas at that time, even the aquatic races have no memory.
But during those millennia of pre-history, two uplift events occurred that greatly expanded the roster of intelligent races on Mystara. It is not known for certain just how each of these events occurred, whether through natural evolution, Immortal intervention, or even mere mortal magic, but the effects were profound.
The first uplift resulted in intelligent animals: winter wolves, giant lynxes, giant eagles, snappers, equines, ursines, and pachydermoids. Phanatons technically fall into this category even though they did not evolve intelligence until far more recent times. More magical forms of these intelligent animals would be created by various Immortals in future years: hsiao, sphinxes, displacer beasts, blink dogs, foo dogs, and tabis, among others. Still, with their lack of hands and strictly limited magical talents, none of these races were a challenge to the Brute-Men or to the true humans who would later replace them.
The rise of true humans put great pressure on the Brute-Men and the intelligent animals. The Brute-Men were ultimately unable to compete and were eventually relegated to the Hollow World -- but not before the Immortals attempted to intervene in various ways on their behalf. First, they created divisions among the humans by splitting them up into different tribes and even creating new species of demi-humans from the original human stock to compete with them. When that approach failed to slow humans down much, the Immortals next took some of the more promising intelligent animals and modified them to walk upright and have hands and a spoken language. These races, the children of the second uplift, evolved into the "Near Human" races, many of which still exist today.
From the winter wolves came the wolfen, a savage but cunning race that many humans confused with the gnolls created later by the Nithians. Indeed, humans eventually exterminated those wolfen clans that did not adopt more "civilised" manners under the leadership of refugees from the Hutaakan people created by Pflarr. The wolfen under Hutaakan leadership eventually evolved into the modern lupins who are found throughout Brun.
From the giant lynxes came the ancestral rakastas, from whom all of the modern breeds of rakasta evolved. With their colonisation of Myoshima and later re-colonisations of Mystara the rakastas would eventually vie with the orcs for the distinction of being the second most populous intelligent race on Mystara. Rakastas became widespread nearly everywhere except in the regions most familiar to Mystara fans: Alphatia and the Known World. However, the events of WotI introduced inhabitants of the Known World to the rakastas as the Master's conquest of Sind and subsequent invasion of Darokin drove many rakastas east from Sind and Akesoli. Once the domestic rakastas established themselves in the cities of Darokin, the mountain rakastas who already lived in the remoter mountains of the Known World became a bit less shy about revealing their presence. Those nations of the Known World who welcomed rakastas received a small but noticeable boost to the strength of their armies.
From the giant eagle came the aarakocra who even now dominate the western part of Brun from the Arm of the Immortals to the Sylvan Realms. Contact with the Ee'aar resulted in the first Kenku, who today are found in the southern part of the Arm of the Immortals as well as throughout the continent of Skothar. Those aarakocra who contacted the elves served them as guides and scouts and accompanied them on many of their later migrations, but their racial claustrophobia drove them to avoid the forests that the elves preferred and establish nests in the nearby mountains. Those aarakocra who wandered with the elves became the faenare, who are found not only in Serraine but in the Broken Lands and in most of the mountain ranges of the Known World.
The snappers, of course, gave rise to the tortles. Originally the snappers were peaceful creatures of neutral alignment, but with the rise of the tortles the remaining snappers became vicious and chaotic. To this day these two races are mutually hostile. The tortles are found everywhere from the Orc's Head Peninsula to the Atruaghin Coast -- further east they have been unable to find any places that they can lay their eggs safely. The snappers, unable to compete with the tortles in their own territories, have established nesting grounds along the east coast of the Arm of the Immortals, on various islands near the Savage Coast, and in Ierendi, Minrothad, and the Thanegioth Archipelago -- in short, any place that the snappers can swim to more easily than their tortle foes.
The equines underwent a different sort of change from most other intelligent animals, as they were given a non-humanoid form -- that of the centaur. This example later led to the creation of pegataurs (an apparent elf/pegasus fusion), wemics (feline centauroids), hybsils (small deer-like centauroids), and perhaps other "centauroids" not yet observed and recorded by Mystaran explorers.
The fate of the ursines is not currently known, as no intelligent bear-like creatures other than werebears have been observed in the Known World. Still, enough arcane magical texts make reference to these creatures to suggest that they should exist somewhere on Mystara.
Finally, the pachydermioids became the ancestors of the pachydermions, the elephant-like humanoids who are now the second most prevalent race on Myoshima. It is not known whether any of that kind still exist on Mystara itself.
Of the lizard-kin nothing more need be said at this point, as their origins and subsequent fates are clearly described in the latter parts of the Princess Ark series that deal with the Wallara and the Squamous Kingdoms of the Bayou. Similarly, the enduks and their degenerate minotaur descendants originated in historical times on the Orc's Head Peninsula, while the horrid aranea have an origin completely outside of Mystara....