Sunday, 5 September 2021

Bestiary for Penrod, Vol II.

A Bestiary for Penrod, Volume II. 

By Bo Slycrake

The year of our beloved Princess Pippa's 80th birthday I spent travelling deep in the unnamed glacial valleys south of the infamous Giant Glacier valleys. Their southern cousins evoke far less awe in the populace but are no less dangerous, and in this writer's humble opinion are teeming with tens if not dozens more beasts fantastic. I had heard from a orphan child that in one valley there lay the ruins of a city from the ancient empire, and that is where I began my exploration. From there my journey spiralled outwards, where I witnessed such monsters and creatures as you would hardly believe. 

 1. Plague Ghost Locust Crier

Every schoolchild knows that the citizens of the ancient empire were fond of eating fried locusts, which they brought with them from Vesperey and farmed in long, low warehouses, and which street vendors sold from a huge iron skillet set over a fire pit. When politics or the plague (some historians argue both) collapsed the empire, the orphaned imperials brought the locusts back to Vesperey with them. But these locusts left behind their ghosts. 

All known ruins from the ancient empire are crawling with plague ghosts. Soldiers wandering the crumbling walls, schoolteachers lecturing to empty halls, servants carrying ghostly meals to thin air.

A plague ghost locust crier is the long-dead mad memory of a street vendor, and his ten thousand locust ghosts. The crier desperately wants customers, and the locusts—unable to eat for a thousand years—will try to consume all organic matter in their path. 

The crier floats slowly along, droning their sales pitch in the ancient tongue. When I came across the vendor in the wide boulevard of the city that I had been told about by the orphan, I was accosted with a desperate plea to purchase. Within a few moments, a swarm of ghost locusts followed, ravenous. I was lucky to escape with my life; not so lucky was my pack mule. I hope he is resting peacefully.  

Plague Ghost Locust Crier

  • 2HD, ghostly finger d6, Armour 1.
  • Ghosts are immune to normal weapons
  • The locusts swarm and consume all organic material within 1 minute (cloth armour, food, horses, etc.)
  • The locusts cannot be killed, only escaped from. 

2. Lead-Dead

In Piz there is a lead mine, which produces most of the lead in the region, mostly used to seal stained glass windows and to serve as witch's pots. When I was invited to dine with the owner of the mine, she told me that workers too long at the job sometimes get lead-sick: abdominal pain, sheen and pallor, loss of memory, delusions, and blue gums. Most of the time the workers take the first appearance of symptoms as a sign that they should retire, and they do so, without severance. 

Some stubborn miners try to hide their sickness, the proprietress told me as we delicately supped on sky-quail eggs, and they fight through the cramped stomach, cold sweats, and gritted teeth showing blue gums. When the delusions inevitably turn violent and the illness revealed, the other miners trap the lead-sick miner in the mine and seal off the top, leaving them alone to die of thirst, starvation, or madness. After a few weeks the mine is unsealed and their dead body is removed and buried. 

But in rare cases, she whispered, the mine has been unsealed and the sick miner has disappeared. The oldest workers, who have seen this happen, tell her that the lead-sick miner has delved deeper into the earth, even as their sickness grows. The lead now sustains them, their gums, tongue, lips, and eyes all turned blue, their bodies swelled and contorted, their teeth and fingernails coated in lead sheaths. When I visited the mine an elder foreman showed me a disused tunnel where I swear we spotted one such lead-dead, slinking by at the end of the tunnel, licking lead flakes off the wall, and desiring revenge on the comrades who locked them away. 

  • 3HD, Lead bite or claw d8, Armour 1
  • If you are bit with the lead teeth you will get lead poisoning, requiring a week of medical attention
  • If you are dealt CD with the lead teeth you will succumb to lead madness, requiring restraint and a month of medical attention. 

3. Septogres

Camping in a ruined city square in a tiny abandoned township leftover from the ancient empire, it's extent cobbled with white stone and overgrown with saxifrage, I met two incredible beings.

At first their immense size, shining bald heads, and seven arms were frightening to me, but their deep voices and our mutual interest in my ground-nut stew that I was cooking over a fire calmed my nerves, and we set to conversing. They had emerged from their underground domain in search of moon dates. They had miscalculated the cycle of the moon (which is easy to do when living underground, which I knew from personal experience living for a spell in the Palace dungeons), so their task for the evening was moot and we enjoyed a pleasant dinner together. 

Over seven feet in height, with huge muscled bodies, large hands with flexing fingers at the end of each of their seven arms, and an unending appetite. Their skin was smooth and yellow like butter, and neither one of them had a single body hair that I could see. They were dressed only in skirts and jewelry, but explained that to them there was no such thing as a man or woman. All Septogres had the same multi-functional genitals, and social division was along the line of which side of their body had four arms, and which had three, the left or the right.  

The one with four arms on the left side wore intricate tattoos on their face and bore multiple golden rings on their thirty-five fingers, glistening in my firelight as the sun set behind them. The other was a 'right-four' and had no tattoos or rings, but wore huge earrings dangling with charms, and their skirt went below the knees. 

I was about to ask which division was more well known for fighting in wars or caring for children, when they heard some clicking noise coming from the abandoned apartments overlooking the square and they leapt to their feet, flinging away their mugs of half-eaten ground-nut stew. 

"We must away, little one. Thank you for the hospitality, and next time offer a gift to the most beautiful left-four before speaking to us."

They hefted their weapons (three spears, a shield and a magic wand for the right-four; two sets of bow and arrow plus a jeweled dagger for he left-four) and sprinted towards the apartments. Soon the clicking noise began again, but it stopped short within a minute. I heard nothing more for the rest of the night, but when I awoke there was a single moon date placed next to my bedroll.

  • 3HD, multiple weapons (d8 each).
  • Seven strong arms, generally they carry three varied weapons, plus one other item (e.g. magic wand, shield, spray poison), and keep one or two arms free. 
  • View smaller creatures as lesser.

4. Molybdenapes

At the tip of Witch Gorge is an old molybdenum mine, from which the Star People used to source their additives to make their famous shining steel. The rushing stream that carved the gorge millions of years ago once was almost dammed by engineers from the Goldenhorn Empire. They were driven back by the witches, who still live in the Gorge today. Their power is much diminished now, though they still make a warm pot of stew and will let a polite naturalist sleep in one of their disused dormitories. 

They told me that they never venture into the molybdenum mines any more, even though they used to use fungus tree fruit in their potions. In recent years the mines have been infested with apes -- Molybdenapes. Transformed by the thrumming presence of molybdenum, the apes now have silvery-lead heavy fur, glowing silvery eyes, and a complex social structure based on mining skill and voice timbre. 

Despite the warnings from the witches (one with a shaved head got quite agitated and compared me to a sheep), I descended into the darkness of the mine. I found the apes in their nest, the young ones resting on beds made of fungus tree fibres, the adults mining molybdenum for food and crafts. They did not know how to work the steel foundry machines (nor did I, despite hours of attempts), but they seemed to like my offer of fresh berries and leaves from surface plants. They gifted me the fur of one of their elders, which they keep as precious treasure after death, since the pelts have such a high content of metal they never decompose or burn once they pass away. 

  • 2HD, strong arms with pickaxe or steel rod, d8. 
  • Interested in eating real food, but mostly subsist on molybdenum. 

5. Acorn. 

The legends of the Unicorn are well known -- pure maidens may approach and ride the beasts, their blood will heal any wound, the slayer of a unicorn shall reap untold curses, and so on. Slightly less known legends also surround the Bicorn, an equine beast with two horns. These less savoury creatures devour husbands who are kind-hearted and true to their partners. 

During my travels through Oak Leaf Valley (a truly backwater place, cut off from the rest of Penrod by no less than four nested glacial valleys, each slightly less backwater than the previous, until finally reaching the southern reaches where the folk are simply rural and uneducated, not stricken with poverty and ignorance so pathological as to be almost unbelievable) I discovered the locals gathered around evening bonfires beguiling the young ones with tales of the Acorn -- a magical horse with no horns. 

My guffaws of disbelief were met with disdainful glares, and I used up most of the goodwill I had built up by bringing them clean dish cloths as gifts. But later in my week's stay, I was approached by a one-eyed grandmother who told me the full tale, as well as where to spy an Acorn. 

She told me that the Acorn would come on moonlit nights, seeking out those who have lain with many partners. The opposite of a maiden or devoted husband, it would seem. The Acorn has a glistening coat, always matching the eye colour of the profligate. The witness can simply sense the magic of the Acorn, the grandmother stated when I inquired about the difference between an Acorn and a horse. The lack of a horn can be felt deep in the bones. 

The grandmother told me of how when she was young, after her third husband had passed and she had lain with many men and women in the village, the Acorn approached her. It dipped and allowed her to straddle it bareback, and it leapt into the sky on a magical moonlit galloping flight, which she cherished as a memory to this day. She pointed to the blufftop at the head of the valley where it had happened, and told me to hike up there that very evening, as the moon was full. There I would see the Acorn. 

I refused her offer, and left Oak Leaf Valley a day early, before even finishing my sketch of the interesting local mossflowers. The legend of the Acorn is ludicrous, and could not possibly be real. I doubted that even if I had the qualifications the Acorn desired, it would not appear. I did later see a Unicorn though, and it ate right out of my hand. That was just last year, right around the time of my fourth decade. 

  • 2HD, trample d6. 
  • Will allow harlots and rakes to ride in the moonlight. Disdain for the sexually inexperienced. 
  • Its saliva acts as a aphrodisiac. 

6. Glacial Gator

I have read accounts from the delta at the city of Borsippa, and the descriptions of their great aquatic lizards, with long jaws and thick green scales. Alligators, they are called. Just as those beasts swim through water and hunt their prey, as do the glacial gators swim through ice seeking a meal. 

When I had finally reached the most southern of our Principality's glacial valleys, I knew my journey was at an end. I camped on the ridged ice for a final evening of beholding nature's wonders, and knew that in the morning I would turn back north and venture back to the warmth of the capital. As I settled down by my fire in my Molybdenape fur-lined cloak, I heard a strange crackling rumbling noise. 

An other-worldly, eerie, crackling, snapping, wrenching noise. Like gargantuan teeth grinding against each other, like a bone snapping at dawn. I saw on the indigo horizon, where the last of the sun's rays still shone up like the tall walls of a cathedral, a terrible sight. An ice-white reptile, longer than an acreage of flax, swimming like an undulating wave through the glacial ice. Its snout was larger than a carriage and plowed through the moraine-covered glacier surface like it was naught more than pond scum. Its ridged and scaled back was wide like a roaring river, swaying side to side with an outrageous motion. Its tail whipped back and forth, throwing up chips of ice larger than my body. 

I stood up, my cloak falling and my fire sputtering with the wind and flying debris. The great beast passed within only tens of feet, its great glowing blue eye peering out from the terrible storm of its passing, expressionless and watching me as if I were less than prey, less than an insect, merely a speck in its world. It turned away from me and swam south. The glacial gator is a terrible beast, and the difficulty I had traversing the crevasse it left behind in its passage delayed my return by almost a week. But I will always remember the glacial gator as a symbol for the southern valleys of our Principality: terrible, dangerous, colossal in size, and endlessly stretching beyond the ken of humans. 

Glacial Gator
  • 10HD, gator jaw d12 damage, on CD you are swallowed. 
  • Can swim through ice or snowy ground cover, or lie still and perfectly hidden amongst the ice. 
  • Its skin cannot be harmed by non-magical metal weapons. 

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