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  1. - Top - End - #1
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    Default [Empire 6] The Dream Speakers' Menagerie

    The Dream Speakers' Menagerie

    The Dream Speakers have developed a sudden interest in learning more about the many unique non-Spawn critters and beasts roaming the world.

    Their interest quickly reveals itself not to merely be academic but commercial as notice is spread all throughout the known lands asking for the aid of the most skilled trackers, the bravest trappers, and the most learned scholars to pursue and capture some of the most exotic and elusive fauna known to exist around the world.

    The purpose of these safaris? To collect the rarest and most intriguing specimens for display in continental traveling menagerie shows!


    Describe your beasts below! Examples of submissions include: the story of a hunt, successful or not, for a real or mythical beast native to one’s lands; a bestiary-type description of a local creature captured for display; or another appropriately themed piece of writing relating to the establishment of a global menagerie
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    Default Re: [Empire 6] The Dream Speakers' Menagerie

    Contribution to the Dreamspeaker's Menagerie:

    Spoiler: The Study
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    The smell from the hut was rank, if one ventured inside they would have found clay pots of various animal limbs held in flower wine that had turned into vinegar. Some of the clay pots held half-preserved eyes that bobbed on the surface of the liquid with accusing gazes. On the ways were various insects with copper pins struck through them, holding them in place. They were long dead and one could see that the hut’s inhabitant had taken them apart, wing-by-wing, leg from thorax. On the wall were planks of wood each holding for display a transversed hound – the cross sections allowing one visage onto its organs, long turned black from rot. Throughout the hut were vellum tablets with runes and drawings of the dissections.

    A rustling from the wheat maze beyond the hut and from it emerges a human with a feverish air. In his hands, he held a sack the seemed to struggle from within. Whatever was held inside was trying desperately to escape – but the sack was made of strong leather and the creature could not rip it apart. The man entered his hut and placed the sack onto the floor, the sack still rustling and struggling. The man poured himself some water from a jug that held the stale drink – and he waited; the sack after all was closed shut and all animals needed to breathe – soon the sack would be still. For now the fight from inside grew more violent and desperate. Eventually, an hour later – the man staring at the bag with fascination the entire time – the struggle died and it was silent. The man waited another hour before he opened the bag.

    Within, he pulled out his prize – a Reaper-Folk!

    He had heard of these creatures in Kursaal and had moved into Nal Dryb to find one, but they were extremely elusive. The Reaper-Folk are shy, small fleeting, Fae-like creatures of the grain worshipped by the people of Nal-Dryb. They flit between the beards and the stems of the wheat like flies and birds, and even sleep in the wheat in place of kernels.

    Dead and pulled out the bag the man could see that the Reaper-Folk was a small insectoid with six iridescent wings, two eyes that were cloudy and the color of Maize, two sharp scythes in place on its raptorial legs; and most fascinating – it had the face of youthful humanoid child. The child’s face looked like it could be asleep – dreaming of flying in the wind above the ocean of wheat and other pleasant thoughts. The man laughed with excitement and began looking through his hut for cooper pins and his knife.

    First, he took off the Reaper-Folk’s wings and pinned them to the wall. The wings were beautiful – almost shimmering like a reflective rainbow. He took off the creature’s legs – specifically its scythe like raptorial. He took the leg and ran some nuts over it and marveled at how cleaned they were sliced. He thanked himself for bringing such a heavy bag to capture the creature; a lesser vessel would have been cut to ribbons.

    Finally, dissected he stared at the creatures face – that child’s face serene now but with eyes wide open – eyes the color of maize. He plucked them out with a pin and added them to his eye jar where they floated like two gold coins in a pond of debris. He then carefully carved the face off the creature wondering if he would see a mammal’s skull and innards or if the skin was merely stretched over an insect’s exoskeleton.

    To his delight after removing the skin (which like everything else he documented, he stretched onto a plank of wood with cooper pins and drew on his vellum), he beheld a skull much in the shape of a baby human. He was no stranger to such skulls, there was a reason he was living in Kursaal instead of human lands; luckily the citizens of the Goliath city understood the discretion that is afforded to a man of means. He took out a small hammer and cracked the skull and beheld the child’s brain, he scooped it out and placed it on a clay bowl and wrote:

    “The Reaper-Folk, while appearing wild, possess a mind that is proportional to any human, Uzii or Goliath. I would hypothesize that they are less like dogs and other animals then they are like people. Dangerous people that is – their legs are sharper than any known metal and could cut straight through bone.” – He cackled, happy in the knowledge that the Dreamspeakers would pay him handsomely for such a study. Putting aside the work, he went back to his work – flecks of dark purple blood flecking his hands and tools as he worked. The flies descending as night came drawn to the smell of death and insanity.

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    Default Re: [Empire 6] The Dream Speakers' Menagerie

    DSP Menagerie Response 1: Polar Animals
    List of Sikaran critters. This section will encompass the creatures of the Far South. What lies beyond the walls of ice and endless storms, nobody knows...

    Spoiler: Bestiary Part 1
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    Penguin
    Fauna, Avian
    Small flightless birds that live in the colder regions of Sikar.

    Penguin, Deep
    Fauna, Megafauna, Avian
    Large blind birds that dwell in deep caves.

    Snow Cat
    Fauna, Mammal, Feline
    Distant relative of the sand cat, adapted to colder climes. They are known for being good hunters and having smug looking faces.

    Snow Sloth
    Fauna, Megafauna, Mammal
    Megasloths adapted to colder climates.

    Mothman
    Fauna, Arthropod, Insect, Intelligent, Cyptid
    Large moth-like creatures with twitching antennae and glowing eyes. These creatures seem very reclusive, and swiftly disappear when spotted. They seem to posses great intelligence and wisdom, and may be able to predict things before they happen.

    White Opossum
    Fauna, Mammal, Marsupial
    Furry marsupials that hand by their tails from trees. Will play dead when threatened.

    White Pronghorn
    Fauna, Mammal, Ungulate
    These pronghorns have adapted to colder climates. They look very regal and move fast, only skilled trappers can capture them.

    Spoiler: Story Part 1
    Show

    It had been some time since the initial contact of those in the far south. Diplomatic relations had gone smoothly with the natives, but there was still much to know about this new land. Few Soreni chose to explore these lands; as cool blood blooded creatures, the did poorly in such frigid environments. One brave Soreni explorer, our protagonist in this story, would be one of the first to explore the nature and wildlife of this new land, a true pioneer of exploration. She had prepared the necessary tools weeks in advance. When the day came, she set off down the southward trail.
    As she descended ever onward she noticed a sharp change in the environment, by the end of the first day, she set up camp. She had yet to come across anything of note.
    By the third day, she came across a forested region, and made sure to note the trees. They were unlike any she had seen before. Tall with thin needle-like leaves. from the branches of one tree hung a strange creature, some weird furry marsupial, dwelling in the hollow of a tree. It was asleep. She made great care not to wake it up, as she logged it, and drew a small sketch.
    A few weeks in, she had seen a great many creatures, smug looking snow cats, towering sloths with snow white fur, a quick glimpse of the rare white pronghorn the region was so known for. All of these were dutifully made note of.
    Many weeks in she was sure she had seen every creature in this land, though the locals had rumors of a beast that she had yet to see. A Mothman, they called it. Taller than any normal human, with giant wings and beady eyes that glowed in the night.
    As a final goal before she was to depart, she sought to find the elusive mothman, and over a week she was sure she had the evidence. She trekked to an unnasuming cave, and ventured through it's winding passages, before reaching a sort of nest. It looked long abandoned, with the decrepit remains of a cocoon. Still something, but, not what she had hoped for.
    As she continued her search for the Mothman, she felt watched. She saw not a single moth during her search, but felt strangely watched.
    Later as she camped for the night, as she went over her discoveries, she saw something in the distance. What looked like flashing lights. She put down her notes, and walked towards them. She wandered towards the red glow, more entranced every second as she came closer.The lights swiveled towards her, revealing themselves to be eyes. Suddenly the thing extended it's wings, and rose up into the air, flying away, but not before turning back towards our intrepid explorer. It's eyes gleamed with forbidden wisdom, the very sight of those eyes revealed truths about the world that cannot be known. Weeks later, another explorer found her corpse. What was left of her notes was covered with incomprehensible ramblings that slowly degraded into gibberish, the finally strange, seemingly meaningless symbols. Since then, no explorer has dared to seek the Mothman.

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    Last edited by D&D_Fan; 2020-09-23 at 02:16 PM.
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    Default Re: [Empire 6] The Dream Speakers' Menagerie

    The Simurgh (dsr bestiary submission)

    Spoiler: The Simurgh
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    Kensu was disgraced after her loss to the Laughing Queen. It was not absolute, as her army was not routed, but she wasn't able to secure a victory against the orcs. They had superior numbers, *and also the hydra*.

    Kensu simply couldn't return without something to show for it. She ventured further into orcish lands, a vagabond, being befriended by the dreamspeakers. Zora had much distaste for these figures, but wasn't outright hostile, so they were not hostile either.

    They were now seeking out beasts of all mythical kinds, in particular in this region deep into orcish territory called The Simurgh. Those creatures were dangerous, and kensu had even bested one as it ambushed her, but she was informed that this rumor was not what they sought.

    They sought out [b]The[b] Simurgh, a rare beast rumored to have developed the twilight sight and gone mad, using it's mythical abilities to interfere in the dreams of those nearby and delighting in spiraling entire villages into chaos via butterfly effects and crazy machinations.

    Was this a folk take made up by random citizens to justify stuff like cannibals or diseases? Or dreamspeakers assuming something malicious interfered with the dream sight of those already having mastered it rather than a more mundane cause? Probably.

    Was it something for kensu to seek out to prove her worth? Most definitely. Even if she didn't find anything she'd curry some favor with these dreamspeakers (who, from the orcs that she spoke to on her travels, weren't actually that bad) and thus in turn have something glorious to present to the queendom back at home.

    Or she might fall prey to the simurghs curse and become a demented psycho. Who knows?


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    Default Re: [Empire 6] The Dream Speakers' Menagerie

    Spoiler: The Hunt for the Striped Jaguar
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    Once in a great while, a large, powerful jaguar appears in the south of Veramondo, one not spotted like the ones found usually, but one striped with orange and black. It is said to have supernatural powers. It can become invisible to the mortal eye, and it has the strength of ten men, and its claws are a deadly poison that will kill in minutes.

    Recently, this beast has appeared once more, and the hunters of Veramondo flock to search for it. Leading the group is Kona, her infant son in tow. On foot, armed with longspears, groups of hunters sweep the plains, hoping for a glimpse of the beast, and, if they're lucky, the chance to kill it.
    It is Kona's party who first spots it. A flash of orange fur in the distance. They charge. The beast rises to meet them. One of the hunters falls quickly to it, his neck broken by a powerful paw. Another few break and run at a powerful roar. But Kona attacks. Her spear pierces the beast's flank, but it roars in pain and twists away, snapping the weapon's haft and slashing at Kona with its claws. The heroine is forced to dodge away, and when she recovers, the creature has vanished into the grass. It is not seen again for some years.
    Awesome avatar (Kothar, paladin of Tlacua) by Linkele!

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  6. - Top - End - #6
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    Default Re: [Empire 6] The Dream Speakers' Menagerie

    Delivered to the Dream Speakers by a flock from the Crow's Tribe, written in the language of the Crow.

    Spoiler: A Truly Horrid Monster
    Show
    The Eaters of Children

    These creatures are horrific abominations upon the lands of Sikar. They curse people across the lands. They inavde the minds of the most vulnerable and destroy them from the inside out. They spread this curse from children to their parents. They kidnap children. They infiltrate every great people under the guise of seers and soothsayers, only to worm their lifeless limbs into the very souls of the rulers, seizing guest rights for themselves under threat of torture.

    The Eaters arrive as peaceful wanderers. It is only under careful examination that one can truly witness the truth of these beasts, lower than the mites that eat the burned flesh from the feet of newborn sand-skirters. They are more vile than the dust-grubs that burrow into desiccating corpses. The Eaters, too, wait for the reception to cool before bursting violently forth in their true forms, much like the dust-grubs metamorphosing into the bile-oozing dustwurms. Truly, the differences between the rot-hunting worms that spew acrid saliva and the dustwurms are few.

    It is the recommendation of the Quluq that these monsters in mortal guise be hunted to extinction by all who respect memory. May their dreams be as haunted as their victims. May the curses they speak fall at their own feet. May Yemnellenmey refuse to remember the blackened souls of these stains on Sikar.

    -Dictated by the Quluq of Nellen.

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    Default Re: [Empire 6] The Dream Speakers' Menagerie

    DSP Menagerie Response 1: Aquatic and Coastal Animals
    These beasts, who stalk the shores and seas, bringing ships and sailors to their knees; When storms abound, be on edge: Those who dwell below may not be friendly, for it may be you who's dredged.

    Spoiler: Bestiary Part 2
    Show

    Marauders
    Fauna, Megafauna, Arthropod
    Giant Mantis Shrimp like creatures that hunt beneath the waves, but have been known to come on land to hunt.
    • Marauder Bludgeon
      Also known as the Mansplitter, these large, vibrantly colored crustaceans use large club-like claws to smash their prey into a pulp.
    • Marauder Skewer
      Skewers are fearsome black and white striped creatures that spear targets with sharp jagged spears of claws.


    Otter, Sea Prowler
    Fauna, Megafauna, Mammal
    Comparable to wolves or bears, these critters are far from cute and cuddly. They often go up on land to hunt, and can put up a serious fight when threatened.

    Snapper
    Fauna, Megafauna,Arthropod
    Large prawn-like beasts that have large snapping pincers, that dwell in rivers, lakes, and oceans.
    • Freshwater Snapper
      Snappers that dwell in freshwater rivers and lakes, and that
    • Saltwater Snapper
      Oceanic snappers that prowl the shores of beaches, and drag hapless fishers to their deaths.
    • Vorpal Snapper
      The most powerful and rare variety of snapper, with picers sharp enough to decapitate targets instantly.



    Spoiler: Story Part 2
    Show
    TBA

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    Last edited by D&D_Fan; 2020-09-29 at 09:18 AM.
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    Default Re: [Empire 6] The Dream Speakers' Menagerie

    Creatures of the Fariba

    Spoiler: The aardbear
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    The largest and most ferocious beast of the forest is the aardbear. Only the boldest and strongest of hunters should dare approach it. When standing they are as tall even as the giants of old. On all fours, they can look a hunter in the eye. They will devour both live prey that they have hunted and steal the kills of other creatures to tear apart and eat every part of the corpse, whether the flesh be wholesome or rotted. Its jaws are powerful and will bite through bone, its forelimbs massy and huge for rending apart its victims. In some aspects it resembles a huge dog, in others a true bear. Give thanks that they are solitary creatures, so that we may hunt them in groups, for even the mightiest of lone hunters will be lucky to escape from an encounter with his life.


    Spoiler: The jagupard
    Show
    The jagupard is the most cunning of all the forest predators. The offspring of the true jaguar and the forest lion, it is larger than its siblings and more adept at climbing trees. Its dappled hide means only the keenest of eyes can see it when it is concealed in its arboreal lair. While it can outrun a man it prefers to attack from hiding, leaping out of thickets or down from branches upon prey. It has no fear of men and will prey upon any who trespass into its domain. While bears are usually too large for it, bold jagupards have been known to kill them and drag their carcasses into the treetops to feast upon at their leisure. The wise traveller and hunter will keep an eye above him for ambush from this deadly adversary.


    Spoiler: The ereljerra
    Show
    The men of the forest, or the carelijerrē in our tongue, are mysterious creatures, cautious and distant. Compared to men of the Bannanda they may be a little larger and are covered with a dark fur of a red hue. On sight of hunters they will flee and so at home are they among the trees that not even the fleetest of foot can catch them. Those who have travelled in the deepest parts of the forest say they have heard them speak, though none can make sense of their language. On rare occasion they will trespass into the avocado groves to steal the ripening fruit and are driven off with loud yells and blowing of horns. They are not known to eat flesh, but there are stories of them fighting other beasts to defend their young. When they fight, they are both strong and fearsome. Men should leave them be, for they are favoured by the forest spirits and cause no harm.


    Spoiler: The death-bringers
    Show
    The greatest foe of men is the silent killer which lurks in swamps and canals; the mosquito. Sometimes they see fit to announce their presence with a whining drone, but others will come and go silently, leaving you none the wiser as to their presence until they have departed. In their wake they leave at best soreness but those they mark for death will weaken and perish and naught can be done to save them. Kill these accursed creatures on sight. Cherish our friends the spiders, who weave webs to capture them and protect us from their plague.
    Last edited by Aedilred; 2020-10-03 at 07:03 PM.
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    Default Re: [Empire 6] The Dream Speakers' Menagerie

    Dannom-wek (or "Wrinkled River-thing" in the Dannu-Gao language; other lands plagued by these things no doubt have their own names) is an oft-rumored but rarely sighted creature. Said to lurk and spawn in mountain reservoirs but swim up and down rivers in search of prey, the Dannom-wek is bloated and covered in bumpy folded skin. It is generally toad-shaped but hiding in its mouth is a pair of long, bony arms with fingers like those of a man, which drag prey down its gullet.

    Though it cannot leave the water for long periods and rarely surfaces in sunlight, the Dannom-wek has a robust talent for mimicry, simulating various birdsongs, animal mating calls, and even phrases (albeit without understanding of meaning; they are not believed to be intelligent) to lure prey to the water.

    The Dannom-wek is not an especially large or strong creature, and though some adults have been attacked and injured, there have only been reports of children killed or swallowed whole. Though rarely seen, children are nevertheless warned not to go near water at night, no matter what it is they hear.
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    Default Re: [Empire 6] The Dream Speakers' Menagerie

    Antlion - A race of legendary insects from the time of Eshara, the antlions were said to be the size of an elephant, with a quarter of their mass in an armored head, bearing enormous barbed pincers, and the rest consigned to a nearly useless, vase shaped bulk that dragged behind them on feeble legs. They dwelled in burrows at the bottom of sandy funnels, steep enough to send an unwary traveler tumbling towards the center where the antlion could emerge and snap up its prey. Blessedly, the monsters were unable or unwilling to leave their lairs, even to pursue food over a short distance, and these traps were easy enough for the canny Ashir to spot, especially with the height advantage from their horses. Eshara led a campaign to exterminate the antlions by feeding them sacrificial goats wrapped with twine holding dozens of obsidian shards. As goats were small enough to be eaten whole, the obsidian passed undamaged through their digestive tracts and shredded them from the inside. Hunting these monsters to apparent extinction is one reason the native Vesparrese accepted the Ashir as their masters. To this day, antlion skulls are on display in many villages, alongside trophies from other predators, as testament to this relationship.

    Unbeknownst to the Ashir, antlions exist elsewhere in the world, albeit in their more conventional size, and the creatures are merely the larval form of something resembling a dragonfly. As adults, even the giants of the Sikar live only days more as they seek out a mate, lay their eggs, and expire.

    Hoop Snake - Known to be a unimaginative and practical to a fault, the Ashir nevertheless staunchly defend of the existence of a creature that cannot be found. The hoop snake is a viper, said to attack with lightning speed by biting its own tail, curling its body into an upright circle, and flinging itself downhill at its prey. At the bottom of its descent, it uncoils, hurtling itself into the air whereby it attacks with its deadly fangs. The tail is also said to be poisonous, because why wouldn't it be?

    In truth, none of the Ashir have ever seen a hoop snake as they do not exist. The legend is likely attributed to an eagle dropping its dinner, and then, by some spook of physics, the snake rolling upright down a sand dune in sight of one of Eshara's consorts who then swore (ashta hazid!) about what he had seen until the end of his days. As the Ashir are not known to practice such deception, especially among their own clan, the existence of such a creature was taken as fact for the generations, each defending the claims of their parents with devout honor.

    The notion of a wheel inspires no creativity among the Ashir, who have horses and camels for all their transportation needs, and who do not personally undertake any great labors such as hauling stones from one place to another.
    Last edited by Nefarion Xid; 2020-10-03 at 07:36 PM.
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    Default Re: [Empire 6] The Dream Speakers' Menagerie

    Hunt for Longtooth:
    You speak of dreams from distant lands
    But the greatest stories lay in the past
    Of a monster too big for mortal hands
    And a villain with scars to ever last
    Five fast young lions leap from cave
    Coming down from rocky height
    Hunting after that which they crave
    Bristling for a bloody fight
    From far north the creature came
    A beast like them but freakish fang
    And lacking all things we Woken claim
    As fine folk save when hunger pang
    A lion body, long in tooth, hyena spotted mane
    A feral eye with which to spy and stalking gait
    All bound together in a form that felt no pain
    The Longtooth‘s heart burned with Hate
    It snapped the first Lion, teeth through bone
    Ripped the skull and dropped the mane
    That’s one poor cub who won’t go home
    And their grieving soulmate soon turned lame
    The other three well they took their odds
    They glanced between them, sniffed the blood
    One stayed still, the others ran, hunter frauds
    And so he sunk his talons into his funeral mud
    Held on fast, locked it in the eyes, a violent weight
    Longtooth dropped upon him like dead of night
    They locked their fangs like eyes of hate
    Old Lion lost half his face but won the fight
    Last edited by Tychris1; 2020-10-04 at 01:56 AM.
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    Default Re: [Empire 6] The Dream Speakers' Menagerie

    Contribution to the Dreamspeaker's Menagerie #2:

    Notes from a Priest of Uko:

    Spoiler: Notes from a Priest of Uko
    Show
    “The most important type of creature in Targiz is not the Goliath or even the various dangerous predators, no instead it is the pollinators that rule the land. We must remember this and remain humble.

    The flower fields that speckle the hills and mountains are the life blood of Targiz, fueling its economy and its faith. The flowers are the core of the people and despite all of the people's care for the fragile stems the flowers would wilt and die if it was not for the many bees and birds that carry their seeds. There are many such pollinators that flit between the petals and give them life, but the greatest of all is Dire Hummingbird.

    Regular hummingbirds are small and tiny creatures, beating their wings so fast and so hard that they seek nectar just to keep on living. There is hardly any rest for these creatures. The Dire Hummingbird is much the same although larger – almost as big as an eagle. Their beaks are longer and sharper than any Goliath copper knife and their lounges are like whips. Like their smaller cousins they seek nectar but for such a large creature the nectar of a single flower is not enough. They claim dominion over entire regions of flowerfields and therefore there are few in number.

    Despite any fables and myths Dire Hummingbirds do not seek blood to supplement their diet nor are they predatory or evil. Watching one in the wild, while often considered an ill omen, would reveal that it is merely an outsized pollinator that should be admired for its function to the ecology of Targiz and its usefulness in making sure that whole regions of flowers are well pollinated. It is also beautiful - with rainbow wings and one can not help but admire them.

    Marvelously, one should also note that while the beating of a regular hummingbird’s wings is only enough to provide a tiny breeze to shift pollen in one’s hand, the Dire Hummingbird beats its larger wings just as fast. As such it creates a gust around itself that blows away potential insects and other predators as well as making its capture by a certain enthusiast difficult.”

  13. - Top - End - #13
    Orc in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: [Empire 6] The Dream Speakers' Menagerie

    The white wolves of the North are not literally made of ice, though you might not realize it to look at them. Nor are they perfectly white coming in shades of cool blue, seeming almost translucent, with eyes that burn with a white-hot intensity unmatched by any other beast known to Mamut. Though they walk with an aura of cold that bears a certain similarity to the chill of the blight, when they have been seen in contact with other blightspawn, they are known to fight them with as much ferocity as a Sentinel.
    In truth, seeing one of the white wolves even within the borders of Thun or Arkusa is a rarity, and it would be unheard for them to stray further South than that. Sighting of an icewolf is a bad omen, however, as they herald a harsh winter, and come with a great hunger. When food is scarce, the icewolves are one more source of competition for game animals that can make the difference between life and starvation for a smaller settlement or a travelling Jouraka.
    Still, despite the danger they pose to food supplies, they are supposed to be deeply intelligent, and to have some strange sense of mercy or fair play. It would not be the first time a straggler, presumed dead, would stumble into the Gathering speaking of being saved by a pack of icewolves.
    Indeed, the Sentinel Arcor reported an encounter with some quite recently...

    Spoiler: Fox Hunting
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    Foxes, Arcor decided, were the worst animal to ever live.
    They were not strictly the most difficult to hunt. Plenty of animals were faster, though certainly very few were more cunning. But if you knew what to look for, their tracks could be followed easily enough through the forests. Certainly many birds were more frustrating to hunt.
    And, Arcor could not deny, they were not the most dangerous quarry a hunter could ask for. He had personally witnessed a Scrim be struck down by an enraged mother bear during a hunt, and the damage was severe enough that they had died then and there. And that was without even leaving the borders of Thun- Arcor had seen up close and personal the terrors Swampum had to offer.
    No, what made foxes so frustrating to hunt was their sense of humour.
    He glared down into the fox’s den and dabbed at the bite wound on his hand. The fox’s mocking laughter echoed in his ears.
    Really, the laughter was the thing. Bears were terrifying creatures, yes, but there was a certain respect there. You pose a threat to it, or it sees you as a source of food, and it fights back. The bear didn’t laugh at you for being so much smaller than it. It didn’t mock you for your weakness.
    He briefly paused in his angry vigil of the foxhole to wrap a bandage around his profusely bleeding hand. Hopefully the monster wasn’t rabid. Arcor didn’t fancy a horrible death. With his hand bandaged, he tugged his glove back over it, flexing slightly to make it fit over the lump of the bandage.
    This would be so much easier if the Dreamspeakers didn’t want the damn creature [I]alive.[I] And healthy, too. That was the real sticking point. There were plenty of ways to trap a fox, even some that would leave it relatively unharmed, but Arcor couldn’t be everywhere in the forest at once, and the damn animals were clever enough not to fall in to a watched trap.
    It wouldn’t be so bad, too, if it weren’t so damnably cold. Thun was a pleasant chill, but this, out past the lands that Thun cared to lay claim to, where even the Scrim struggled to find enough food to survive, was an ordeal Arcor had no desire to repeat any time soon. But needs must- it was only this far North that one could reliably find the legendary white foxes.
    Not that even that was easy. In between scavenging and hunting what he needed for himself- those years with the Sentinels had not been for nothing, and despite his irritation he would be ashamed to have considered himself one of their number if a little cold and privation were enough to stop him- he had a little time to try and devise traps, or to hunt for the foxes himself. He hardly had the time to prepare a proper pitfall, and anyway any pit deep enough to stop the foxes climbing out would be too deep for them to fall in uninjured. A deadfall trap, too, would risk injuring the animal.
    So he found himself leaving snares about. So far, he hadn’t had much luck with them. It seemed that the intended quarry were too clever to fall for a simple piece of bait. And more than once, he had found the traps sprung but empty, the bait gone. Still, other animals fell into them sometimes, and it kept him with a steady supply of food, supplemented by intermittent foraging.
    But finally- finally – after weeks of camping out in the untracked wilderness, he had caught one.
    And almost immediately lost it trying to move it from the snare into the cage he had prepared to transport it.
    Shaking his head, he began to walk back towards his encampment. It was no use trying to get the creature out of the hole. It could wait longer than him. Maybe a Scrim would have found this easier. Then again, there were no Scrim who were his equal when it came to wilderness survival, so maybe not.
    It was as he was musing on the potential advantages and disadvantages of sending one of the stone titans that he saw it, sitting in the centre of his camp. A creature, light blue, wolf-shaped
    He resisted the urge to charge. It might be sitting, but it was still faster than him. He was master of his instincts. Remember being trained. Focus. Breathe in...
    Was it blightspawn? No. No spawn was this passive. He would already be in the thick of the fight if that were the case. So, just an animal. It was more than likely that it would flee at the first sign of movement, now that they had seen each other. Most animals would. He could try throwing a spear... but he had plenty of meat, and if this was a wolf, then the rest of its pack might not be happy about that. Presuming it was really a wolf. And that there was a pack. Still, not worth the risk.
    Act. Breathe out.
    “Hello there.” His voice cracked a little with weeks of disuse. He took a single stride in towards the center of his camp. The wolf didn’t move. “And what are you doing in my camp?”
    The beast continued to regard him with its sharp white eyes.
    Breathe in...
    It didn’t seem to pose an immediate threat, although it was larger than other wolves he’d had the opportunity to see. Perhaps even more oddly, looking at his gear suggested it hadn’t even touched the possessions he had left at the camp. Not even the bag with the food that sat in a particularly well-concealed trap. That was evidence enough of its intelligence, although it didn’t seem to understand his words.
    No action needed. Just observe for now. Breathe out.
    “Well, alright. You can share my fire for the night, stranger.” He knelt by the firepit and set to relighting it, with a few logs and some scavenged kindling. “You might want to take a step back, this is going to be very warm.” To his surprise, the animal followed his suggestion, standing up and taking a few steps back from the pile of wood before settling in to the snow once again.
    Breathe in...
    That was another oddity. Where were the beast’s tracks? There hadn’t been a fresh snowfall for days, and he could clearly see the criss-cross of his own tracks across the campsite from that time. But the wolf’s footprints seemed to start where it had been sitting by the fireside. He might not have even noticed that it had apparently flown down to the campsite if it hadn’t gotten up and moved.
    Nothing to be done. Remember, and keep watching. Breathe out.
    “Do you like rabbit? Snow hares are plenty dumb enough to fall for my traps, even if the little fox bastards aren’t. I’ve got plenty.” Arcor tried not to talk to himself, or to animals, or even to be honest to other people most of the time, but something about this creature made him feel talkative.
    The fox, for its part, tilted its head a little at the mention of rabbit. “Yeah? Well, hold on a bit. Need to cook it first.” With a little rubbing with an appropriate stick, he made a spark, sending the kindling up in a flurry of heat. He settled back, pulling a rabbit caught earlier that day from where it was strapped to his pack and getting ready to skin it. It was probably a foolhardy use of the last of the black iron he would probably ever have access to, but copper blades offended his sensibilities, and the Scrim still had limited ideas about what the word “sharp” meant.
    Before long, the rabbit was thoroughly cooked. He cut off a piece, throwing it to the wolf, who caught it out of the air, biting through and then swallowing in nearly the space of a blink. Settling back onto the ground, he began eating his own portion while staring thoughtfully at the wolf.
    So far, the animal had mostly just sat there. It arrived under mysterious circumstances, and it seemed to understand him well enough. But what did it want?
    A mystery for the morning, he decided. It was late. After a little time warming himself by the fire he put it out, laying down to sleep near the cooling embers.
    He wasn’t surprised to find the beast still there when he woke in the morning. If it had slept, it gave no sign of it. Having long since been trained out of morning grogginess, he rose, stretching, before going through his morning routine. Some seeds and berries to keep him going for now, organize his belongings.
    The wolf watched all this patiently, but as he prepared to go out to check his first lot of traps for the morning, it stepped in front of him, almost pointedly, and made a huffing noise. He stopped, and stared down at the animal.
    “What?”
    It turned, and began walking away from him. After a few paces it looked back, seeming to check if he was following.
    He shrugged. If there was anything caught in the traps, it would keep for now.
    The wolf led him through the forest to a seemingly arbitrary patch of land where it began digging through the snow. Arcor knelt to help. Before long, he found himself brushing up against- wood? It felt like wood, but...
    Digging around more, the two of them finally uncovered the object. It was... a sled? Made of some strange planks of wood, treated in a way Arcor didn’t recognize. The craftsmanship was undeniable, though.
    Hauling at it, Arcor brought the sled up onto the surface of the snow. It was well-preserved under the snow, even having a sort of harness at the front, where something- an animal? A man?- could pull it. And, it seemed to Arcor, it would make it significantly easier to bring a cage full of fox back with him.
    The wolf began confidently trotting back the way they came. When Arcor didn’t follow, it turned and sat, waiting for him.
    “Yeah, yeah, give me a minute.”
    Breathe in...
    Motives are still unclear, but it seems helpful. He wouldn’t have found the sled in a thousand years without it. Where did the sled come from? Who built it? How did the wolf know about it? Why was the wolf helping him?
    No answers to be found just by thinking about it. Breathe out.
    “Well, thank you for that, then. Are you going to help me pull this, or what?”
    The wolf shook its body soundlessly, like a wet dog. “I see. I’ll just pull this, shall I?”
    To Arcor’s surprise, the wolf let out a resounding howl. He stumbled back for a moment, but before he was even aware of it had a blade in his hand and his legs in a crouch. He consciously straightened his body, but didn’t let go of the knife. The black iron was a comfort in his hands.
    After a moment, another half dozen of the strange bluish-white wolves appeared. At a bark from the one that had been guiding Arcor, they made their way to the sled, slipping into the harnesses. It struck him as odd that the wolves could fit into them without hands, but he decided not to question his good fortune.
    The guide wolf tilted its head at Arcor.
    “What?”
    It looked pointedly at the sled.
    Breathe in.
    This was, it seemed, a pack. Was this their leader? Did wolves... have leaders? Arcor wasn’t sure. It hadn’t come up. Could he trust them?
    ...could he deny that he was now deeply curious?
    Follow for now. Breathe out.
    Arcor climbed into the sled, and the wolf Arcor had decided to think of as the leader set off immediately, not at the calm walk it had employed before, but bounding across the snow. The harnessed team followed, and Arcor was almost thrown off the sled bracing for a tug that didn’t come. The sled moved like a dream across the snow.
    To Arcor’s surprise, the wolves first brought him back to his campsite, where they stopped. The leader sat down and began licking itself, and the harnessed team followed suit, grooming themselves and each other.
    Confused, Arcor stepped out of the sled, but after a moment it became apparent that something had happened. His gear lay strewn about, and the trap he had set around the food was not only triggered, but smashed to bits. The food hadn’t even been eaten, though it too sat tossed about wildly.
    He knelt by the equipment. A cursory inspection suggested that some blightspawn had done this, or some particularly savage beast. Looking closer showed that this was unlikely. Blightspawn didn’t stop to untie knots holding a pack closed. They might be cunning, sometimes, but not smart. And the tears in the cloth weren’t big enough for the larger objects to have come out through them.
    Breathe in...
    If it wasn’t blightspawn, what was it? Who was nearby? There were locals, but Arcor hadn’t made contact with them. Still, they had seen each other, glimpses across hilltops, through forest and in darkness. Had they decided that he was an enemy? All too likely. And it was entirely possible they were still in the area.
    Retreat. Breathe out.
    He gathered his posessions quickly, tossing them onto the sled. A sound like a hunting horn in the distance spurred him on as he leapt into the sled. The wolves set off immediately, and Arcor was glad for it, as he could hear shouts in the distance behind them as the wolves bounded across the countryside.
    It was dark before the wolves stopped, slipping out of their harnesses and panting heavily. Arcor strained to see the forest around them. Was that...? Yes, it was. One of the cairns the Arkusans placed at crossings of Jouras. He couldn’t be so far as all that from the Gathering, and the land between here and there was friendly enough.
    He turned to the wolves. “Thank you, I suppose.”
    The lead wolf didn’t acknowledge him, merely letting out a short bark to the rest of the pack. In a flash, the wolves were gone, melting into the landscape, leaving Arcor alone with the sled.
    He inspected it closely. Such an unusual design. So smooth, and it would practically glide over the snow.
    His pack was ruined anyway. It would probably be easier to bring the supplies he needed back by just taking the sled.
    Arcor shouldered himself into the harness, and began trudging back towards civilization.
    I go by them/they/their pronouns, but I'm comfortable with he/him/his or she/her/hers.

    Spoiler: STUFFS
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    Yes... continue ignoring me... exactly as planned
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    'Kay! Ignoring a ninja never hurt anyone.



    Being terrible at being a wolf since always.

  14. - Top - End - #14
    Halfling in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: [Empire 6] The Dream Speakers' Menagerie

    Stories from Shandolé - Skyclad Tales

    A DSP Menagerie Entry. I'll be posting some more later.

    Spoiler: The Dreaded Jackalope
    Show


    The Dreaded Jackalope


    Good winds travelers! May this winter pass by softly and may your days be blessed! Would you mind sharing tables and even so a drink while we by the fire rest? For share drink and company with me and even so a story shall I share with ye. Harken friends, if you would to a story told in dancer nests. A story told of dread and drink and a creature of the west.

    I speak, of course, and even so, of the dreaded jackalope, the horned hare of Thunder Hills. He may be small just rabbit sized but believe me even so he kills. With horns that gore and beady eyes and speed to match the skies, Jackalope is no joke and takes whomever he wills.

    He haunts the hills and grasses and his voice will mimic any sound, including that of dancer lads and lasses. You will hear him call, or cry or whimper, but if you answer, off he’ll scamper. He’ll lead you along into the wild, away from flocks and nest to lands defiled. One step here, the next step there, down a hole into the Deep, where stones bleed and witches laugh and baleful monsters slink and creep. There you stay and cry an’ cry and even so, there you’ll die. And if you don’t and dare to hope, well then, the dreaded Jacklope will gore you right through the throat.

    Harken here and listen well. There’s still a happy way to end the tale. You and I we like this here whisky, but Jackalope, he goes balisky. He loves to drink and its especially true for the finest whiskies ever brewed. Much like what they serve here, though for myself I prefer a beer.

    But so and even so, a’harken. When you kin a jackalope be a’lurk’n. Put some fine whiskey in a bowl and set it outside upon a knoll. Jacklope, he can’t resist, he’ll come drink and so drink it all and then, my friends, figure this. Drunken jackalopes fall asleep and then you strike, you cannot miss. If even so and so, then you cut away his horns, without his horns his power will be torn and all lost souls he must return.

    And, as a side, and funny bit, they say the milk of a jackalope has power in it. I’m not certain, but it’s true I reckon, that when a lass is expect’n, if she drinks the milk of Jacklope, fertility blooms just as she’d hope. Her eggs are many and strong and bright and the younglings hatched grow in good health and might.

    So, pour me another glass for now, winter is cold, and the winds will howl. Next time you’re in the Thunder Hills when the sun is warm and the wind is still, you may hear a call and see a flash, of horns and eyes and a rabbit dash. Don’t heed the call. Don’t chaise that pray. Just find a drink and so wait out the day. If you can trap him, well, I’ve heard them say, that Dream Speakers will handsome pay.

    ---

    Last edited by Laura; 2020-10-09 at 03:58 AM.

  15. - Top - End - #15
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: [Empire 6] The Dream Speakers' Menagerie

    Beasts of myth and legend from the Alodite lands.

    Spoiler: Hooved Wolf
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    Legend has it that before the false dawn the Pharoh Akhenaten, struck with an unfathomable grief from the death of his god empress, traveled to lands of the far west where the sun kissed the mountains as it set into the night in search of the wisest creature. A creature so wise they knew the secrets of life and death Day after day he walked across the vast vituperative dry plains of Sikar, followed by shadows and harried by crows who thought they knew better.

    "Caw" they screeched "Caw, a Pharoh does not ask for secrets of Life and Death they claim what is thiers Caw!"

    After crossing the mountains that kissed the sun, Akenatan sailed down a great putrid river until hefound his prey. The supposedly wisest creature appeared to be a stallion sized wild dog, with putch black fur, circular white ears, and a gaunt figure head deep in a carass of a great scaled monster. As the Pharoh approached, the King of Dog's lifted its scared head, dyed in the crimson blood and entrails of its current feast.

    "Why do you distirub me Elf, I meditate in the viscera prey. Do you wish to join me strange Elf?"

    Akhenaten replied, "I am Akhenatan, ruler of lands to the far east, my Queen is dead, leaving me a sun without a moon and my poor Akanidad, without a mother."

    The King of Dogs stared at the elf for what felt like an eternity, stopping only to occasionally let out a high pitch winnie before replying."Fine, let us journey east, but remeber this Elf, I will be paid what I'm owed."

    And remeber he did, for as the pair travelled back home Akhenatan thought deeply on the crows words. Why shouldn't he take whats his, whats the worst this mangy round eared beast could do.

    As they arrived to the palace the King of Dogs told the elf his price. "To ressurect the queen, I will require blood for blood, give me you first born." Akhenatan, unprepared to sacrifice his heir for his queen, swiftly found a royal hostage disguising the poor boy for the Kings consumption. Presenting the hostage the King of Dogs sniffed the boy, before taking several swift bites at the hostage before swallowing the screaming child whole before barking.

    "You mock me Akhenatan, but despite your impropriety, I'll give. Because you refused to give me your offspring, I'll grace you with mine. Every cow of your royal herd shall sire my progeny. No King, No Master, No Elf. is above me."

    Last edited by Lleban; 2020-10-15 at 11:04 PM.
    Beautiful Avatar thanks to Gengy


    Hangs out on the World building forums

    Giantitp projects: Caligoven the toxic seas, Baalbek Empire!3, Coatl Empire!4, Short and sweet world building
    Personal stuff: World of Tieg, Nexus: City of the Multiverse, Forgotten Planet Lost Between 2 stars, World of the 9 gates
    Spoiler: The gift that keeps on giving
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    Spoiler: and giving
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    Spoiler: and giving some more
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    Spoiler: Metric tons of giving
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    Spoiler: Keep going
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    Spoiler: Suprise
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  16. - Top - End - #16
    Halfling in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: [Empire 6] The Dream Speakers' Menagerie

    Shandolé - Menagerie Story
    Round #7

    Back Mountain Dealer

    Shaná Dream Speaker M’Ká’acindi’tonyóndersan has come to the mountain tavern of Ruari’s Rest to negotiate some deals for remarkable creatures. It doesn’t go quite as she’d planned. – Menagerie Submission.

    Spoiler: Back Mountain Dealer
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    Outside the snow was falling deep and heavy, but inside the tavern of Ruari’s Rest it was warm and cozy. A large fire burned in the hearth. The smell of pine smoke and roasting boar filled the air, adding to the sense of warmth and comfort. Constructed of stacked stone and wooden beams, the tavern was surprisingly spacious with a high ceiling and room for several tables, as well as a large kitchen in the back and a number of private rooms down narrow cavernous halls.

    The shaná dream speaker, M’Ká’acindi’tonyóndersan – My Song Flows to Lands Far and Wide – was sitting at a small table on her own, a number of scrolls pushed aside to make room for a plate of roasted pork, stewed apples and sweet orange yams. Her green eyes reflected the firelight and her dark hair was pulled back into a loose braid with several strands falling free around her pointed ears and forehead. The bright colored sashes, tiny bells and ribbons of her Dream Speaker garments were mostly covered by a more practical winter coat of spotted seal skin and boots lined by rabbit fur. She was eating slowly, spinning the pewter spoon in the long fingers of her hand, her expression pensive.

    There were a number of people she was supposed to meet, hopefully tonight or tomorrow night. So far, her mission to collect specimens for the Dream Speaker menagerie hadn’t been met with a lot of success. The lore masters in Winter Town had been polite and well spoken, but the stack of dry scrolls and ink sketches they’d provided would hardly make fore thrilling entertainment. Smirking slightly, Acindi unrolled one of the scrolls beside her, not caring that she stained the velum with apple juice as she did so. The descriptions and sketches had been done with a precise and perfect hand. It was very Shándole and so not what the Dream Speakers really wanted.

    Spoiler: Scrolls of Remarkable Beasts
    Show


    ---

    Scrolls of Remarkable Beasts
    Complied by Leósha’Lýndónah



    Fire Boars - Jonârdí
    Region Range: Dól’Shilo south through the Moriah Forest in Trí’Meloa.
    Description: These boars are large and stinking with a continual haze of smelly smoke around them. Their eyes blaze with orange light and their tusks are flinty black and sharp. They’re mostly scavengers, roaming the wilderness and feeding off the frozen carcasses of creatures winter has claimed. They’re mean and territorial, however, often attacking any creature that tries to approach it or its food with savage and vicious spite. Fire boars can breathe out gouts of stinking explosive flame and will use this to attack enemies and also to uncover, thaw and cook its food. The boars themselves cannot be eaten, as they are very poisonous and even the toughest of other scavengers or carnivores become very sick from eating even just a little of the meat. However, if a fire boar is gutted, a burning coal can be found in its belly. The coal will keep burning for many months and, while it has a stench, it is remarkably effective at cooking food and can warm a whole wigwam by itself.
    Story Reference: - Dangers in the Santicemnahs



    Frost Wolves - Nichícamncí
    Region Range: Dól’Shilo & Shandolýn
    Description: Frost wolves are larger even than dire wolves, standing nearly as tall at the shoulder as a horse with packed muscles and a long lean body. They have white fur, distinctively icy blue eyes and vicious teeth and claws. They are rare and usually only seen in the worst of winters, leading packs of other more mundane wolves in bold and savage hunts. They’re more intelligent than other wolves, with a cold calculating cunning that can be lent to pure malice and spite as often as it is to survival. Besides their size and intelligence, Frost Wolves have the unique capability to breath frosty winds in powerful breath attacks. The most powerful examples of this breath weapon have been known to fell trees and tear down houses, while also freezing the blood of any living creature unfortunate enough to be caught in the attack and coating surfaces with frosty brittle ice. They are greatly feared, but if slain a shard of un-melting ice can be found in the creature’s heart, glowing with a frosty blue light. Holding the stone will keep other wolves from attacking a person and cause winter winds to almost continuously swirl around them. The Shándole have managed to collect a few of these and after about nine years the ice shard will finally melt, nonetheless both the shards and the wolves are viewed with awe and reverence and a recognition of mystic power.



    Ice Worms – Cimndíclâgení
    Region Range: Iceworm Ridge between Dól’Shilo & Shandolýn & the glaciers of the Santicemnah Mountains
    Description: Ice Worms are the most feared of all predators in Shandolýn. They live in the ridges to the north and the glaciers of the upper reaches of the mountains, but occasionally come down into the valleys looking for food and a mate. These creatures are enormous, capable of growing as long as 200 ft in length and 30 feet wide. They’re covered in hard gnarled scales of layered black glacier ice, packed with gravel and stone and impossible to penetrate. The ice of the scales glow when the worms are active with an inner light that is turned dark and dirty by the ice of the scales. An ice worm’s head is mostly a mouth round and deep, filled with rows and rows of sharp teeth, capable of ripping, slashing and grinding up anything it chooses, from ice to earth to whole tree trunks and certainly any living creature it closes upon. Despite their size, ice worms are also fast, nearly capable of keeping speed with a galloping horse and they can move over frozen ground and ice or borrow through it. However, if it moves into/onto ground absent of ice or snow, the ice worm begins to grow slower and more lethargic and it can’t swim. Ice worms have no eyes but have very keen hearing and tremor sense. When they are active, they will move toward noise and movement seeking food. They will consume whole herds of mammoths and still ravenously seek out more. Their hunger is a force of nature, a natural disaster that destroys all in its path. Thankfully, most of the time ice worms hibernate buried deep in the tundra earth or glaciers only emerging once every three or four decades to eat all it can find and seek for a mate. The awakening of one can trigger the awakening of another. They only have one sex and after mating both worms will lay an egg deep in the ground, before falling back into hibernation. The Shándole hate and fear ice worms. The shaní were once nearly destroyed when an ice worm attacked several tribes on their way back to Winter Town, many of the people managed to escape the area while their hunters distracted the ice worm, sacrificing themselves to give the rest time to flee, but all the food so carefully gathered over the yeas was devoured, smashed and scattered. What little was recovered was discovered to have been poisoned and trained by the ice worm’s passing. This was the beginning of the Winter of Malice the darkest year in Shándole history.



    Jacklopes
    Region Range: Thunder Hills in the Southern TríMeloa
    Description: These large athletic hares are usually shades of dusty brown that blend in well with the tall grasses and drystone arroyos of their natural habitat. The have antlers similar to deer, with multiple prongs and that they shed each year. They’re quite quick and territorial, often living alone rather than in groups like rabbits. They are capable of mimicking the sounds of other creatures, from birdcalls to the words of people. They’re known for being mischievous and malicious, stealing and destroying property and attacking small creatures with their antlers.
    Story Reference: The Dreaded Jackalope



    Leviathans - Lyndiclâgení
    Region Range: Deep waters off the coast of Shandolýn and Dòl’Shilo
    Description: Leviathans are similar to ice worms, enormous creatures long and serpent like in shape, but with many tentacles at one end. They live in the deepest and darkest waters of the Lyndicalah Sea, amid frozen icebergs and where glaciers meet the water. However, they will sometimes swim south into warmer waters to feed. They are not as well-known nor feared as ice worms, as aren’t they encountered by the Shándole but as the shaní start relying more and more on the ocean and ventures further out with their boats, Leviathans may begin to grow in reputation.



    Lighting Lizards - Sozémûshí
    Region Range: All along the Tarandi mountains and west coast.
    Description: These slender silver lizards are about a foot and a half long, with bodies like a snake and short agile legs with claws capable of climbing sheer surfaces. Their heads are like small dragons with many sharp tiny teeth. These creatures are capable of mystic speed, moving from one point to another in a bolt too fast for the eye to follow. When they do, they crackle and spark like lightning. Also, when they bite a creature, they can electrocute it, causing a shock that momentarily stunts and disorients the victim, allowing the little lizard to get in several more shocking attacks and bring down creatures many times larger than itself. Usually lightning lizards live and travel alone and mostly avoid people. They are rarely seen, but there have been times when food was scare that swarms of lightning lizards have been witnessed traveling together in a roiling sparking pack. In swarms they will attack huge mammoths, whole herds of reindeer, or even shaní camps. They can stripe creatures down to the bones in minutes and then bolt away before the bones can finish falling to the earth. When shaní have managed to kill and gut lightning lizards, they have found a small metal ball inside that continuously buzzes and sparks with electricity. After several days the energy will fade, but the metal collected this way is considered mystical and greatly prized.




    Seaswathed Singers

    Region Range: Ember Bat Islands in Shilo Vale
    Description: From a distance these strange creatures appear very beautiful, with an upper torso appearing like young men or women with bioluminescent wings of blues, greens, opal and black at their hips and simmering fish tales. They sing with beautiful voices hauntingly alluring melodies, as they sit on rocks and crags, or circle slowly in the air a few feet above the water. However, once someone gets closer their forms shimmer and change, like a dissolving mirage and the creatures are revealed to be emaciated, haggard things with large mouths containing wickedly sharp teeth, clawed hands and slimy skin the colors of putrid greys, whites and blacks. They show neither mercy nor sentience, attacking in droves, clawing, biting and trying to drag people into the water to be devoured. Fishermen and sailors are warned to never approach these creatures and to turn around if they hear their singing, but the haunting beauty and allure of those voices still draw many foolish souls to their death in the northern waters.

    ---



    A sudden commotion at the front of the tavern drew Acindi’s eyes away from the scrolls and she looked over to see what seemed to be about dozen bright colored Skyclad Dancers trooping in, complaining loudly about the snow and the altitude and shaking frost from their feathers. The largest was clearly a luminary with feathers of lime green, yellow, orange and a little bit of scarlet in the wingtips and crown. He demanded hot rum and roasted meat for his people and a number of shaní got shooed away from the benches near the hearth, as the avians crowded round to warm themselves.

    Despite Ruari’s Rest being within the region of Trí’Meloa, its location up in Serpents Pass, well within the mountains and the higher altitudes, made the sight of dancers uncommon. They seemed to fear the high mountains and the thin air crippled their limited flying capacities.

    As Acindi’s gaze followed them curiously, the luminary looked around and met her eyes. He looked her over and noticed the bright colors under her coat and the tambourine at her side. His round yellow eyes brightened all the more and he smiled, unconsciously fluffing his feathers, before crossing the tavern in her direction.

    “You are the Dream Speaker whose song flows far and wide?” he asked.

    “Aye,” Acindi confirmed.

    “And so!” the dancer proceeded to give her a sweepingly elegant bow, “I am Luminary Necalli and even so my flock,” he motioned over to the dozen or so other dancers by the hearth. “I have sough you out Dream Speaker, rumors spoke of your presence here and so also of your mission and of the great menagerie!”

    Acindi tilted her head curiously, “Have yeh now?” she leaned back in her chair, balancing it on the back legs and placing her boots up on the table, “What business does a luminary an’ his meager flock have with t’ likes o’ me?”

    “You seek magnificent creatures to join your menagerie, the most beautiful and wonderous the world has to offer, yes, and so?”

    “And even so,” Acindi confirmed.

    Necalli puffed out his chest, his green feathers ruffling vaingloriously. “Then look no further Dream Speaker! The Skyclad Dancers of Trí’Meloa are the most wondrous of creatures you could ever hope to find, and so! I have come with my flock to join your great menagerie! Our dances shall astound and enchant all the courts and all the peoples of the world. They shall hear our songs and they shall weep. They shall see our feathers glow in the night and be enraptured!” Necalli spread his feather arms, his voice swelling with the pride of a showman, “There is nothing in all the world so beautiful nor so rare as the Skyclad Dancers. My flock shall be the star attraction of your menagerie and so, and even so!”

    Acindi looked at Necalli, a mixture of surprise and bemusement playing over her face. She wasn’t sure Necalli actually understood what a menagerie was, but she couldn’t deny his showmanship and enthusiasm. She laughed slightly and sat forward again in her chair.

    “What’s so amusing?” demanded Necalli, who seemed to have expected applause, or another form of adoration. “Do you doubt me?”

    “Nary! I never would,” Acindi said, her wide mouth, breaking into a large smile, “Yer offer t’ join our menagerie is well received, Luminary. I kin that the Dream Speakers may very well find a place for ye and yer flock. But kin ye well, Necalli, this shall take ye an’ yer people far, far away. Ye shall become wanders even as the Dream Speaker are, always strangers, with only the only roads and fetid bellies of ocean ships t’ call home.”

    “And even so,” agreed Necalli, “My flock shall wonder the world and dance far and wide. Our song shall flow with yours, to lands never known and people only imagined in stories.”

    “And so, and very well,” Acindi said, “I have yet some business to attend to in this country, but I shall call on ye, before I go.”

    Necalli nodded. “It is well. May your music never die.”

    “And so,” she nodded.

    He bowed again and then turned to rejoin his flock, their voices creating a happy hubbub within the tavern.

    Acindi finished her meal and was gathering up her scrolls to stuff back into her backpack when the tavern door opened again. This time softly, only by a few inches. A Shaná peered through, a buffalo fur hood drawn up over her head and shadowing her face. Pale eyes gleamed and peered around, landing on Acindi. The two shaná shared a look and the Dream Speaker nodded, before the other stepped back into the night and closed the tavern door behind her.

    Acindi finished gathering her things then shouldered her pack and belted her coat tight about her, before leaving the inn.

    Compared to the bright fire and noises inside, the cold mountain night seemed like another world. Fat snowflakes fell from a dark sky and the darker silhouettes of the peeks could just be seen against it. Snow crunch under foot and the soft tinkling of her tambourine seemed like an intrusion upon the peace of the mountains.

    There wasn’t anyone else near at hand. All the local people of Á’Ult’Tol were staying inside, close to their fires this evening. However, following the most recreant set of tracks, led Acindi around the tavern to where a handful of tall pine trees sheltered a rocky bank in the side of a hill. Here a shaná was waiting, a sled and a collection of large woven baskets beside her.

    “Lishí?” Acindi called and quickened her steps. It had been several years since Acindi had seen Lónilishí’Á’Moriah – Silver Grass blowing in the Wind – and she was surprised to see how thin and haggard her friend had grown. Lishí’s hair fell from under her hood in drab strands and her eyes seemed to have lost much of their old color and vibrancy.

    “Acindi,” Lishí greeted, smiling wanly and pushing back her hood, “I’m glad ye got my message.”

    “Aye. Though I were surprised t’ get one from yeh. Hadn’t hear o’ yeh becoming a hunter, especially not one t’ defy the Elders.”

    “I do whatever I needs in order t’ make ends meet,” Lishí said and averted her gaze.

    Acindi stepped closer, her night-vision adjusting better to the deep darkness under the pine trees and she recognized the effects of the addiction. The ashen skin, the thin almost starved form, even the faint rottingly sweet smell on Lishí breath. “Yer stuck on kypher.”

    Lishí sucked in a breath through her teeth, hesitated and then nodded. “Fer a while now,” she whispered, “I got wounded in the war ‘gainst the dancers an’ the Elders gave it t’ me then - t’ fight the infections. Was supposed t’ only take it a few times, but… afterwards… felt worse than a whole winter o’ starving t’ be without it. Found a forest scout will’n t’ search some out fer me an’ kept on taking it in secret.” Lishí let out a half-strangled breath and shuttered. “I need it now ‘Cindi. I kin I’ll just die o’ worse without. A shané down in the Moriah Forest says he can get me a good supply, but he wants emeralds for it. When I hear ye were willing t’ pay for ‘em creatures…” Lishí drifted off and motioned toward the baskets.

    Acindi tightened her lips against a wave of pity. Pity wouldn’t do Lishí any good now, it’d only add the salt of shame to her wounded ka. So instead of expressing her concern and sadness, Acindi simply took a breath and focused her attention away from the suffering of her friend and onto the baskets. “What did yeh bring me?”

    Lishí stepped over to her sled and found a lantern, lighting it to cast a globe of yellow light upon the baskets. They were woven in a wide lattice that allowed the shaní to see the creatures caught inside. In one were two crows, large with beady black eyes. They flapped impatient wings in the sudden lantern light and a small collection of shells and silver beads gleamed near their feet at the bottom of the basket.

    “A couple o’ crows?” Acindi asked, trying not to sound too disappointed or critical.

    “The dancers say they’re lucky,” Lishí said, her tone almost pleading, “They’re magical in… in a subtle way.”

    Acindi didn’t argue the point but gave Lishí an somewhat impatient look. She couldn’t very well pay an emerald for a couple of plain old crows, no matter how desperate Lishí might be.

    “Yeh’ll like this’n better,” Lishí assured her, hastily moving the basket of crows to shine the lantern on the second larger basket beneath. Inside was a large brown hare, legs pulled in close to its thick-furred body, shivering in the cold night air. From the top of its head grew a set of antlers, two-ponged and covered in soft velvet. “It’s a jackalope from the Thunder Hills,” Lishí explained, “They like whiskey an’ can supposedly mimic voices, though I h’aint hear this’n say anything. Dancers say they lead children into traps an’ steal souls.”

    “I’ve heard the stories,” Acindi confirmed and knelt to get a better look at the creature. Its large brown eyes stared back at her, at first seeming only like those of a terrified animal, but then they narrowed, and she thought she saw just the hint of a malicious intelligence hiding under the mask. She nodded and stood back up, reaching under her coat to untie the drawstring pouch hidden there. “I’ll take ‘em,” she said and fished out a single polished emerald.

    “Yer only giving me one?” Lishí asked forlornly, as the Dream Speaker placed the stone in her gloved hand.

    Acindi paused, sighed and then searched through her pouch for the smallest emerald she had and added it to the first. “Very well, one fer the jackalope an’ one fer the damned crows as well.”

    Lishí hastily drew the emeralds close and hid them under her coat, as if worried that Acindi would change her mind. A haunted almost feral look come on to her face and she pulled up her hood and turned to go, not even bothering with a farewell, nor showing any interest in going into the tavern for food and warmth.

    “Lishí,” Acindi called, before the shaná could take more than a step or two, “… Take care. Try to find a shaman t’ help yeh. At least get yerself a solid meal, swanny?”

    Lishí let out a frosty huff of breath, “Don’t pretend to care now, ‘Cindi,” she said in a snap of derision, “I know yeh never really did. We were no more than a source of sex an’ amusement fer you back then an’ ye moved on right quick enough. So, go live yer damned Dream Speaker life an’ just let me live mine.” With that, Lishí moved on down the slope and toward the road, leaving the sled and baskets behind.

    Acindi let out a heavy breath of her own and brushed the fallen snow from her shoulders and hair, before collecting the baskets and taking them back to the tavern, where she had reserved a little room to keep her collection in.

    She made sure the crows and Jackalope were stored in a warm space and had food and water. She even got a bowl of whisky for the jackalope, before putting a fur blanket over them and heading back to the main room.

    “A massage came fer yeh,” the young innkeeper said, catching Acindi before she reached her table. “A shané. Came an’ left right quick.” She held out a wood chip.

    “Thank’ye’cai,” Acindi said and accepted the carved massage. The note was short and concise and Acindi simply took the time to refill her flask, put aside her tambourine and bellsash before gathering her hatchets and heading back out into the night.

    This meeting place had been predetermined, an empty ravine about a quarter mile outside of town. Later this spring it would be filled with the angry waters of melting snow rushing down toward the lowlands, but at this time of the year it was just piled with snow drifts, broken bits of wood and dead leaves. Large grey boulders and rugged cliffs stood broken but bitterly cold and hard and the air itself bit and stung, even without the wind taring through it.

    When she didn’t have her tambourine and bellsash, Acindi could move with a surprising amount of silence. Moccasin feet barely making a noise on the fresh snow, as her body moved through the trees and underbrush with the natural grace of a forest doe.

    Three hunters huddled by a fire, camp supplies, four mules and a couple wooden cages shelter within the ravine’s walls. Their leader, Zaníshiní’Á’Doah - Sharp Eyes in the Night – wasn’t with them and Acindi hesitated, worried Zaní and others of his gang might be hiding, waiting in an ambush. She settled into a crouch and searched the dark shadows around the edge of the ravine with her elven eyes. There seemed to be nothing, only stillness and snow.

    A sparking flash from within the ravine caught the corner of her eye and Acindi focused on the hunters below.

    “Will yeh stop a’poking ‘em already,” complained one hunter, a shaná crouched by the fire, “Yer just a’making ‘em angry fer no good reason.”

    A large shané kneeling near one of the wooden cages with a stick in hand scoffed, “Like ye haven’t had some fun at ‘em yerself. Just t’ see ‘em spark.” He jabbed with the stick and there was another burst of white sparks like lightning. Silver scales flashed in the light and Acindi saw a blur of motion, as something inside the cage battered itself with remarkable speed and force against the sides. The hunter laughed and as the blur and sparks faded, Acindi saw that the silver blur had actually been two sleek lizards, about fifteen inches each from nose to tail-tip. Short legs ended in clawed feet that clung easily to the sides of the wooden cage and silvery eyes seemed molten with malicious anger. The lizards stilled as the shané laughed, watching him with hate and guarded desperation.

    He poked at them again and there was another burst of speed and light, as the lizards threw themselves hissing at the front of the cage, beating their bodies at the bars in attempts to attack their tormentor.

    “I kin they don’t like’yeh much,” said the third hunter dryly, added some wood to the campfire.

    “Aye, well roont ‘em both,” said the shané, “Little blighted bastards. They killed Rathná an’ Kanê,” he jabbed at them again, “I’d have drowned ‘em already, if it weren’t fer the reward being offered.”

    The shaná snorted in agreement. “Where is that roont Speaker anyway? Yeh left the messages didn’yah, Tríklicê?”

    As the shané by the fire shrugged, Acindi moved from her hiding place and walked down into the ravine.

    “I’m here,” she said, stepping down into the fire light, “Where’s Zaníshiní’Á’Doah? I was expect’n t’ be dealing with him.”

    The hunters stood and glared, clearly not pleased to realize she’d managed to sneak up on their camp. The one by the cage tossed aside his stick and got up to approach with a scowl. “Two of our people died doing this little hunt fer yeh,” he said, “Zaní stayed behind with the others t’ see to it that they got a proper funeral. So ye’ll be dealing with me. Swanny Cai?”

    “An’ who might ye be, Cai?”

    He glared, “I am Jomako’Á’doah – Last Fire of the Night and I’ve walked the world for over three hundred winters.”

    Acindi gave him a nod, “Very well then, Siah.” Up close he seemed even larger than when he’s been kneeling by the cage and the other two hunters standing to flank Jomako’s right and left sides, made the point of emphasizing the fact that Acindi was outnumbered. She avoided holding eye contact and glanced around the camp and her eyes settling on the cage, “Am I right an say’n yeh got a pair o’ Lightning Lizards there?” she asked, trying to defuse the sense of rising tension.

    “Aye,” the shaná said, “Only creature on the list we managed to get, but they were trouble enough.”

    “Zaníshiní said he’d be able t’ hunt me a Fire Boar and Frost Wolf, as well as a Lightning Lizard.”

    “Well we gotch’a two lightning lizards,” Jomako said harshly.

    “So, I see,” Acindi shifted her stance slightly, her eyes noting that each of the hunters carried either a spear or set of hatchets.

    “Well you kin that I can’t pay the whole sum when ye only brought one o’ the three promised prizes.”

    The hunters all exchanged looks and stepped closer. Acindi slipped back and moved sideways toward the wall of the ravine and the wooden cage, not wanting to get surrounded. They circled around her anyway, until she was backed into a corner by cage and the cliff wall.

    “Two o’ ours died Speaker,” Jomako said in a low dangerous voice, “So kin’ye this. You will give over all the emeralds ye promised an’ whatever else ye have as well, an’ then be glad we don’t make ye pay further with yer life. Swanny?” There was a glint in his eyes and Acindi saw his hand tighten on the handle of his hatchet. She looked at it and then lifted her eyes to his. He smiled, because he knew that she knew that he was going to kill her regardless.

    Jomako drew his axe but Acindi drew hers faster. She didn’t try to attack him though, instead she brought her hatchet down on the wooden latch of the cage beside her. Hardly had she felt the wood splinter and give way beneath her strength when there was a flash like lightning and a scream.

    “Roont Sky!” cursed the other two hunters jumping back as Jomako was born to the ground, lightning sparking to stun and paralyze him, even as the lizards’ sharp teeth tore into his flesh. Blood spurted as one of the many bites tore into artery.

    The other shané hunter, Tríklicê, cursed and grabbed his whip.

    Acindi tried to dodge but he was fast and had an accuracy of many decades of practice. The whip wrapped around her boot and she was jerked to the freezing ground, landing flat on her back. Jomako’s screams continued to fill the air, as Acindi saw Tríklicê charge forward, lifting his spear to thrust down into her breast. She hurled her hatchet forward, sending it spinning upward. There was crunching smack of stone in flesh as the hatchet blade split his face down the center, sinking two inches into the skull. Shané and spear fell limply down upon her with the weight of death and Acindi let out frightened cry, before scrambling to push the body off her and get back to her feet.

    Jomako had ceased his screams and lay still, as the blurs of silver stripped flesh from his bones and a blizzard of blood. The shaná hunter was screaming and weeping, trying to drive the lizards away with wild swings of her hatchets and frantic kicks. It seemed impossible that she would be able to hit anything going as fast as the lizards, but she succeeded in getting one of the creature’s attention. A blur broke away from the bloody corpse of Jomako and flashed up the shaná’s leg. There was a flash of sparks and a scream and the hunter spasmed and staggered, falling to her hands and knees.

    Acindi grabbed up Tríklicê’s spear and charged forward. The shaná looked up but was still too stunned from the lizard bite to react. Acindi drove the spear into her neck just above the collarbone and down into her chest, sharp flinty stone ripping flesh and sinking deep. When she jerked the spear back, blood spewed forth and the shaná collapsed beside Jomako.

    There was hissing and a crackling of sparks, as the lizards tore into flesh with a starved frenzy. Acindi dropped the spear and stumbled back away from the fire, the corpse and the ravenous creatures. Her heart was pounding in her chest and her eyes stared widely, her mind hardly comprehending what had just happened, as her body quivered.

    She stood panting and staring for several seconds as the lizards feasted. Then she reached to her belt where several pouches were tied. Opening one, she grabbed a fistful of powder and lunged close enough to the fire to throw it down on the flames, before leaping back and shielding her eyes.

    The fire burst up with sizzling roar, exploding in a flash of bright pink flame and a boom that filled the whole of the ravine. As it died away, Acindi heard the last hurried scamper of claws on stone and thought she noticed a sliver steak disappearing over the cliff edge and into the dark night. The lightning lizards were gone, leaving behind unrecognizable bodies striped to the bone in a slush of blood and snow.

    “Roont sky!” Acindi breathed and clutched a hand to her chest, “Roonted red sky an’ blighted earth below! Simáh!” She looked around fearful the lizards might flash back in order to finish off the feast and add her as the final course, but the mountain forest was silent and still.

    As she recovered her hatchets and gathered the nervous mules, Acindi found herself thinking back to the dry, overly academic and boring scrolls the lore-masters had given her with a new fondness and appreciation. Really, some of these creatures are best to just read about after all.


    End

    ---

    Last edited by Laura; 2020-10-18 at 01:54 AM.

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