When I first discovered this wondrous land, I could scarcely believe everything before me. The spiraling and floating mountains that reached so high that that the rings of clouds were still below them. The great waterfalls that sprayed down from the ancient rivers that flowed through forests with trees wise and full of knowledge. The oceans with their golden beaches and cool, lapping waves that never roared or stormed.
And the life within. Such unique, and wonderful creatures that walked through this fantastic world. It took years for me to gaze upon them all. Who knows? I may have had more to see.
I can't see them anymore, though. The land is now barren and cold, so empty and sad that even the Icy Ridge that lines the northern forests would offer more warmth. Everything has vanished, all the wonder gone, all the vibrant, amazing things this world once had to offer, disappeared. I still wonder where they went.I doubt I will ever know. All I do know is that I have my books, my stories, and the memories that are already beginning to fade away as I grow aged and alone in an old man's mind that still believes a long-last Fantasy may return. I don't think I'll live to see them come back. But I leave these stories to whomever finds them, so that they can know that they did exist.
BEASTS OF THE OLD LETTERS
When dawn shines through the trees of the Softneedle Forest, you can find the Aliphox humming through the giant lilies for a morning meal. A beautiful two-headed bird, slightly larger than a full grown man, with downy rainbow feathers that quiver ever so slightly as they run through the warm morning breeze. The Aliphox has four wings that are more akin to an insect's than a bird's, but they blend seamlessly with the back of the creature. They are jeweled and delicate, and they catch the early rays in such a way that they glint and shimmer.
The Aliphox's heads each support a single large crest which changes color from one bird to the next. Their eyes are round and a deep purple, their beaks gold and slender. And their cries – the cry of an Aliphox is sublime, a smooth, crisp, and echoing warble. The heads take turns as they call out, one rising, one falling, one rising, one falling.
Aliphox eggs are pure white until the chick comes close to hatching, during which they will turn vibrant shades of pink, green, blue, and gold. The chick is no larger than a hand, and like any other infant bird, naked and blind for weeks. The first coat of down is white as well, but as it grows older, colors will show through layer upon layer until a full array of hues coats the bird.
I had a great privilege of seeing an Aliphox nest myself after many years of exploring the Softneedle Forest; before, I had to rely on the records and drawings from the dragons. They are built on the ground, nearly as wide as a dinner table, interlaced with the branches of the thorny ivy to keep predators away from the chicks. The interior is matted with tufts from the down berry bushes; indeed, the berries themselves are brought back to feed the young too. Of course, I could only marvel a few precious minutes before the parents returned, and proceeded to fiercely chase me away for a good quarter of a mile before they turned back to their eggs. Nonetheless, I felt a great deal of happiness knowing I had witnessed such a rare sight with my own eyes.
An enigmatic, and dare I say frightening, creature the Bumpkle is. The dragons themselves say they do not know how or when the Bumpkles arrived in the Blackrock Forests to the North, but they have lurked within those rugged trees for centuries now.
I dared not travel into the Blackrock Forests alone. That place crawls with animals of the night, and is a place of mystery and fear. The good wizard Gaaren, and the dragon Darw'enth accompanied me all the way, and I am forever grateful for their willingness and courage.
As the Blackrock Forest loomed nearer, I began to remember tales of Bumpkle encounters. Some poor, brave soul who went exploring alone, when the Ashen Trail was not yet made. What dreadful and terrifying experiences they must have been.
Half a mile into the trees and the sunlight was already almost completely blocked out. We relied on the soft glow of the carpet moss and ringed mushrooms. The mosquitoes were vicious to the wizard and I. Another fifteen minutes of walking, and we saw our first Bumpkle.
Or, to put it more accurately, Bumpkles. Five of them, all hunched over as they crooned over a carcass. From the dim glow of plant life I could see the muzzle of what may have been a Waddlegrunt. All of us halted, afraid to disturb the creatures.
Easily thirty, even forty feet tall. A single, clawed, birdlike foot and leg that rose all the way without any other limb or torso until it connected with the head, a giant, rounded thing covered in thick, matted down. Their two enormous eyes that shone like moons, casting light onto the dead Waddlegrunt and illuminating the dead creature more than I would care to see. They say the eyes of a Bumpkle hypnotize and put the unfortunate gazer into a state of shock and terror; Had we not immediately frozen, they may have turned to us as well.
A Bumpkle has two mouths. One, giant seam hidden beneath its hairy head, filled with thin needle-like teeth. The other is underneath its foot, the "toes" acting as teeth that clamp and fasten onto flesh as the inner ring of jaws greedily bites off bits of flesh. The sound that the Bumpkles were making was atrocious.
We stood their silently for the next half hour. By the time the Bumpkles began retreated into the dark, the Waddlegrunt was unrecognizable, a pile of cracked bones and entrails. The Dropperflies began falling from the branches of the trees above to pick at the few remains. We followed the Ashen Trail back into the clear, where a flood of relief greeted us. I would not return to the Blackrock Forest again for years.
More akin to a spirit than an animal, Charm Changers nonetheless have a special place in the Fantastic Lands, and so I have included them in this book. With their intense curiosity and the near limitless variety, Charm Changers can be found in any place so long as magic exists there.
In their base form, they resemble wisps of pink, yellow, and orange light, sometimes looking like a human child, sometimes no more than an amorphous blob with two round eyes. They are very pure beings, and have an intense attraction towards materials used in spell-casting with a particular regard for books and scrolls. As such, Charm Changers have been revered as guardians of magic shops, libraries, and rune spots alike.
Visitors and creators of such places would be wise to leave a small offering of some sort to the Charm Changers, usually consisting of a story, a carving, or a runestone. Charm Changers will take such offerings and turn them into a vessel for themselves, thereby adding the offering's magical power to its own, and providing itself better protection for an otherwise delicate body. Those who keep Charm Changers happy are blessed with prosperity; once appeased, Charm Changers are more than happy to assist those who visit or work in the place they inhabit.
However, Charm Changers can be corrupted with offerings of dark subject matter, as well as being forgotten or neglected. Charm Changers that suffer such treatment will become "Cursed" Changers, and turn otherwise benevolent places into areas of ill fortune and disease. Cursed Changers are black, green, and silver as opposed to their lighter counterparts, and once transformed, are impossible to change back. The most tragic incident of Charm Changers turned Cursed occurred at the Library of Nott, where an offering of contaminated elixirs turned nearly two hundred Charm Changers into maddened spirits that began to leak poison into the streets. The dragons were forced to burn down the entire library, incinerating the Charm Changers, along with hundreds of scripts and books.
The Eskleberg Forest
While not as large or as dense as either the Softneedle or Blackrock Forests, the Eskleberg Forest and its singing groves are a popular destination for commoners and explorers alike.
Despite its name, the Eskleberg Forest is not actually a forest, and is instead a single, large organism. Each of the "trees" in the forest is a runner sent up by a large and complex root system which is impeded in Eskleberg Peak. The trunks of these runners are hollowed out, and there are openings to the hollow interior on the tops and sides of the trunks. Air will often funnel in through the top opening and blow out through the side openings, creating a variety of tones. The leaves on the branches of these trees grow in a curled, funnel-like shape.
The constant production of tones by the runners fills the groves with a flowing, improvisational melody, providing a pleasant acoustic background for visitors. This constant stream of sound is then funneled into the forest leaves, into the centers of the spirals where the air once again enters into the inner workings of the runners. Wood nymphs and scholars who have studied the groves believe that this constant passing back and forth of music between the trees is the forest thinking to itself. Among these, there is a small following which believes the forest is only asleep, and that the great wood-beast will one day awake and rise out of Eskleberg Peak.
The unique hollowed-out trunks of the Eskleberg Forest provide habitats for numerous small animals, including sizable populations of Burntwuffle and Zootroo. The Forest is also the only location in which the Bulbnut Squirrels are found naturally. This vibrant ecosystem makes The Forest popular among amateur naturalists and seasoned explorers alike.
Intensely proud animals, Firemanes roam the Xianoo Plains in prides ranging from ten to fifteen members. Closely resembling a lion at base, Firemanes are so named for the scarlet, iridescent hairs that ring the necks of both the male and female, and race down the sides and backs in horizontal stripes; this fur is highly prized as material for clothing, though there are very strict laws placed on Firemane hunting. However, unlike the lion, Firemanes possess two pairs of antlers that rise regally from their heads behind the ears like a stag, and race across the savanna on three pairs of scaly reptilian legs.
Firemanes love the thrill of the chase while in pursuit of prey, often purposefully letting the prey go should they catch it too quickly. While some may say this game of catch and release is cruel, it is nonetheless a fascinating spectacle to see as the Firemanes become a flaming blur on the grassy fields. While not hunting, they can be seen racing each other, and, if approached with caution and presented with respect, other beings such as wizards, Elves, and even Dragons. A lucky few have been blessed with the fortune of even riding them. A magician I knew named Giang told me his account of riding a Firemane he befriended years ago. He said at first he held on for dear life as the beast took off, but as he gained his hold, it was an exhilarating and unforgettable experience; as he and the Firemane raced through the night sky, they almost looked like a comet flying along the ground.
A type of newt-like creature native to the beaches and cliffs of the Southern Sea, Gyrogliders are unusual for amphibians because they possess fully functional wings, or something close to them at least. These "wings" resemble long, webbed fins, that can open and close like a fan when the Gyroglider contracts and relaxes its muscles. There are two pairs, stacked directly on top of another, with the bottom set slightly longer. Unlike birds or bats that flap their wings up and down, the Gyroglider spins its wings in a circle, the top set turning the clockwise, the bottom in reverse.
Gyrogliders are thrill-seekers, particularly the males. During the mating season in summer, they can be seen taking life-risking leaps off the cliff walls to the beach below, performing a multitude of spins and flips on the way down to the beach below. The closer they come to the beach before pulling up to safety, the more attention they get from potential mates. Females can also be seen jumping, though they prefer to glide and loop as opposed to the males' chaotic, flamboyant routine. When not performing daredevil jumps, they spend most of their time clinging to the beach cliffs, or within the many holes and cracks of the rock.
These creatures come in a stunning array of colors, ranging from turquoise and white to pink and gold to silver and green. It is common for Gyrogliders to mate with one that does not possess their own color scheme; this practice continues to produce wide arrays of different shades and color combinations. Gyrogliders lay their eggs in treacherous waters full of hidden rocks and boulders, thereby discouraging predators from making a meal. Their eggs are round and numerous like a fish's, and coated in an adhesive that anchors the eggs to the rocks. The young hatch within thirty days, and will spend the first few weeks of their life in the water until their wings develop. Afterwards, they will spin and loop up to the rest of the colony, ready to become the next generation of daredevil jumpers.
A charming and oddly entertaining species, Hopservoppers were created by the Fleux Elves about a hundred years ago using an array of housework and cooking spells. The Hopservopper's goal? To prepare and serve delicious food wherever and whenever a banquet is held.
The Hopservopper resembles a large, white egg with a single, colored dot in the center of their "faces" that superficially looks like a simple eye. Usually blue or green when the Hopservopper is not preparing food, this dot will change color depending on how near a meal the creature is preparing to completion; when the circle turns red or pink, the food is ready to serve. What makes the Hopservopper so intriguing is that they prepare the food inside their bodies with the help of the magic given to them by the Fleux during their creation. When Hopservoppers have finished making food, they crack open to reveal the meal inside, which can range from steaming piles of meat and delicious bowls of soups to beautifully arranged fruits and desserts. Once the food is taken, the Hopservopper closes again without any harm, and goes back to preparing food as needed until a feast is done.
Hopservoppers move around on a single human-like foot that is the same white as their egg body. If in the middle of making a meal, it is not uncommon to hear the Hopservoppers present humming a soft, cheery tune as they open and close. It is also not uncommon to hear the sounds of jostling metal coming from inside them as they move to and fro. It almost sounds like the Hopservoppers carry a multitude of cooking supplies and utensils inside them. However, not even the Fleux Elves know what goes on inside a Hopservopper's body. Though, given the deliciousness of the end product, the Hopservopper's magic is a treat for anyone who is invited to a Fleux banquet.
As a certified zoologist, it's my job to venture into any and all regions in the Fantastic Lands to discover new species. One of the more perilous journeys took me to the Kuupri Icelands, a flat stretch of snow that is deceptively deep. There are countless legends of a whole world living below this snowfall, tales of things such as Ice Elves and ancient monsters that have been hibernating for centuries. Such legends are an enticing incentive for people such as myself to explore, and although travel parties have never discovered the beings spoken of in the fables, we have discovered more than twenty new animal species hidden in the ice, from the shy and plump Plooners that huddle in the hundreds to conserve body heat, to the Snowlances that lie in waiting to spear unfortunate prey with their icicle-tipped horns. And in all these travels, we relied on the hardiness and warmth of the Ii'oor to make sure we wouldn't freeze to death on our journeys.
The Ii'oor are a group of beasts that have been domesticated by the Kuupri villagers for decades. Ii'oors are incredibly docile, at most grunting softly when annoyed, and perhaps kicking a shower of snow at someone. Somehow I think the sight of seeing someone bewildered as they are covered from head to toe in snow amuses the beasts; if one does such an act, others nearby will rumble together in a chorus that sounds almost like laughter.
Ii'oors walk on four legs arranged like a cross that are as thick as tree trunks, with strong flat feet that allow them to walk across the deep snow without sinking. Their heads are small relative to the rest of their bodies, and is reminiscent of a turtle. Large folds of fat that are surprisingly warm line the Ii'oor's back, and store the necessary sustenance for the animal in times when food is scarce.
However, the most fascinating parts of the Ii'oor are the large, multiple fin-like growths that ring the sides of the fat folds. Made of hollow bone at the base, these "fins" are transparent, and shine an iridescent white during the short times of sunlight in the Kuupri Icelands. In just a few hours of sun, these growths can absorb and retain an astounding amount of heat for the cold nights. Whenever we would camp, the Ii'oor would spread these growths like a fan; the fins would glow red with the warmth and calm of a comforting fire, and no matter the frigid temperatures around us, with the Ii'oor, we would always sleep peacefully.
Jorthwacs have long been used by the various diminutive races of the Fantastic Lands for transport, racing, and beasts of burden. In at least one of the pixie societies in the Midlands, a pixie's wealth can be determined by the size and quality of their herd.
Even the largest Jorthwac that I have seen was small enough to fit in my hand; the perfect proportion for most of their masters. In terms of their head and body shape, their appearance is similar to a cross between a horse and an antelope. Out of the head grows a pair of relatively large, curled, branching antlers. Each jorthwac possesses six legs, very similar to those of a cricket, which they use for leaping. Jorthwacs come in a variety of vibrant colors, most commonly pinkish-red and green, but blue and gold varieties also exist (though these are more commonly reserved for knights and royalty).
One of the historical accounts including Jorthwacs that I find most interesting is the Battle of Koor. For several years, a war had been raging as the Mabish sprites attempted to drive the invading Koorish gnomes out of their territories. The wizard Kland granted the sprites a boon by increasing their size, so that they might fight on equal footing with the gnomish forces. However, during their charge, the sprites' Jorthwacs also increased in size. After overrunning the gnomish forces on the field of battle, the sprites were able to use the newfound leaping strength of their jorthwacs to breach the gnomes secluded mountain stronghold of Koor, forcing peace and bringing the gnomes under their rule.
Kifafr Door Shards
Approximately two-hundred years ago, in the Second Dwarven Empire of the North, King Kirthic IV commissioned a massive treasury to be constructed within Mount Kirafr in order to house the kingdom's supply of gold. On the southeastern face of the mountain, an enormous door to the treasury was placed in the cliff face. This door was enchanted to only recognize and allow members of the royal court into the treasury. Unfortunately, King Kirthic and his builder had not anticipated the battering rams and catapults of the Northern Giants.
While the Kirafr Door was shattered, its many fragments retained parts of its enchantment. Each shard took on its own personality and name. The shards are capable of projecting their thoughts into the mind of their holder, usually in the form of images, songs, tales, and conversation. The shards can also communicate with each other if they are in close enough proximity, and two holders which are close enough together can hold a conversation of thoughts through their shards.
Following the breaking of the Door, the Kirafr Shards were collected and dispersed throughout the Fantastic Lands. In many places, they were cut, polished, and sold as exotic jewelry. In other places, the shards were treasured for their eccentric and curious personalities, and were used by artists as muses of inspiration. I myself carried a Kirafr Shard companion named Hathhud with me on a necklace for several years.
The Lightning-Struck Titan
It is a mercy to all of the Fantastic Lands that the Lightning-Struck Titan only awakens with the passing of Vamaroff's Storm every three-hundred years, in the Southern Jagged Mountains of Kor.
The beast resembles a beetle or hermit crab with a dragon's head, covered in a goliath pyramid of stone and dirt that accumulates over its three-hundred year slumbers. A huge, crumbling, spiraling tower resides on its back, built by the same sorcerer whom the storm that awakens the beast is named after.
Vamaroff came to the Fantastic Lands two thousand ago, in a search to build a place where he could practice and perfect his art of weather spells. The Jagged Mountains proved ideal to him, with their isolation and formidable appearance. He began to construct his tower at the plateau of the highest mountain he could find. It would take him fifteen years to complete; as soon as the final brick was placed, he began to call forth a thunderstorm more powerful than any the mountains had seen. The lightning surged from the spire of Vamaroff's tower to the base and below, each strike, stirring the beast he had built his tower upon.
With earthshaking might, the Titan stretched its legs and rose, a thousand-foot goliath that bellowed as the storm caused it pain while at the same time restoring it to life. The Lightning-Struck Titan began to move once more, eating huge chunks of earth and stone from the cliffsides with its toothed maw. And all the while, the storm raged above its back, following the Titan as it lumbered through the Jagged Mountains; Vamaroff himself perished as his tower collapsed with each step the giant took.
The dragons sought at once to try and stop the beast, or at the very least impede it, but the Titan was impervious to all magic. It was an ancient, long-forgotten creature, a force of nature, and it seemed its rampage would destroy all of the Fantastic Lands.
Finally, a group of Mages led by the Sorceress named Talia arrived. They cast a spell that created the Great Winds to drive the Storm away from the Lightning-Struck Titan, and the beast began to slow as the energy gained from the storm disappeared. It managed to return to its resting place before falling asleep once again, and the lands it razed fell silent.
Talia and her group were hailed as heroes and they turned their efforts to restoring the damage done by the Titan. Afterwards, they would guard the Jagged Mountains until their deaths, continuing to strengthen the enchantment that kept Vamaroff's Storm and the Lightning-Struck Titan apart.
However, the two are bound to meet again; Vamaroff's Storm returns every three hundred years from its banishment in the Howling Sands to reawaken the beast below. The last time the Titan awoke was a hundred and eighty-seven years ago. I fear the day when we must once again prepare for the worst.
Monoliths to Heaven
In the flat Southeastern Plains of Xianoo, a group of creatures live in a group that grows by a mere one member at the beginning of each year: The Monoliths to Heaven.
Each Monolith is less flesh and more stone. Made of obsidian, they are shaped like a rugged ellipse, with a singular large hole running through the top portion like a downwards staring eye. Two spindly legs jut out then fall to the ground from the center of the Monolith, legs that look like they would never be able to support a creature of a Monolith's mass. However the Monoliths' deep magical ties with the stars allow them to stand for the long walk they must undertake every new year.
Monoliths travel between two locations, and two locations only. One is the site of a meteor, a crater that spans a thousand feet wide. The other is the tomb for Giang the Magician, the Monoliths' creator. Known for his near eccentric obsession with the stars, Giang frequently ventured to the Xianoo Plains with stargazing gear, constantly looking for what he claimed to be the Heavenly Planet. Such a planet is vaguely described in old Xianoo texts, but only as a folktale, a legend. However, until his dying breath, Giang believed the Heavenly Planet to be more than just a myth, and so created the Monoliths to carry out his work when he himself could no longer achieve his dream.
Until the week before the new year, the Monoliths remained buried in a ring around Giang's tomb. During this time the holes in their bodies create various patterns as the sun rises and sets.
Once eve falls on the week before the new year, the Monoliths rise from their slumber one by one. And it is during this time one can see Giang's determination to ascend to the Heavenly Planet.
The tallest current Monolith towers a staggering six hundred feet in the air. Each following Monolith is fifty feet shorter, for a total of a dozen. As the sky darkens, the Monoliths begin a slow fifty mile walk to the crater site, with only the starlight to guide them; as they walk in descending order, they almost look like the stairs of a Giant's castle.
On the dawn of the new year, when they have gathered in the center of the crater, the birth of a new Monolith begins. Still in their descending order, the light of the new sun shines through the holes of the Monoliths to the ground, illuminating the spot where a new member will rise from the ground, born from the fragments of the meteor that struck the Fantastic Lands two thousand years ago. This new member will become the new tallest Monolith, the next stepping stone to Giang's fabled world; once the new Monolith takes its place at the front of the line, the stone giants begin their walk back to the grave of their master, where they bury themselves once again until the next year.
In all my travels throughout this Fantastic World, the Note-People that live in the Eastern Plains of Darius stand out as the most unique and wondrous creatures.
Living music. Created two hundred years ago when a sorceress called Elianna sought to create enchanted musical instruments capable of producing the most beautiful sounds ever heard. Instead, she created the Note People. As the spell intended to make a symphony progressed, the ink and notes inscribed on the enchantment papers quite literally flew off the parchment and began to coalesce in a swirl of sound and symbols. They took on the shape of their creator, creating the first Note-Woman.
Elianna would grow old, but the Note-Woman continued to stay with her, forever playing music when her creator desired it. Elianna would create dozens more of its kind before she died at an age of a hundred and fifty-two years. The Note-People themselves would carry her body away into the plains they now inhabit; the sound that the harp reeds and grasses make while blowing in the wind greatly appeals to their kind.
The Note People today are just as, if not more, talented in magic and music. They delight in having visitors to entertain, oftentimes taking whoever comes across them by the hand and bringing them to its friends. It is rather odd to be touched by a Note-Man. The notes and lines that make up their bodies are nearly flat, working together to make a three dimensional form. Yet they feel cool, almost like thin delicate paper. They can shift their bodies into whatever form they please. I've even seen Note-People exchange and mix their music to produce sounds that they could not accomplish on their own.
Note-People have a special affinity for the Starlight Moths that provide lights to the Plains in the night. Being inky black themselves, Note-People will often try to capture the Starlight Moths within their bodies to make themselves visible for nightly performances. It was during such a performance that I was able to witness the Note-People for the first time on a warm summer evening. With the harp reeds and grass humming softly along with the music of the Note-People, it will be an experience I will never forget.
It was while visiting to the fishing ports of the South that I learned of the wondrous Ocean Sippers. The suntanned fishermen I spoke to had encountered them almost daily on their voyages, and had collected several objects of study. Among these were several sketches, pellets, and even an injured specimen that they had taken aboard.
At first glance, a Sipper looks to be some kind of large, iridescent bird, similar in appearance to a pigeon. On closer inspection, however, it becomes apparent that, in place of feathers, the creature is covered in a material with a blend of traits of feathers and scales. Like scales, pieces of the material have the texture of the scales of a fish, and are firmly connected to the body. However, the shape of the pieces are more similar to the feathers one would see in any other sea bird, and even resemble down in some places.
Sippers are capable of breathing in both air and freshwater, and spend most of their time as part of a flock in a large bubble of water which drifts high above the Iridescent Sea. This bubble follows the course of schools of small fish or prawns. At night, the Sippers dive from their bubble to the surface of the ocean, where they skim off and swallow a layer of prey and seawater before returning to their abode. The combination of seawater and food is then processed in their guts, until they regurgitate it as freshwater and a small pellet composed of salt and the remains of their prey. The water is added to their bubble to compensate for evaporation, while the pellet is tossed down toward the ocean below. Fishermen will often collect the pellets, either for their supply of iridescent salt or in order to sell them to tourists at the ports.
Among some of the most curious forms of life in the Fantastic Lands are the Polydanes. Polydanes can be found all throughout the world, though they are especially concentrated in the western cities, and in places populated by large groups of other races. In their true forms, Polydanes are roughly the same size and shape as a human, but they have a second set of arms and a blank, smoothed-over face. Their bodies appeared to be composed of various colors of clay in a marbled pattern.
Polydanes are able to stretch and mold and reshape their bodies at will, and can take on the properties of other materials, such as stone or flesh. On occasion, Polydanes will take the form of an inanimate object, though more often they emulate another race before mingling with other members of that race. At other times, Polydanes will take whimsical or nonsensical forms for their own or others amusement.
Polydanes are capable of reproduction in two ways; the first is through reproduction with another individual, Polydane or otherwise, and the second is through a single Polydane individual dividing into two distinct individuals. In addition, Polydanes' bodies do not age naturally, and damage from physical attacks against them is not lasting. In most cases, a species which can multiply without aging or being killed would overtake and crowd out their environment, but such is not the case for Polydanes. Though their bodies are long-lived and impervious, their spirits still age, and often pass on after a hundred or so years. Once their spirit is gone, the Polydane's body will revert to its natural, clay-like form and will begin to dry, dying completely once it is fully dry. If a sapient individual encounters the body before it is fully dry, they can will their consciousness into the empty husk, leaving their old form behind and beginning life anew as a Polydane.
There is still much debate over the nature of Quirbblers. Some profess that they are collections of very communal spirits. Others claim that they are merely a novel variation of Atomite.
Quirbblers are often found in the various woods on the Northern Cliffs. From a distance, they appear as shimmering patterns along the surface of trees. However, should a traveler pass by them, the Quirbbler will remove themselves from the tree and appear in front of the traveler as a swirling pillar of light. The Quirbbler will refuse to move out of the way until the traveler has beaten them in some challenge, usually in the form of a riddle or game of chance. Should the traveler win this challenge, the Quirbbler will allow them to travel on. Should the traveler fail, however, the Quirbbler will enter through the traveler's mouth and take command of the traveler. The Quirbbler-possessed individual will then make their way back to a village, town or city, where they will take part in feasts, festivals, and other merriment.
Individuals who are possessed by Quirbblers can be identified both by their eccentric and celebratory behavior, and by the swirls of light that can be seen in their eyes. Quirbblers may leave of their own accord after celebrating for several days, but they can also be coaxed out by placing meats, cheeses, tarts, and spiced wine just out of the reach of a possessed individual. Individuals who have been possessed by a Quirbbler are often no worse-for-the-wear, aside from exhaustion and embarrassing stories accumulated from their excessive partying.
Nearly forty years ago, one possessed individual led a large group of Quirbblers to the northern village of Oaken. It took a full two weeks for the dragons to get word of the news and sort out the affected citizenry. However glad the citizens were to have their wits back about them, they did miss the merriment that the Quirbblers had brought them. This, paired with the fact that the Quirbblers meant no ill-will and had only been searching for a place to escape the cold of the woods, led to the creation of a yearly holiday in Oaken and the surrounding villages, wherein the villages are open for a full week to the Quirbblers, so that they and the villagers may celebrate to their hearts' content.
Partially named for the distinct, deep bubbling they periodically make to sustain their levels of buoyancy, Ruyablorts are immense jellyfish-like creatures used by Merfolk throughout the Fantastic Lands in constructing their undersea homes.
Anywhere from one to five-hundred feet in diameter at the bell, Ruyablorts may look like jellyfish apart from the large, simple, almost horse-like head that matches the same transparency and jelly-like state as the rest of the body, but unlike jellyfish, their tentacles do not contain any poisons, and are actually more or less vestigial growths. Ruyablorts are primarily filter feeders, and are to some extent photosynthetic. The bell is an enormous air sac that keeps the Ruyablort suspended in the water; air is taken in and released through a circle of small tubes near the base of the bell. At night, they glow through a soft cycle of translucent turquoise, pink, and green.
Merfolk are well-known for their pickiness when it comes to decorations, always wanting to find a balance between structure and aesthetics. To complement the calming iridescence of the Ruyablort's back, the Merfolk take items such as discarded abalone shells, glass corals, and pearl sponges as building materials, constructing beautifully elegant towers. As they continue to build and live on the Ruyablorts' backs, the Ruyablorts get to eat any scraps that float off the Mercities.
Depending on the clan and location, Ruyablort cities can have anywhere from ten to over forty of the gentle giants floating together. With the right spells, land dwellers can journey with the Merfolk under the sea and enter an almost otherworldy realm of soft rainbow light as fish, whales, and Merfolk alike swim around and within the Ruyablort metropolis.
Years after the close brush with the Bumpkles, I would make three more ventures into the Blackrock Forest. However, on the fourth journey, I was in search of one creature in particular, the fabled beings known as Sun Stealers. Said to be tall as the trees themselves, and black and cold as a starless night, heavens know why I would actually want to intentionally go looking for them. The Dragons once again sent help with me, this time with a young sapphire dragonling named Tyr'ia, and a wise Steelback named Jaar'nadi. Before leaving, Gaaren ran up to us with a last-minute gift as well: a potion that would turn us as dark as the Blackrock Forest, so that the creatures hiding within could not spy on us as we invaded their home. Gaaren himself would not dare accompany us again; I do not think any less of him for doing so.
The trip to the Blackrock Forest felt different this time, colder, like the creatures expected our return, and were gleefully waiting to strike as soon as we stepped foot into their lair. I suspected it was just nerves, though as we passed through the Rugged Line, I could not help but begin to have second thoughts about coming back. As the first Blackrock shrubs came into view, and the new moon cast darkness onto the ground, Tyr'ia, Jaar'nadi, and I took out Gaaren's gift and each took a drink from the bottle.
It was like having a barrel of water from the glaciers of the Ridge forced down your throat. But when the chills passed, we could tell Gaaren's work had been done. We were all still able to see one another, but each of us looked like a reflection in slowly rippling water, a camouflage to shield us from whatever lurked in the trees. We steadied our minds and once again went into the Ashen Trail.
Sun Stealers were said to live deep within the Blackrock Trees, where the air itself feels like floating pitch, and slightest sound echoes like the cracking of a thousand bones. We journeyed for what I think was two days. All the while, the Ashen Trail grew less and less pronounced, and the darkness became overwhelming. More than once Jaar'nadi suggested we concede and turn back, but I was stubborn, and Tyr'ia was eager for adventure. We pushed on.
On the fifth day, Jaar'nadi spotted something. A patch of darkness even more ominous than the surrounding black, a darkness that rippled and seemed to ripple and churn. I knew at once we had found a Sun Stealer grove. It was well off the Ashen Trail, though we knew that we must step off the path. Tyr'ia was the first to go forward. I am slightly ashamed to say I was the third.
The chill grew frigid as we came closer, the silence all-consuming, but still we pressed on. After moving a mere twenty paces we were soaked with sweat, near collapse. But we made it, and we waited to gaze upon a Sun Stealer with a mix of terror and excitement.
None came. We waited for hours, and the creatures never appeared. It was maddening. Time slipped away. On the third day, Jaar'nadi finally told us to go back, and with hearts heavy, provisions low, and minds fogging, we relented.
And as we neared the clearing back into the Rugged Paths, the Sun Stealers appeared.
The old scriptures were true. Tall as the trees, like a shroud woven from a black sky. A smooth white depression for a face, two black, expressionless eyes that looked on us like a child about to curiously crush an insect. An ebony crown that floated above their heads, with long, slender points. And above the crown, an orb that looked like a star, an orb that made me realize why the Sun Stealers were so aptly named.
The crown seemed to suck the light from the circle, the glow changing from white to grey to black as it reached the crown's base. But it didn't end with the stars within their crowns. What little light that snuck through the trees was dragged to them as well, the black leaves withering as they lost what little sun they could live from, the creatures living within them fleeing or falling dead at the creature's feet.
Tyr'ia died. The Sun Stealers enveloped her in their cloaks and when they moved away, she was nothing more than a weathered skin. They parted, as if telling Jaar'nadi and I to leave, as if we had paid the price for their mercy with one life. We stumbled away, and when I looked back they were gone. The Ashen Trail was overrun with new Blackrock Plants, as if it had never existed. That was my fourth and final visit to the Forest; without the Ashen Trail, the dragons themselves have refused to go back.
Trimbleweiss are among the most numerous creatures in all of Fantasy, and with good reason, as they are able to thrive in nearly any environment where there is food. Outwardly, Trimbleweiss begin their life with an appearance similar to that of a mouse, though without a noticeable tail and much more rotund. They have white coats of fur and ruby eyes.
As a Trimbleweiss carries on through its life, its development is shaped by the food it eats. The type of food that the Trimbleweiss eats will cause changes in its size, shape, coat, and even occasionally the limbs it possesses. Just as the type of food that the Trimbleweiss eats affects its outward appearance, the quality of the food it eats changes its disposition. High-quality food causes the Trimbleweiss to become tame and domestic, while garbage causes it to become vicious and dangerous. For this reason, families will often forego eating the choice portions of their meal in order to appease and train the Trimbleweiss which may be living in their house.
While paying a visit to the Count of Fleurant, I was treated by my host to a pair of curiosities. The Count was in possession of two very unique specimens of Trimbleweiss; one which had only ever been fed on gold, and a second which had only ever been fed on rose petals. The first had grown in size an appreciable amount, had a sleek coat of golden coloration, and was much thinner in the front than in the back, giving it a kind of egg shape. The second did not seem to have grown much; if anything, it had shrunk. However, its coat had been replaced by layers of brilliant red feathers, and it had a thick tail, similar to a dragon's. Later that night, the count and I feasted on what I was informed was a Trimbleweiss which had been raised on a diet of beef, pork, and veal. I found the meat quite to my liking.
The Uünsen is one of the most elusive creatures in all of Fantasy. I fear that I have little to report on it as, in spite of all the evidence of its existence, no man, dragon, elf or dwarf has made a clear observation of it. There is even still doubt as to whether the Uünsen is a single beast or an entire species. These unknown elements only add to its intrigue, which is why I have included it in this collection.
The Uünsen moves at an extremely rapid pace, which is the main reason it has been able to evade observation or capture for all these years. It also seems to know instinctively where its hunters are looking, constantly moving out of sight or hiding behind secluded cover. It never seems to leave behind any hair or scent, only its footprints.
The trail of prints that the Uünsen leaves are highly unusual, and are the only aspect of the creature's existence which can be readily observed. The prints are composed of a single large circle, about the size of a deer's hoof, with two smaller circles on the sides of it, and another two circles behind it. Once made, a large jet of steam will rise out of each print, mixing in with the morning mists that are present when the Uünsen is most active. Interestingly, the arrangements of the prints may change over time, and have indicated at different times that the Uünsen has anywhere between one and twelve legs.
The Vinthrill are a group of creatures that inhabit the Jagged Valley about three-quarters of the way along the trail to the Blackrock Forest. Also known as the Winged Bumpkle, the Vinthrill does indeed resemble the towering monopedes in the Blackrock Forest with its round, hairy head and mouth full of needle-like teeth, but they are in fact entirely different species.
Vinthrill do not possess feet, instead of using their large, clawed bat-like wings for both flying and climbing through the cliffs of the Jagged Valley. As it glides, a long tail lined evenly with three to six balls of fur similar to its head trails behind, producing a soft whistling sound as the wind passes through the hairs.
Though Vinthrill are not above devouring travelers or other animals unfortunate enough to cross them, they are actually predominantly fruit eaters, specifically, they eat the fruit of the maroon trees that are strong enough to grow on the sides of the cliff faces. The fruit of these trees looks exactly like the head of the Vinthrill, round, and covered in fibers, and so residents of the Fantastic Lands have taken to calling it Vinthrill Fruit.
While not particularly tasty to most in the Fantastic Lands, to the Vinthrill, these fruits play an invaluable role in their reproduction. A female Vinthrill will swoop and snatch a number of fruits off a tree while pregnant, and puncture a single hole in the fruit's hard outer shell. From there, it regurgitates an infant Vinthrill no bigger than the tip of a finger into the soft innards of the fruit before flying off. The fruit both serves as protection and food for the juvenile Vinthrill until it is strong enough to break free.
Up until recently, people thought the similar look between the Vinthrill and Vinthrill fruits were just a coincidence, though it now seems the fruits play a larger role in developing Vinthrills than previously thought. While exploring the Jagged Valley, the adventurer Galbion was attacked by a pregnant Vintrhill, and only escaped by throwing his pack of Guya Melons behind him, which the Vinthrill immediately took and deposited eggs inside of before flying off. Galbion, intrigued as to why the Vinthrill birthed its young in a non-native fruit, stuck close to the guya melons until the Vinthrill hatched. To his — and many other zoologists when he brought the Vinthrill back — shock, the creature sported the same bright pink and green coloration as the guya Melons, along with tough spikes lining their bodies instead of the usual hairs. After this discovery, a brief boom in experimental Vinthrill breeding occurred, with successful births in fruits such as the coconut, pumpkin, and daradara cones. However, people soon realized that these Vinthrill suffered from terrible sicknesses as they matured, and died painfully shortly after. Nowadays, to prevent the exploitation of exotic hybrids, as well as fear of damaging the natural breeding process, experimental breeding of Vinthrills is illegal, and there are severe penalties inflicted on anyone who tries to entice a Vinthrill to birth young in anything other than the Vinthrill Fruit.
Watchers of the Waning Moon
Once in a while, I will come across a creature that I feel I will never truly be able to understand. The Watchers of the Waning Moon are such a group, shrouded in mystery, and practitioners in a strange and surreal act that even the Dragons cannot explain.
Watchers live in the brush of the Eastern Plains, only appearing at night. They have the head and front body of a white stag, with thin, fine antlers adorned with Moon Lily buds. Some say the antlers are not horns at all, but actual Moon Lily plants that have sprouted and rooted to their heads. However, due to the Watcher's cautious nature, no one has been able to prove one theory or the other. The back end of the animal is the tail of a serpent, long, smooth-scaled, and pearly. The tip of the tail ends in a single large Moon Lily, which, like the flowers on the Watcher's antlers, will remain a bud until the moment of the Watcher's death.
These creatures are intensely shy, fleeing and vanishing in a cloud of mist should someone spot them. The only time they show themselves is during the time of the waning crescent of the First Moon, during which dozens of Watchers will gather at the Plains' thicket and undertake a ritual unlike any other.
When the waning crescent of the First Moon is highest in the sky, one Watcher from those present will step forward and begin to climb and snake their way up the trees until it rests on the top of the leaves. Those below begin to rock and circle in rhythm, their movement along the ground creating strange and perplexing patterns; all the while, they hum in a low, bass-like chorus. As the patterns increase in number, the Moon Lilies on the tail and antlers of the Watcher atop the trees will begin to open.
Once the Lilies are fully bloomed, the Watcher will let out a long, drawn-out cry before pushing off and jumping high into the air. The Lilies will begin to release wisps of pollen, and the Watcher will inexplicably continue to rise like a flying snake for hundreds of feet, continuing to ascend towards the Moon. However, as soon as the Lilies' pollen is spent, the Watcher will cease to rise, and plummet to the ground. Upon impact, the broken body of the animal will dissolve into a mist which rises and dissipates into the night sky. All other Watchers will appear to sigh and fade, clouding the thicket with the same mist until they all disappear; afterwards, the only evidence of them ever being present are the strange patterns they drew upon the ground.
When I asked the Librarian Dragons Pari'iin and Lu'thanna about the Watchers' strange practice, they told me they could only guess. There are several scripts that provide a theory to the Watcher's behavior. Some say that the Watchers believe the waning crescent is one of their own, an individual that has attained transcendence in the heavens, and that the creatures on this earth are attempting to join it. Indeed, the crescent resembles an arching snake. Other scripts believe the opposite, that the creatures see the Moon as a Watcher trapped in the sky, and that in jumping, they are attempting to grab it and bring it back down. Either way, it is a fascinating, but thoroughly enigmatic insight into the Watcher of the Waning Moon. Whatever the reason, they show no signs of stopping their "ceremony". I wonder if they will ever realize that the Moon cannot be caught.
The Vuulin Dwarves that live within the Steam Caverns just miles from the Ridge are known for their unmatched talent in metal-working and gem-cutting. Indeed, the geothermal caves which they have made their home in are abundant with rare metals and gemstones, and accounts for nearly forty percent of all jewelry traded through the Fantastic Lands; any piece made by the Vuulin is a fine treasure to possess.
During their mining in the Steam Caverns, the Vuulin began to notice that carts of gems would return to the surface with fewer stones than originally loaded. Though at first confused, they quickly found a creature mixed in with their gems that was indistinguishable from the stones except when it was feeding: the Xargaarths.
Xargaarths start their lives looking similar to stones such as geodes or agates, with their outer skin covered in a sturdy shell that looks exactly like rock; within this shell is a mish-mash of tissue and organs. Xargaarths can spout small red tentacles for locomotion; as they move, a row of microscopic teeth scrape minerals and organic matter from the steam Cavern's floors and walls.
As they grow older, Xargaarths begin to abandon feeding on organic matter, and turn solely to stones for "food"; much to the Vuulin's dismay, gemstones were the Xargaarth's favored treat. After ingesting the crystals, Xargaarths incorporate them into their outer shell, where they grow along with the rest of the creature as if they were a part of the body itself. The older a Xargaarth grows, the deeper it tunnels into the earth to find more bountiful feasts of jewels. Eventually, they resemble giant slug-like creatures covered in countless crystal growths; dozens of small stubby legs carry the Xargaarth's body as it skitters along the ground.
Although at first considered a destructive pest to the gem trade, the Vuulin have since been domesticating Xargaarths as both a pet and a business helper. As it turns out, Xargaarths shed crystals that grow too large; these discarded gems are collected and sold as they are, or further cut into an array of jewelry. Different Xargaarths have different preferences for what jewels they ingest, so the Vuulin are sure to keep scouting for further varieties of Xargaarth "subspecies". During my last visit, I saw magnificent specimens of ruby, opal, and even diamond Xargaarths in Vuulin care. The good dwarf Laire gave me a beautiful fire opal that had fallen off one of the creatures, which I now carry in my travel bag wherever I go.
The Yanyaar and the Yanyiirus
There is a forested ring of islands east of the Fantastic Lands that has been left largely uncharted due to a species even the Dragons shudder to hear mentioned: the Yanyaar.
The Yanyaar spread cold and lifelessness wherever they walk, blanching everything around them as they continuously sap vitality. Anything living or inanimate that comes too close to the Yanyaar will collapse grayed and cold in a matter of seconds. Such behavior has caused the trees, the earth, and even the surrounding sea of their home to turn grey as dust, and so the Yanyaar's home is aptly known as the Monochrome Islands.
Physically, the Yanyaar are tall and lean like the Elves, though they do not wear garments, and lack any parts to identify gender, if they so have them. Their skin is the same grey as everything they touch, and their hands and feet both have long, nail-less digits that constantly grip and ungrip with a chilling fluidity. However, the most distinctive, and chilling aspect of the Yanyaar are their faces.
A bulbous, smooth head far too large for a body of their thinness, with squinted grey eyes that appear disturbingly human. While normally featureless apart from the eyes, the Yanyaar's head will split vertically into thirds to reveal two separate jaws with even, needle-like teeth. During this time, one can see that the Yanyaar's "eyes" are more akin to a tongue, a sensory organ attached to a fleshy stalk that runs all the way down its throat; it is believed the Yanyaar are blind, and rely on these "eyes" to smell their surroundings, like a serpent tasting the air.
The first Yanyaar ever seen washed ashore on the beaches of the Fantastic Lands sixty years ago, and it was from this corpse's autopsy that most of the information about this species was obtained. It was easy to see where it had come from; even in death, the Yanyaar's corpse left a trail of gray in the ocean waves, though said trail was lost after the Dragons pursued it for dozens of miles offshore. It would take another twenty years to find the Monochrome Islands, yet only six months for the Dragon Council to declare the area off-limits to all.
Most of the Fantastic Land's inhabitants simply believed the Yanyaar were too dangerous to go near, and left it at that. I, however, know the deeper meaning behind the Monochrome Island being sealed from the world. In a different time, I would have probably been imprisoned, maybe even banished from the Fantastic Lands. However, now that my home is all but abandoned, I leave this information to whomever may stumble upon it.
The Yanyaar corpse we recovered was mutilated, with huge circular punctures throughout the body. Strangely, the wound had no exposed flesh; instead, a black, empty void filled the gap. When the poor Dragon doctor Haridus tried to examine the wounds, the void turned his flesh to pure black; he looked like a living shadow in his final moments. Then, with a cry, Haridus faded out of existence. When the Dragons finally discovered the Monochrome Islands, they found their explanation to the darkness seen on the first Yanyaar's body. Beneath dark waters of the Yanyaar's home lays the Yanyiirus, an even more terrifying creature than the beings above.
From what the Dragons observed, the Yanyiirus appears to be worshiped as a god by the Yanyaar; the Yanyaar will cast themselves off the sheer cliffs of the island to the sea below, where shadowy tentacles rise in the thousands to spear the bodies and drag them below. It is unknown how large the Yanyiirus is, though its limbs alone are long enough to effortlessly scale the two thousand-foot cliffs of the Yanyaar's home and then some. The touch of the Yanyiirus appears to have the same graying effect as the Yanyaar's touch, but on a much more powerful scale, capable of turning things to blackness, and then, nothing; as seen with Haridus, the touch of a Yanyiirus persists long after initial contact. This similarity has driven me to make a hypothesis about the beings' relationship: perhaps the Yanyiirus gave the Yanyaar with some of its power years and years ago in return for their servitude? The dozens of islands surrounding the Yanyaar's home show signs of ancient ruins; could the Yanyaar have conquered these neighboring lands and brought them to their "master"? It seems like a plausible explanation, though, since there has been no life other than the Yanyaar, the Yanyiirus has since resorted to devouring its servants; the once much beneficial relationship has become grimly one-sided.
In a fitting, yet bitter sense, the Ziira'lasps will be the last entry in this storybook, as they were the last creatures of the Fantastic Lands at the end of the War, and the first to die out in the New Beginning.
Although their bodies resembled that of a swan, their skin was more attune to that of the Pearl-Crested Dolphins that once swam in the Iridescent Seas to the south. Their eyes were of the deepest blue, their "wings" forever softly shining like fluid ivory, their mouths a smooth, toothless bill that curved ever slightly so upward. They were capable of taking a human form as well, resembling angels and awing all those they passed.
As beautiful as they were intelligent, the Ziira'lasp were a vain and conceited race of creatures, who forever squabbled with the Dragons over whose wisdom and looks were superior, and so, were disliked by a great number of the Fantastic Land's inhabitants, for whom the Dragons were born leaders and advisers. As a result, the Ziira'lasp secluded themselves from all other beings for nearly a milennia, constructing a citadel of their own to live apart from those they deemed inferior. They ignored all pleas for help in times of calamity, and rejected all offerings of friendship.
It was not until the third awakening of the Lightning-Struck Titan that the Ziira'lasp were seen again. Vamaroff's Storm returned with terrifying ferocity, and the Titan rose with its strength multiplied tenfold. Half of the Magician's Council perished in the ensuing fight with the beast, along with nearly a hundred Dragons, a thousand Birds, and a thousand more Spirits. And still, the Ziira'lasp refused to act.
And so, the Maker himself came to the Ziira'lasp, his face dark with fury, his eyes normally full of compassion brimming with icy rage. He spurned their race, accused them of being petty cowards who watched as their world burned around them. For their vanity, he cursed their citadel, enchanted it so that no Ziira'lasp could ever set foot in it again, then covered it in the ashes of those killed by the Titan as a reminder of the suffering the Ziira'lasp could have helped prevent.
Overcome with despair of what they had lost, and what they could have had, the Ziira'lasp vowed to never turn their backs on the rest of the Fantastic Lands again, and charged into the center of the Titan's path. Side by side with the Dragons they once despised, and the Master they adored, the Ziira'lasp beat back the beast to its mountain once again. The Titan fell back into its slumber, but the grief and devastation brought about lingered for decades to come.
The Ziira'lasp worked with renewed fervor in rebuilding to make up for all the time they had shut themselves away. They became the chief architects of the Fantastics Lands, and filled this world with their incredible and intricate handicraft. This lasted for another thousand years, and life prospered.
And then less then three decades ago, the Great War began, and all the Ziira'lasp had or ever would create was destroyed in the calamity that followed. Once again, the Maker, came, but this time, his eyes held only grief as he was forced to smite those who had fanned the flames of destruction. The Ziira'lasp desperately tried to bring back peace, but to no avail, and so they fell into despair. When the last buildings finally crumbled, the Ziira'lasp had turned black from the ash and smoke, their blue eyes turned bloody red from grief. As the surviving others filed out of the Fantastic Lands, the Ziira'lasp stayed behind silent as the stones of their cities. And within these ruins they remain, turned to stone as the suns set for the final time and the world turned cold.