Saturday, November 7, 2020

On the Pain-Tasters of Najis.

Najis is the godhead of harm and healing, and the cycle of endurance and suffering that they perpetuate. While not uniformly sadistic in their depictions across the known world, the cast of the deity's clergy and most fervent devotees tends to be somewhat grim. It is the only known cult in which self-flagellation is a competitive sport, and the 'self' part is often omitted.

Even so, the god's focus lends its followers a keen understanding of the bodies of living things, and the myriad problems and ailments that can befall them. While they may approach infirmity with more spiritual glee than more mundane healers, the priests and surgeons instructed in the ways of Najis are often skilled and sought-after doctors all across the Basin. Sought-after, but not necessarily wanted- one of the more infamous pieces of commonly known Najisi stricture is the forbiddance of any and all anesthetics during procedures: pain is life, and so the absence of pain is an abominable miniature death.¹

The most (in)famous of these healers are the Pain-Tasters.

Barber Surgeon (Zweihander RPG)
Dejan Mandic

While their name is a bit too on-the-nose, their expertise is remarkable regardless of whether you have a high or dim opinion of the order as a whole. The Pain-Tasters are alumni of the highly prestigious and highly secretive Sodality of the Blissful Scourging, a medical school and seminary in Serminwurth with another extremely on-the-nose name.

The Sodality is open only to Najisites of demonstrable faith and fervor, and the vast majority of students already have successful medical careers prior to their induction. Students are forbidden to leave the school until they have either dropped out or completed their training, which is a process that can take up to a decade or more. More than one disappearance or suspected murder in the city has been explained by a new entry to the Sodality simply forgetting to alert every relevant party in their life of their aspirations before cloistering.

Most students do not complete their training. The isolation, coupled with rigorous daily schedules and study regimens that blur the material with the arcane, can lead many to burn out within their first year or two. Surprisingly, these dropouts are often allowed to leave and resume their lives in the outside world, though they all share some dismay when they wake up and find that much of the knowledge they acquired at the school has been obliterated by an as-of-yet unknown agent--possibly a potent and specialized drug--employed by the school.²

Because of these measures, very little slips out about what actually goes into training a Pain-Taster, and its members are quite tight-lipped about it. It doubtless involves mastery of any and all bleeding-edge knowledge and technology of medicine, as well as liberal addition to the 'bleeding' side. It is also possible that they undergo a series of inoculations against any diseases they could conceivably encounter during their practice: Pain-Tasters are well known for how fearlessly they throw themselves into highly contagious situations, yet rarely ever seem to grow sick themselves.

The rumor that the government of Serminwurth hands certain condemned criminals over to the Sodality for clandestine vivisections is unsubstantiated, but it would surprise absolutely no one if it came to light as truth. They possess insights into the physiology of humans and many other living things that could only be obtained through intimate familiarity.

Once a Pain-Taster has graduated from the Sodality and donned their ceremonial mantle of knives and needles, they have a wealth of options available to them. Most hospitals in any given area will accept them outright- if not as full-fledged members of their staff, then at least as advisors and specialists kept at a cordial arm's length. They may emphasize their religious training and become members of the formal religious hierarchy. Or, they go wandering in search of new avenues and methods of practice.

Some of the best details on Pain-Tasters outside of Serminwurth have been recorded in Deneroth, where a permanent office for one has been in place ever since the founding of the city by Laizij. Here, a senior Pain-Taster operates out of a small Najisi shrine that has nonetheless been granted the flattering title of "basilica". This taster acts as the personal doctor for the city's Steward, as well as the Directorate of Ivory Tower University.

The voluminous notes taken at the latter location has teased out many details about Pain-Tasters over the centuries, much to the chagrin of the Sodality. But in the interest of maintaining the relationship between the two cities, Serminwurth does not object to these incidental gleanings.

Foremost among the abilities of a Pain-Taster is their skill at diagnosis. This is where their name comes in, and they live up to it every bit. They can reportedly see, smell, feel, or occasionally even taste the onset of an illness hours or days before visible symptoms appear in a patient.

They can identify broken bones or ruptured arteries at a glance, and even make educated guesses at the exact breed of parasite infesting someone based on the 'look' of their eyeballs or the smell of their bodily waste. They operate on the threshold where preventative medicine is no longer possible, and treatment and pain are the only paths forward- precisely as Najis would will it. Their senses seem to have been honed by years of study and memorization of subtle cues coupled with experience, but something about it is downright preternatural.

Just as they are skilled in determining what will happen, they are unerringly accurate with what has happened. Pain-Tasters can act as coroners, able to detect even subtle causes of death some time after the event, at least so long as the cadaver has not undergone considerable putrefaction. The most famous instance of this comes again from Denerothi records, in which the senior Pain-Taster of the basilica determined the cause of death of Laizij.

The rumor that had spread like wildfire upon the discovery of the Eternal Scholar's body was that he had been poisoned, or smote by black magic conjured by everyone's favorite scapegoats, the followers of Dherna. The taster was able to determine quite confidently that he had died of blockage related to a truly prodigious collection of gallstones. The taster reportedly came to suspect this after ingesting a piece of Laizij's raw, jaundiced skin. After the requisite amount of bureaucracy was waded through to receive a permit to perform an invasive examination, the gallstones were found. 

The chronicle then takes an extensive sidetrack relating the legend of how these stones were inscribed with motes of wisdom that were then sought after or scattered with the winds, in good Denerothi fashion. But the procedure itself is corroborated in similar cases elsewhere, adding to the Pain-Tasters' lengthy list of qualifications for everyone else's reluctant respect.

¹ To say nothing of the fact that one common depiction of the afterlife in the inner esoteric circles of Najis-worshipers is a perfect perpetuation of life-affirming, exhilarating pain via stabs and scrapes.

² This memory erasure does not appear to be flawless, however. Mersind, once an aspiring biologist and anatomist of Serminwurth, was expelled after breaking some sort of grave taboo during his second year at the Sodality. Yet descriptions of the pale, enigmatic man suggest that he fled the city with his memories of the school almost fully intact a decade and a half ago. Ever since then, his former colleagues have been keenly interested in returning him for examination, and to put a stop to his more well-known excesses (while also seizing all of his collected data for their own research).

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