Even the nature of the taint is fiercely debated. All that seems certain is that the taint is birthed somewhere at the murky edge of human excellence and genius. Indeed, many strains are so ill-defined as to be almost invisible in normal society. These are the petty tainted; a man who can always flip heads with a coin, a woman who always knows who knocks at the door, a boy who can calm a horse with a touch or a composer who remembers and can play every piece she has ever heard. These are the lucky tainted who might well live their life undiscovered if they are careful.
The charismatic end of the taint is far easier to diagnose. These are the poor souls whose ‘gifts’ are unmistakable. We know their many types well from fable and history; the weather mage who brings storms when they sorrow, the pyronomer who can twist and cajole living fire to do their will or the filthy psymancer who picks their neighbours thoughts like a footpad would their purse and that is to name just a few. Not only is this end of the taint the most recognisable, these are also the sufferers most likely to fall to violent insanity.
The cause of the taint is as well argued as its boundaries. For the sake of brevity I will quickly outline the two most common schools of thought.
The pretentiously named Daemonic Realists believe that those with the taint are a kind of bridge between our plane and a plane inhabited by fiends, demons and gods. They think some kind of daemonic power leaks into the tainted from this other realm and that is what grants them their power. They also believe this theory explains why the tainted often go insane; when enough of this daemonic ether has trickled through a tainted person their mind simply fragments.
The Attributist argue that the Taint is simply a trait, in the same way that black hair or freckles are, and that nothing more should be read into it. They hold that the Realists are little better than superstitious peasants trying to hide old hatreds behind a thin veneer of scholarship.
I wouldn’t dare wade into this ancient and pompous argument.
The tainted were not always the pathetic, hunted creatures they are today.
The hieroglyphs, mosaics and statues of antiquity make it clear that the tainted were once considered to be favoured by the gods. Kings of Jaltania, queens of the Sunset Isles and the tyrants and great ministers of Gelania all boasted of their taints in art and sculpture.
The tainted’s place in the Arentan Empire was just as exalted. As both Rusticus and Bassus make clear in their works, the high offices of the Republican Senate and Imperial Public Service were almost completed dominated by the tainted. The first three Emperors were also all renowned for their use of the taint.
But everything changed for the tainted in 697. On mid winters night the tainted went to bed the closest thing on earth to gods. Those that survived till morning greeted the sun as pariahs.
All autumn strange portents had been reported across the Empire – calves born with two heads, whales washed up dead in their thousands, strange lights flickering in the sky. Then, in the darkest hours of mid winters night the madness was born. Without warning, as quick as the striking of a match, almost all the world’s tainted fell insane. Cities burnt, people in their thousands perished and in places it is said even the order of nature buckled as mountains cracked and rivers dried. Arenta, the greatest city in the world, was all but levelled as raging fires, strange creatures and the insane tainted stalked her labyrinthine streets.
Although the Empire slowly recovered from this horrific night, the tainted did not. Admittedly the survivors were never struck down with another such cataclysmic stroke of universal madness, but something was broken inside them and madness lurked within them. Since then nothing has changed, some tainted might go their life untouched, while others succumb to the madness as children or even babies. Even today our greatest professors and physicians, using all the tools of modern medicine, can do nothing to help them.
Even in this modern age, in many nations the tainted are still ruthlessly persecuted. In Caladia and Auerswald to be found tainted is a death sentence. Across both these nations agents of the state and church ruthlessly purge the taint. So successful are these efforts that the taint is almost extinct in both countries.
The other nations of Circilia do not have such a ruthless approach and most of them, at least tacitly, accept the tainted. This is not to say they are well treated. Especially in rural areas and during times of stress, war or famine pogroms, hangings and murders are far from uncommon.
The two exceptions to this are the Realm and Dovinae. Both these nations guarantee the liberty and freedom of the tainted. Obviously for the safety of the general populace, they must be registered with the state and pass monthly tests for signs of madness, but otherwise they are afford all the rights of any other citizen.