The kuzo (kuː’zoʊ) are a race of small, primitive peoples that are scattered across temperate Aserra. Descended of Kiar, their ancestors were corrupted by the gods Belas and Sai’ras in order to create an obedient, fast-reproducing race of foot soldiers for their mortal legions during the War of the Gods. In the aftermath of the war, kuzo legions were abandoned by their masters and left to fend for themselves. They inhabit the wildernesses of North Kalesten and North Thiskel. In the Forsaken Land kuzo both run wild and are kept as slaves.
The kuzo share much of the same biological traits of the Kiar, they have a short lifespan, mature quickly, and reproduce faster than humans with a shorter gestation. Unlike the Kiar, kuzo are typically significantly less intelligent and especially feral. However, there are occasional throw-backs to their Kiar ancestors who have intellect comparable to Kiar or humans. Kuzo bloodlines occasionally include human or other ancestry, which can account for greater intelligence as well.
Kuzo are short, hunched creatures with greyish-green or brownish-green skin, prominent noses, and vicious teeth. Males stand around 4’5” to 5’ (135-152cm) tall. Females are generally smaller, standing between 4’ and 4’5” (122-135cm) tall. Their forms are human-like with similar proportions to the Kiar, but somewhat distorted with hunched frames, often bloated bellies, skinny and sinewy limbs, and disproportionately large hands and feet.
Unlike other human-originating races, kuzo do not have small, rounded ears, instead their ears are reminiscent of the elemental races as they are long and stick out from the sides of their heads, but they lack the same cartilaginous structure, making their ears more flap-like, like a donkey or a rabbit’s ears. These larger ears provide them with better hearing than humans or Kiar. Their teeth are decidedly more carnivorous, with long pointed canines and jagged molars.
Kuzo hair is black to dark brown, usually thin and stringy, with most males balding in middle adulthood. In many clans, males opt to shave their heads completely, or may keep a top knot at the back of the skull where the hairline stops receding. Their eyes are similar to a cat’s, often coming in shades of yellow, varying from hazel to orange, with slitted pupils. Their iris covers nearly the entire visible eyeball with barely any sclera showing.
Like their Kiar ancestors, kuzo have a potential lifespan of up to thirty years, though rough living often doesn't allow for many to reach this age. Also like Kiar, their maturation progresses about 33% faster than humans. Kuzo reach sexual maturity around four years of age, but are not fully mature until around seven and half years of age.
Kuzo are known for the prodigious reproductive rate, helped by the Kiar traits that carried on in them. Female kuzo typically begin bearing children around four and half years of age. Gestation is approximately three months, after which a mother will nurse their child up to about a year of age. Like the Kiar, they are only fertile once a month and have a very brief menstruation (1-2 days). By their twenties, most females begin to enter menopause.
Kuzo are able to reproduce with other human-like races, but these unions typically are not consensual. Half-kuzo have a highly reduced lifespan from their non-kuzo parent, as well as maturing twice as fast as a human child, though they do live longer and mature slower than full-blooded kuzo. Their intelligence may be stunted in comparison to their non-kuzo parent and they may have more violent tendencies and antisocial behaviors.
Kuzo are hunter-gatherers, and not especially picky eaters. They will eat practically any meat, even engage in psuedo-cannibalism of other races (though they rarely cannibalize their own, except in desperation). Male kuzo typically hunt for larger game, while females and young gather fruits, edible vegetation, insects, small animals, eggs, fish, and fungi. Food is typically prepared and eaten communally. They do cook their food in a rudimentary fashion, typically roasting meat over an open fire and if they have possession of a cookpot (as they do not have the capability to forge their own cookware), stews are a popular option. Kuzo cuisine is not especially refined, but it can be creative and highly nutritious.
Kuzo arrange themselves in tribes and smaller clans of those tribes across a region. They rarely live in the open, preferring shelter in deep mountain forests and making their homes in caves or dense thickets. Open lands are a strong deterrent to wild kuzo.
Kuzo languages vary by region and are not very complex. Whatever they speak, it is often a pidgin of local languages, ancient Danaij, and other languages their ancestors may have picked up.
Their hierarchy is based on strength, with strong males out-muscling others to command the entire clan. Keeping a role of leadership relies on maintaining not only physical strength to put down challengers, but also earning the respect of their underlings through wise leadership and rewards. Kuzo successions are rarely peaceful. Once a chief begins to lose his edge, younger males will challenge him to take his place until he is slain, and the chief is rarely willing to just step back and let someone else take over, both because he doesn't want to abandon the resources he has access to, but also because if they cannot fulfill their duties, they become a burden to the clan.
Gender and Relationships
Kuzo gender stratification is extreme, almost to the point of having two entirely different cultures. The primary role of kuzo males is hunting, raiding, and leadership. Elderly male kuzo are rare, except in the case of shamans, as so much of their role in a clan is based in physical prowess. When they begin to lose that, they will throw themselves in combat with younger peers, or raids or dangerous hunts in the hopes that they are killed before they become feeble. With the gender roles in kuzo culture being as different as they are, males view retiring from hunting and raiding to join the work of women as beneath them, and thus, when they can no longer serve their purpose of men, they would rather die.
The role of female kuzo is primarily child-rearing, secondarily supportive duties surrounding the clan, which includes gathering and preparing food; making and maintaining clothing, weapons, and other tools; and general upkeep of the clan's living space. The women share in all these tasks and children are raised communally, even nursed by any capable female. Unlike male kuzo, when a female is no longer able to bear children, she still is a resource for the community for the many other roles she is able to fill. Thus, most kuzo women, if they survive childbearing, are able to live out their natural lives.
There is very little in the way of marriage or relationships, or even romance among kuzo. The closest they come is a tendency for chiefs to claim several preferred females for a personal harem, which no other males are allowed to touch. Outside of this harem, coupling occurs between any pair of kuzo with no prior relationship. Outside of a chief, very few males can claim paternity of one child or another. Up until around age four, young kuzo work alongside the females, but when males begin to mature, they are taken into the hunting parties and taught the skills they need as adult males.
After the ancient kuzo legions were abandoned by their masters, they just as quickly shed any devotion to their gods. After several generations, they slipped into animistic beliefs, worshiping and respecting their natural surroundings. Very few kuzo profess any devotion to the gods.
Kuzo have no inherent magic of their own, and also tend to be less capable of learning advanced forms than humans. Psychic abilities rarely manifest and they have very limited talent for magics in general. What magic that is practiced is a rudimentary form of shamanism, typically totemic and very nature-bound. Shamans are one of the roles not bound by gender amongst kuzo. Any individual who has an obvious talent or is touched by the spirits of the land rises to a revered position, even higher than a chief in many ways. Elder shamans often select their own successors from amongst the children as they enter puberty.
The kuzo look at other races as a source of materials that they otherwise would not have access to, and also a threat to their survival. In large enough numbers, kuzo will raid small settlements for food and supplies, and sometimes even take women and children captive if their raid is successful enough. Kuzo chiefs with enough support behind them have been known to keep harems non-kuzo women, though this is rarely seen outside of the Forsaken Land wilderness. However, if a clan is discovered, they are almost certainly in danger of being eradicated. For this reason, they keep themselves far from other races. If there is a threat of detection, even if they have large numbers, kuzo would sooner move their entire clan deeper into the wilderness than hold their ground. Their raids rely primarily on surprise and are rarely able to survive a full-on assault from prepared enemies.