The following information applies to pure Kaidanese Tengu. There are variant Tengu races that have essentially developed in regions outside of Kaidan. Additionally, there are Kite Tengu, discussed below, as well as the Kenku race, who are cousins to the Tengu.
If one wishes to understand the truth, one must listen first and then meditate. Thus is an enlightened mind achieved. Yet knowledge without action has no meaning and the mind, divorced from the flesh, can do nothing. Thus if one wishes to transcend, mind and body must flow as one. This is what it means to be daitengu. This is the goal the wise among us seek, though few may truly find it. We are children of the wind and the mountain. Our way is the way of the sword, the path of the warrior. The highest challenge for a tengu is that which tests both heart and soul, mind and body. We seek enlightenment at the edge of good steel. When each movement flows seamlessly into the next, a perfect dance of flesh and wind and flashing blade, we find peace.
Our oldest stories say we were made when the first mountain loved the first wind. The wind blew free. The mountain stood firm. As the mountain watched the wind, longing grew. Out of that longing the mountain gave birth to the tengu. The wind, seeing such love, blessed us with grace and the promise of flight. Yet to achieve this promise, we must first find the power within ourselves, freeing ourselves from the constraints of the flesh. This is what it means to be tengu.
Physically, we stand approximately five feet tall. Our flesh is covered with feathers, typically black, though a few of our race are born with white feathers and the oldest among us are grayed. Some humans say we have a resemblance to crows, though such a description is uncouth and not one we would make ourselves. Indeed, we would rather say that crows have a passing resemblance to us, though we notice obvious differences. Our beaks are long, sharp and most frequently as black as our feathers (though yellow beaks, or yellow flecked beaks, are not uncommon, especially in our youth). Our hands and feet are hard talons, with strong grips, and a similar coloration to our beaks. Despite any physiological differences, like most other intelligent races, our hands have thumbs, and our toes are all forward facing. There is a second sort of tengu, a people with brown and white feathers and smaller, more hooked beaks. Humans have likened them to black-eared kites. Socially they are very similar to us, though more aggressive in their ways.
Our young are laid in eggs, one a day, generally over a period of two or three days. (Though clutches can be as large as six or as small as a single egg). Each egg measures about nine inches long, possessing a sky-blue shell with dark green or black speckles. The child incubates for six months within its egg, and, when it hatches, it stands about a foot tall and is featherless with a yellow beak and yellow talons. We grow quickly, being able to walk within a month of hatching and reaching our full height by six or seven years of age. As we age, our beaks and talons all darken in color, the beaks more swiftly than the hands or feet. We consider our youth mature at ten years of age, marking the event with an annual, community wide, “coming of age” celebration. Despite this recognition, true respect is seldom earned before the age of twenty and we almost never marry before our thirtieth year, if then. When we reach maturity, we typically seek out a teacher under whom we may study a trade or skill. While we all yearn to excel with the sword, we recognize that only the very best may be accepted by the swordmasters. The rest of us settle for lesser teachers, learning a trade alongside our sword-craft. There is no shame in this, for each role is necessary if we are to survive.
Some few of our race are born with vestigial wings. Never strong enough for flight, such wings are taken as a good omen, reminding us that we have the power of flight within us, though it is shackled by the constraints of the flesh. Like the mountain that birthed us, we yearn to fly. Our sword style is reflective of this longing, utilizing as it does great leaps, swooping maneuvers, and a graceful form.
We are a religious people, though our religion differs from the religions of many other races. Our religion has no founder, no idols and no dogmas. It seems to us that many seek for power outside of themselves. Not so the tengu. While we honor the kami as older brothers in the world, we believe true power comes from enlightenment and know that enlightenment cannot be forced upon another. The higher powers are not kings to be served; they are teachers to be respected. We also know this truth: any teacher, whether tengu or kami, no matter how skilled or powerful, can only instruct. The student must realize the truth of the lesson of his own accord. As the path to enlightenment differs from soul to soul, the wise teacher uses lessons most appropriate to the student. Students must be attentive, but they cannot rely on their teachers to do the learning for them. Tengu yamabushi are common, but such warriors do not exist to make intercession between us and the kami, as they might seek to do in other races. Rather they are students of the kami and students of the sword, tengu who seek for enlightenment through attentive respect for the kami and an active study of martial truths. Such a path is a powerful path and a great number of daitengu came from the ranks of the tengu yamabushi.
Honor is an important concept to the tengu, indeed it was we who taught humans what honor was, though they have twisted it to mean loyalty to others. Tengu honor is defined as loyalty to self. If we cannot be true to our own selves, how then can we be true to others? We are shamed by those actions which make us less and take pride when we excel. The exact manner by which a tengu pursues personal honor differs from one tengu to another. There are, we must admit, many of our number who are full of selfishness and overwhelming false-pride, not realizing how such things truly keep them from reaching their full potential. Enlightenment cannot be achieved by those who cannot recognize their own weaknesses and who give in to every covetous craving. The path of the daitengu is the path of self-mastery.
Aesthetically, we are most pleased by the flash of the sun on metal and the cooling touch of the wind. Thus our homes are built high so that our father, the wind, may find us. Our swords, gifts of our mother, the mountain, are kept sharp that they may catch the light. We decorate our clothing, when we can, with small bits of metal or mirror. The love of reflected light partially explains our habit of keeping a collection. As children it is common for collections to be comprised of shiny stones or bits of polished glass. As adults, our tastes mature, or at least that is what we tell ourselves. The poorest among us may collect mirrors, bottles or metal buttons. The more privileged are likely to have an assortment of coins, gems, or even quality steel blades. A tengu with no such collection is a strange bird indeed.
We are naturally a mountain race, dwelling in villages built in high, rocky places. Farming is poor in these regions, but that does not bother us, as we are primarily carnivorous. We do sometimes maintain small herb gardens, with which to season our meat. Most of our villages keep goats or boars and hunt the wild beasts that dwell in the crags. Often times we operate small mines, drawing forth gifts from our mother, though we seldom dig too deep. We smelt iron, copper and bronze as we find them. Much of our time is spent in training and personal meditation. Our leisure activities, such as they are, include poetry, calligraphy, fishing, pottery, embroidery, painting and the arranging of rocks. There are, in some human cities, enclaves of tengu who, having left their mountain villages, seek a new way of life. The path to enlightenment is different for each and so we try not to judge such decisions. Those of us who continue in the old ways do, however, note that even as they pursue a different path, our father the wind calls to them, and these city-tengu build their communities in high buildings, maintaining a similar social structure to those found in the mountains.
Our rustic cousins, the kite tengu, live much as we do, though their ways are more savage than ours. Raiders and barbarians, these tengu do not smith their own weapons, but take them by force, periodically descending from their mountains to loot and pillage henge and human villages alike. While we are on generally good terms with these tengu, being immune to their depredations, we nevertheless do not condone their conduct.
As already mentioned once, we often raise boars. Some few tengu, living in mountainous areas containing giant boars, raise these creatures so that they might ride the animals into battle. These tengu claim the rushing wind of a charge is akin to flying and often disdain the art of the sword in favor of the spear. While their attacks are fearsome, their numbers grow fewer every year.
Though we are a very individualistic race, we enjoy the companionship of others and understand the benefits of a strong community. Each tengu is a law unto himself, bound only by his own conscience and sense of honor. That is not to say there is no structure to our society. There is a clear hierarchy among us, defined by the master-student relationship, with each student giving respect to his teacher and his teacher’s teacher. As our parents are the first teachers we possess, it is understood that they are respected and heeded, as are their masters.
Our standing in the community determines where we dwell. The higher places are reserved for the most respected. This is true of dwellings, schools, and villages. In the typical home the parents dwell above the children. In a school, the master has the highest room, the older disciples dwell below him and the newest students sleep on the ground floor. Similarly, in a village, houses or structures built higher up the mountain are those most likely to contain persons or institutions of note. The greatest among us, the daitengu, dwell above all, high atop the mountain, and each tengu mountain has a single daitengu, an immortal guardian who lives until a new daitengu arises from among the students to take his place atop the mountain. Each daitengu may provide guidance to any number of small villages. Our villages are often built around a tengu swordschool or yamabushi monastery, providing support for the same. Further down the mountain, individual tengu may have small homesteads, though we seldom live too far from one another, understanding the benefit of mutual aid in times of trouble.
When a tengu marries, it is a lifelong commitment, though only about a third of us ever find such a soul-mate. Marriage for us is not primarily a sexual relationship, though a female tengu only lays eggs after she has found her mate. Rather, in marriage, we seek an intellectual and philosophical companion with whom we can grow. Mere friendship is not enough for a marriage. There must be a true respect on the part of each party and a mutual desire to be joined for life. When such a companion is found, the two tengu seek a yamabushi to perform the marriage ceremony. Such ceremonies are private affairs, attended only by the two to be joined and the yamabushi. After, the newly married couple finds a new home, symbolizing their new beginning in life together. Only when this home is established do they invite all their friends and acquaintances to a day-long celebration.
There is little or no difference in our society between the roles of the man and the woman, excepting those natural differences arising from the simple fact that our men are slightly heavier of build and are unable to lay eggs. We lack the sexual drive of the mammalian races and thus are freed from many of the problems that other races encounter. This is not to say we have no drive to reproduce. We love our young and the whole community is typically protective of each immature tengu. A young tengu has an easy life, often being quite spoiled. It is common for younger tengu to address their elders, excepting master-teachers, parents and grandparents, as Uncle and Auntie, a fact which reflects the communal love each tengu has for those younger than themselves.
Relationships with Other Races
Though we seek out conflict so as to test our skill, we are not an especially war-like race and, so far as others allow us to pursue our own, private goals, we avoid mingling in their affairs. We seldom judge races as a whole, preferring to allow each individual to stand, or fall, according to his or her own actions. This is not to say we are foolish in our interactions or overly trusting. Indeed, we regard most non-tengu with some suspicion until we know them well enough to trust them. Yet suspicion is not the same as hostility and though we are cautious, we typically allow people a chance to prove themselves one way or another. For this reason we often begin new relationships by testing the worthiness of an individual.
We cannot stand foolishness, corruption and pride in other races and will sometimes go out of our way to make examples of those we find particularly grating. We still share the tale of Haakayio, a tengu wanderer who tricked a pompous human priest into climbing a tree naked so as to reach heaven. The foolish man, still in the tree come morning, waiting for a celestial visit, was discovered by his entire village, much to Haakayio’s delight (and the delight of generations of young tengu since). This should not be taken to mean we have an especial animosity towards humans. We are often willing to aid noble endeavors which appeal to our sense of adventure. Likewise, individuals, regardless of race, who come to us for training are accepted should they prove worthy. Thus daitengu Mokaayan trained the great swordsman, Minamoto Yoshitsune, an honorable human. Even yet today we hold a grudge against those who took his life.
We are perhaps closest to the hengeyokai, trading with them: metal mined in the mountains in exchange for fabric and goods from their forest homes. Our two races have much in common, philosophically and historically, though they are far more communal in nature than we are. Our path only occasionally crosses that of the kappa, indeed we are most likely to meet kappa when we visit the hengeyokai. Though we share some of their sense of humor, we tend to find their crudeness gets old after a time and they begin ruffling our feathers the wrong way. Still, we admire their tenacity and while we do not enjoy wrestling as much as they do, nor are we so foolish as to challenge them to a wrestling match, their love of competition is something we can understand.
The korobokkuru sometimes make pilgrimages to inquire of the daitengu. We treat these small men well when they come. Humans used to do the same, but the practice, among them, has become so uncommon as to make us extremely wary when we see humans climbing up toward our remote villages.
Alignment and Religion
Racially, we try to avoid labeling individual choices as good or evil, right or wrong, believing that each individual must decide these things for himself or herself. What is good for one individual may be harmful for another. Some have described this as neutrality in the great issues of life, but we do not see it quite that way. We most certainly believe in being proactive in those matters of personal importance to ourselves. Others may make different choices than the ones we would make, but so long as their choices do not affect us, who are we to demand they conform to our desires?
Every individual walks his own path.
As we look at the world, we see spirits all around us and within us. Each of us possesses a four-fold soul, able to interact with the kami of the world in a spiritual way. While we do not worship the kami in the sense some races understand worship, we nevertheless give them respect as our elder brothers in the world. They are teachers and by listening to their wisdom we more easily find the wisdom necessary to achieve true spiritual fulfillment. Spiritually, we are served by tenguyamabushi, warriors dedicated to understanding the wisdom of the kami and the way of the natural world all around us. Though some yamabushi will build a shrine to this kami or that kami, most of them are wanderers on the mountain, visiting the various villages and tending to their needs.
Each tengu mountain has at least two major shrines. One is to the kami of that mountain, our mother, for it is only right for a child to respect its parent. The second shrine, typically built near the top of each mountain, is dedicated to our father, the wind. This shrine serves a dual role, being also the shrine of the daitengu.
Tengu have a natural affinity for languages and a general love of words. Some wags claim it is because we love to hear ourselves talk, but I think it is because the spoken word is an aspect of the wind, whose children we are. We speak our own language when among ourselves, but readily learn the languages of others that we might converse with them in their own tongue.
Because of our love for language, poetry is one of our favorite of art forms; indeed the art of the spoken word is almost as highly esteemed among us as sword-play. We do not have many bards in the mountains, and at gatherings each tengu may be called upon to provide some momentary entertainment. Nearly every tengu can recite any number of haiku and often know two or three longer works. We relish old favorites, but are not above listening to a new creation. Like our sword-craft, we prefer our poetry to be graceful and flowing, with each word perfectly placed. This love of a word fitly spoken extends into our daily conversation: we esteem those who use language well and carefully use words to give shape to their thoughts.
The written language, being a natural extension of the spoken language, is also highly regarded by us, and our homes are as likely to be decorated with calligraphy as with any other sort of art. We do not claim to have taught human men their letters, but we do think the brush-work of our masters to be far superior to that of humans.
As the wind blows, so blows the heart of the tengu. It should not be surprising that many tengu of a certain age long for excitement and adventure. They desire to put their sword skills to the test and discover whether they have what it takes to ascend the path of enlightenment all the way to the top of the mountain. Most tengu adventure, if they are going to adventure, when they are about twenty, old enough to have learned what their teachers have to teach them and young enough to still have their full strength. Many teachers, recognizing this natural drive, assign their students tasks and send them from their schools, so as to best direct the energies of their students toward enlightenment. Many of the greatest of our swordmasters developed their skills in just this way, wandering the world and testing their skill time and time again. The experience earned this way is often better than a dozen years spent in a school or monastery.
Tengu names often feature aa, k, i, and o sounds. They are seldom more than three syllables long, and double syllable names are most common. Female names are more likely to contain b, m and uu sounds. Tengu seldom employ surnames but if an occasion calls for such, a tengu typically uses the name of his mountain to provide the necessary distinction.
Some common tengu male names include: Aakoni, Bitaan, Jaariko, Kimaako, Kiji, Kutaamo, Taakiko and Waakiki.
Some common tengu female names include:
Aamuu, Bimuuko, Fuumkuu, Haanako, H’ruubo, Kaabiko, Mitsuu, Suumik, and Umuuko.