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.