Thorn-Elk Riders of Lesser Oq
Entry 494, chapter titled, "On why Lesser Oq is larger than Greater Oq, and on our encounter with the Thorn-Elk Riders." wherein we learn to fear impalement while studying an incredible animal, and how no traces of Mhug-Atla'r presented themselves in these parts to Barbo.
Lesser Oq, that great expanse of forest and tundra, which lies just south of Greater Oq, the endless wasteland of ice, held many curiosities we longed to investigate, among others, were the Thorn-Elk Riders, a strange tribe which had managed to tame and even breed a truly dreadful creature.
We were not disappointed. Barbo smelled them miles before their approach, and we both marveled at their primeval appearance, as they neared. The elks were huge, ashen gray and speckled black, with twisted and towering crowns of antlers. Their unique features were two-fold we soon learned. Firstly, they were covered head to hoof with bony, sharpened spikes, or thorns, which erupted from their stinking, saggy hides. Their backs, upon which their riders sat in saddles, were the only area of their bodies not sprouting vicious, wicked spikes and razor-sharp protrusions, some only inches long, some extending several feet from their bodies, like horns, oily to the touch. Their loose leathery skin seemed to grow around these many thorns, hinting to me at least, that these creatures were natural and not arcane in origin. The points of all these spikes and thorns were wickedly sharp.
Secondly, the Thorn-Elks possessed carnivorous teeth, which were sharp as fangs. This proved disconcerting. Not even dear Barbo, so fond of random, spirited skirmishes, wanted any part of facing one of these elks in battle. No doubt that even the fiercest of cave-bears or snow lions, avoided these demonic ungulates. Attacking one physically would in fact prove suicidal, and any predator with a sense of self-preservation, would not come close. The creature could spear you with its mighty antlers, impale you upon its many spines, and sink its wolf-like jaws into your flesh. Quite the trifecta.
This begged my next question, as to the natural enemies of the elks. The Riders laughed and told us that the thorn-elks had no natural enemies, for all creatures feared them. When I asked as to the Thorn-Elk's diet, the Riders laughed even harder, but did not answer the question. Barbo then asked slyly, why the Riders had not yet taken over the world with such dreadful mounts as these, and they took his question literally and seriously, explaining the breeding cycles of the elks, which basically boiled down to only one or two elks being born every so many years, even with the Riders' skills at husbandry. The Thorn-Elk (thankfully!) were not prolific beasts.
The riders themselves proved to be a rather aloof if ordinary folk, subsisting on the tundra's few blessings, hunting the terrain astride their fearsome and gruesome elks.
I learned, while questioning the folk over bronze cups of butter tea, inside one of their magnificent yurts, that drinking the boiled urine of a thorn-elk bestowed upon the drinker extraordinary powers of sexual prowess and eternal erections. Having heard this same song in a hundred other lands, I was dubious. Barbo snorted, insisting he didn't need to drink "porcupine-deer piss" to slow him down. Harsh words were exchanged, and only barely did I manage to extend our stay, and keep our heads, with quick and loose diplomacy.
The next day Barbo asked our hosts if he could ride one of the Thorn-Elks, and was refused. With that, we left the Riders of Lesser Oq behind.
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Though in our travels we often find that creatures rarely turn out as impressive as they sound through talk and tales, the Thorn-Elks left upon us a lasting impression. Truly incredible beasts, though for all appearances, demonic entities from some nether realm of iniquity.
Golden Toad of Pagh-Ti Temple
Entry 614, chapter titled "Across the Sea in exotic Wu-Saban" wherein we learn of queer local customs, visit a temple, meet a peculiar toad, and where Barbo thinks he has finally caught up to the Mhug-Atla'r, only to realize that it has eluded him still.
We had to reach Wu-Saban by ship, and so Barbo spent the voyage hacking his bile into the sea. The dwarf was not fond of water travel.
Once disembarked, our first stop along Wu-Saban's Onyx Road was the quaint town of Pagh-Ti. Here we were warmly greeted by the local populace and offered the finest of hospitalities.
On the second day, we were taken to their temple and shown a huge golden toad, which proceeded to ignore us.
Barbo looked unimpressed and even I was unsure of what to say, but then the priest informed us that the toad vomitted gold. Needless to say I was dubious, Barbo just laughed, but the high priest petted the golden amphibian, scratching its head as if it was some loyal dog, and lo and behold, the toad opened its maw and spat out gold chunks!
I know what you may be thinking happened next. Barbo took his trusty axe to the necks of the locals, while I grabbed the grotesque, little yellow miracle, and together we high-tailed it out of Pagh-Ti, dreaming of riches...
No, we did no such thing. Instead I inquired as to this weird creature's nature. The priest spoke riddles back to me, mentioning something called the Sea of Dirt, bait in the form of gold coins on a string, a mighty general of ages past, and other esoterica I could barely follow.
Then Barbo, bless his bluntness, asked the high priest why no one as of yet, had stolen this fantastic gold-making frog from the temple and the people of Pagh-Ti. And why, he further inquired, were not the Pagh-Ti people, the richest in all the lands?
The high priest demurred, but later an inn-keeper explained this weird creature to us further. Apparently the golden toad inside the temple was a fake, its gifts of gold a parlor trick, and the real Golden Toad, he insisted, resided safely and secure, hidden from all, in some cave nearby, and only used sparingly by the villagers whenever gold was actually needed. Not too much gold at any one time mind you, but just enough. He winked. The people of Pagh-Ti had no intention of attracting the attention of the Wu-Saban Imperium and its avaricious eunuchs, with their gold-gifting miracle toad.
This still made little sense to me.
Barbo meanwhile, kept asking everyone he encountered, as to where he might be able to find the real Golden Toad. Just to have a look, and maybe a quick pet.
This tale becomes more political and philosophical rather than biological and ecological if I continued it, so I will stop writing of this mysterious beast instead.
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Barbo and I left Pagh-Ti none the wiser, and still confused. A toad made of gold, which ate gold, and regurgitated gold back twice-fold. Or so we were told. I hesitated in adding this entry to my journal. On the other hand, the people of Pagh-Ti all looked quite happy, and were constantly smiling. Who knows.
Interesting. I hate using that word but there you have it. So these are iron spikes on long thin chains? Or more "meteor hammers" or "death-birds" of Chinese inspiration? We learn nothing of the weapons really.
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I enjoyed the tale however! Quite grr martin-ish, particularly with some of the phrasing and pace. The weapon itself seems secondary to the story. But as you said, to be continued, so I'll wait...
Nice! This really has the feel of an old-fashioned undead "monster" (and I mean that as a positive) and yet the "old man" thing is an original nuance. I take it you were inspired by some muttering curmudgeon you encountered in your travels? :)
Seamlessly fits into an "army" of various undead, sent against PCs, the white-haired, gray-skinned floating spectral head is a great visual.
Finally, knowing that the head was recently someone's grandpa is a macabre touch. "Noooo! Gramps!!"
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What exactly does "ghost-flame" do?