A day ago I and the small party of Yokaran merchants that I was travelling with, stumbled across a famished and trussed up party of Fon tribesmen in the wilderness of the jungle. So hungry and exhausted were they that they had appeared close to death.
After they had revived themselves on the food and water that we provided, we questioned the hunters as to how they had winded up in such a dire predicament. Their answer was most intriguing. Their leader told my Yokaran companions that they had been in pursuit of a great beast by the name of the Gragami with the hope of slaying the creature and thereby obtaining its skull.
Unfortunately for their enterprise, they’d had the bad fortune to encounter a party of Keepers, the notorious smugglers that specialise in sneaking exotic but potentially dangerous beasts into the land of Haracon.
Enraged that the tribesmen had trespassed into a domain that these thugs claimed for themselves, the Keepers promptly had the unfortunate wretches robbed of all their provisions and then tied their victims to the trunks of massive trees.
The Fon hunters would probably have perished had it not been for out timely arrival. After we had given them enough food to last them for a week, they set off on their quest once again. As their chief briefly explained to me prior to his departure, his tribe had become so unhappy with the presence of Keepers operating in their traditional domain that it had resolved to launch an uprising to drive them back to the walls of Zibaba. Before this dramatic plan could be launched however, it was vital that they obtain the skull of adult Gragami.
Thus was my interest in the Gragami first aroused. In order to learn more about this mysterious beast that the hunters had been pursuing, I made a second uncomfortable trip into the jungle surrounding the city of Zibaba, in order to spend some time among the Fon people and learn their tribal lore.
According to the local mythology that has developed around this creature, the Gragami are colossal creatures. As tall as a small forest elephant and about as heavy, it is covered with small, dark green scales that allow it to blend in with the surrounding foliage. As the Fons describe it resembles nothing so much as a giant lizard walking up right.
Standing at an imposing height of about fifteen feet its massive body is supported by two hinged back legs that lean forward. Both its back legs end in widely splayed five toed feet that are equipped with claws that allow the Gragami to get a good grip on the muddy soil of the jungle. A massive, scaly tail also allows them to balance their heavily muscled bodies and enables them to be forever low slung and pointing forwards much like a crocodile’s. They also possess a pair of fore-arms that are large and hinge downwards.
These fore- arms are equipped with three thick and grasping appendages that sport viciously hooked claws that would almost scrape the rain forest floor if the creature were to extend its arms completely. Perhaps the beast’s most distinguishing characteristic is its head. Large and rounded, it resembles the head of a massive lizard and is crammed with huge serrated teeth, each of which is easily as long as a dagger’s blade. Positioned on either side of its massive head are two tiny slits that house baleful red eyes.
Male Gragami reputedly have a large conical horn protruding from the dome of their skull. The larger the horn, the more sexually attractive it is to the females that dwell in adjoining territories. For a creature that no one has seen for the past few decades, the Gragami certainly has a fairly detailed and consistent appearance. As I gathered from questioning certain tribal elders the knowledge of the beast and its appearance dates from ancient oral legends that invariably involve the mythical founder of the tribe tracking down one of these massive beasts and then slaying it.
As a result, vivid descriptions of the creatures and its habits are often prevalent, as are dramatic accounts of their slayings. However, what I truly found inexplicable was the existence of mysterious stone stele in clearings that the tribal elders deemed scared and taboo. As such, they are forbidden to outsiders such as me and thus I could not see one for myself. Fortunately, I was told by an elder that these stele bear carvings of an animal that closely resembles the Gragami.
He added that these stele had been created eons ago by the founding ancestor of each tribe to commemorate the slaying of the great beast. This has piqued my interest greatly and should I ever get the opportunity I will someday see one of these stele for myself to try and determine a possible origin for these mysterious monuments.
In keeping with their fearsome appearance, the Gragami are predatory beasts, relying on their vicious claws and teeth to take down large prey. Fond of feasting on rhinos and and elephant calves, the creature lurks amidst the verdant foliage, patiently bidding its time until its unsuspecting prey ambles towards the spot where it is hidden.
Once its prey comes within sight, the Gragami springs out of its concealed spot with terrifying speed as its powerful back legs launch its massive body forwards. A swift strike from its lethal tail follows which quickly fells the stunned prey to its knees. Once the hapless animal is down, the Gragami quickly proceeds to shred open it’s victims stomach and begins to feast on the wretched creature’s intestines while it is still alive. Often, when wandering hunters discover the corpse of a rhino or elephant calve that has had its innards devoured, they will attribute its death to a hungry Gragami. Fon hunters often readily give a wide berth to such alleged Gragami kills, for the monster is reputed to return to its kill repeatedly until nothing is left but bare bones.
The Gragami is not a particularly social creature. According to the Fon, it is notorious for its bad temper and prefers to keep itself within the confines of its own territory which can stretch for a goid five miles in all directions. There are times when the Gragami’s loud frustrated roar can be reportedly heard reverberating across the jungle after the creature has bungled a hunt and accidentally allowed prey to escape from its clutches.
Hence, given their foul temperament, it is little wonder that they shun each other’s company. Should one Gragami ever encounter another while patrolling the boundaries of its domain, a series of angry roars ensures as each creature seeks to drive the other away. Usually, the weaker animal will submit, slowly backing away even as it snarls furiously at its victorious rival. However, there are times when actual confrontations do occur when both animals are evenly matched and neither is willing to submit. For hours, both contenders will slam into each other and savagely seek to clamp their jaws over their opponent’s throat. These fights sometimes end in the death of the looser which is then eaten upon by its successful rival. Especially prone to initiating such fatal struggles are female Gragami that have hatchlings to protect. Any male Gragami that strays too close to the mound of rotting foliage where hatchlings dwell, are savagely attacked, as are any other potential predators that make the same mistake.
This aggressive response on the females part is well warranted since the male Gragami will try killing a female’s hatchling in order to get her to mate with him. As far as animals of the scaly kind go, female Gragamis area fairly nurturing mothers. For the first three years after their eggs hatch, female Gragami will carefully feed them on their own regurgitated meals and guard them until the hatchlings become old enough to fend for themselves.
However, hatchings with any visible defects are immediately eaten by their mother. After three years have passed,the hatchlings rapidly leave the nest, fearful of becoming a meal for their mother now that her maternal instincts are waning. For the next few months, these juveniles will wander the jungle, relying on their instincts to hunt medium sized prey such as deer, while being careful to avoid adults of their own species. Once they have reached physical maturity at the age of ten, they will seek to attack and kill a resident Gragmi in order to claim its domain for themselves. Male Gragami though not usually as dangerous as females, are also vulnerable to fits of rage. During the wet season, when the monsoon rains fall heavily, male Gragami seek out mates.
Releasing a powerful, musky scent into the air via their anal glands, they advertise their readiness to mate and hope to draw a willing female. Unfortunately, the line between an amorous mood and a murderous one is a rather fine and unpredictable one as far as the male Gragami is concerned. Overwhelmed by his urge to reproduce, he goes into musth much like a bull elephant. Hence, he is apt to go on a violent rampage, destroying anything in his path.
Any other male that seeks to challenge his right to approach a willing female is savagely attacked, as is any ill fated creature that simply happens to be in the immediate vicinity when his sexual frustration reaches a peak. Herds of gaur or antelopes that have been ripped to bloody shreds but astonishingly left uneaten are often regarded as the victims of a male Gragami’s musth fuelled rage. Only when he encounters a female, does the male Gragami’s violent spree end.
Instantly, he becomes clam and docile, swaying gently from side to side and lowering his terrible head in order to indicate that his intention is to mate rather than attack. He will also whine softly in order to present a less intimidating appearance. However, should she prove to be a mother guarding her nest of hatchlings, he will immediately seek to kill them, even if it means risking death at the jaws of the enraged female. So notorious is the male Gragami’s violent sexual desire, that especially lustful and homicidal warriors among the Fon are often pejoratively described as ‘‘little Gragamis’‘.
The Gragami in myth and legend
Despite their murderous tendencies, the Gragami are kept in check by an ancient curse. The elders I spoke to told me a certain myth. This is how it goes. In the beginning of creation when the gods of the Fon had just made the world, mankind did not exist as of yet. During this primordial era, the world was tormented by the Gragami.
By virtue of their power and size, they had come to dominate the world. So terrible was their ferocity and hunger that they would devour all in their path without hesitation or mercy. Even the mighty trees were not spared their ravages as the Gragmai would claw off the bark of their trunks, causing these forest giants great agony.
A time finally came when the animals of the land found themselves fearing for their very existence as the Gragami became ever more ravenous. Afraid for their very existence, they flocked to the abode of the great hermit, Suganal, a powerful half-man and half-lion entity, begging him to save them from the ruthless hunger of the Gragami. Moved by their tearful appeal, he summoned the Gragami to appear before him and commanded them to cease their gluttony. However, instead of heeding these wise words, the Gragami mocked Suganal and spat in his face.
Incensed by this terrible insult, Suganal decreed that henceforth they would no longer be able to communicate with all other living thing. It is for this reason that Gagmai are the only beings whose spirits are truly closed to the powers of the Fon shamans. A Fon shaman can speak to almost all animals and even plants, but the Gragami alone are an exception. Never will they be able to comprehend a shaman if he attempts to speak to them. Their ancient arrogance has forever rendered them mute except among themselves.
But back then, the Gragami cared not for that loss. Arrogant and confident in their own power, they considered other living things beneath them and consequently had no wish to speak to them. Hence, their appetite remained as insatiable as ever. So insatiable indeed that one of them slew and devoured the son of Sugunal. Upon learning of his son’s demise, the great hermit ripped off his fangs and hurled them into the far reaches of the heavens. As they fell back once again to the surface of the earth, each of Suganal’s teeth developed into massive rocks that plummeted into the surface of the world with great violence. Immediately, massive fires sprung from the smouldering boulders and unleashed a thick, suffocating smog that choked the world, causing all manner of life to perish.
Terrified by this massive cataclysm that had befallen their home, the spirits of plants and animals alike sought refuge in the great home of Sugaunl and were granted it. For centuries, they lived within the secure confines of the celestial mansion that the great hermit had erected.
Only the callous Gragami were denied sanctuary when they begged it of Suganal. Consequently, untold numbers of them succumbed to the noxious black fumes and died most horribly.
Fortunately for the future of their kind, a few of them found safety within the subterranean bowels of a great mountain and hid themselves there, hoping desperately for the day when the terrible smog would finally cease.
At last, after five centuries, Suganal’s fury dimmed finally last and he cleared the destructive smog away, allowing the plant and animal spirits to leave the walls of his residence and populate the world once more. Now that the worst seemed over the surviving Gragami begun to hope that Sugunal’s rage had finally spent itself. This however, was a hope that would not be realized.
During the duration of Sugalon’s terrible vengeance, the bodies of the Gragmai that had perished, lay in vast heaps, since none of their kindred that were still alive dared to venture out and gorge themselves on the carcasses. Naturally, these mounds of dead Gragami soon became a tasty repast for hoards of flies that quickly proceeded to lay their eggs in the folds of the flesh of the dead beasts. Determined to make the Gragami pay for eternity , Sugalon invoked all his power to summon into existence a terrible curse against the creatures.
As the enchantment he had cast took shape, the maggots writhing within the flesh of the dead Gragami became the blessed ancestors of the jungle tribes. These progenitors of the Fon peoples, in accordance with the will of their creator, took to hunting down the remaining Gragami wherever their foul presence was a source of chaos and misery. Indeed, everywhere an ancestral hero went, he was inevitably summoned to the aid of a deer or panther spirit who appeared in the form of a beautiful woman and promised him her fair hand in marriage in exchange for slaying a Gragami guilty of devouring her kindred with ruthless gluttony. Invariably, such a myth takes the following form. Smitten by the beauty of the animal maiden, the young hero marches to the entrance of the cave in which these beast are so reputedly fond of dwelling in and demands that the resident Gragami ceases its reign of terror. Obviously, deaf as it is to his order, the Gragami simply rushes out of its lair, its deadly jaws agape and overflowing with foul slobber.
But the instant that the brutal, malevolent eyes of the monster locks on the defiant, vengeful gaze of the great ancestral hero, the terror of Suganal’s wrath strikes deep into its heart and stills it completely, terminating the fury of the raging beast forever. As the beast falls to the ground dead, what ensues next is rather predictable. The hero through some great feat of strength, then proceeds to hack off the monsters head and then drags it in triumph to his promised bride who eagerly awaits his arrival. She for her part, overjoyed that the young warrior has kept his promise, honours her vow and forever resigns her deer or panther form to settle down to an existence as the human wife of the hero.
What follows for the subsequent months is great rejoicing as the members of her animal tribe swear fealty forever to their human saviour and he in turn swears that neither he nor his descendents will ever seek to harm the animal tribe that his spouse hails from. Thus does the panther or deer become the totem animal of the tribe in question.
As for the head of the slain Gargami, it becomes a revered heirloom for the future generations that spring from the loins of the great monster slayer. With some minor variation, this tale can be found among all the Fon tribes.
Hence, the Gragami myth is very important for one seeking to understand the origins of the spiritual beliefs that currently prevail among the Fon. Hoping to look at evidence that might prove the existence of the Gragami, I asked whether it would be possible for me to have a look at the skull of the monster that the ancestral founder of the tribe had slain so long ago during the distant mythical past. Unfortunately for the sake of posterity, the skull of the monster had been stolen by a greedy member of the tribe who had promptly sold it to some shady organisation based in Zibaba. It was a great loss for the tribe since ownership of the Gragami’s skull is believed to confer the monster’s immense strength upon the one that holds it.
It is said that upon its death at the hands of the great ancestral hero, the spirit of the beast remained entrapped for eternity in its skull. Consequently, it plays an important part in a certain ceremony that is conducted prior to the commencement of a tribal raid or the hunt of an especially dangerous beast. The tribe’s chieftain who is believed to be the direct descendent of the tribe’s mythical founder, rubs his hands over the hallowed relic, hoping thereby to tap into the powerful strength and ferocity that the Gragami enjoyed while it was still alive. Though I cannot gauge the reliability of this ritual for myself, I was told of a chieftain from a distant tribe who was able to bring a rhino down to its knees and rip its belly open with his bare fingernails.
His ability to perform such a superhuman feat of strength and ferocity was attributed by my Fon informants to his ownership of the skull of an especially large and vicious male Gragami that was slain relatively recently by his great grandfather somewhat over a century ago. Apparently, it is possible for a tribe to obtain another Gramgami skull should the original one obtained by their ancestor be lost or destroyed. Indeed, such slayings are sometimes necessary. For the fact remains that these creatures still remains a mortal peril to the Fon.
Although one has not been sighted in the last fifty years, the creature is still held in great dread. Mysterious disappearances of entire hunting parties are often blamed on these dread monsters. A wizened elder told me that a Gragami can seize a struggling man in its jaws and swallow him whole. Hence, it is only natural that if a small group of men were to be attacked by such a monstrosity, there would be no skeletal remains at all. So powerful is the fear of potential attacks by this beast that young Fon are cautioned by their elders against venturing into unfamiliar territory that that lies well outside of the tribe’s usual hunting grounds. In its own domain, the beast is a dangerous enemy.
Although their vision is considered rather poor by human standards, their sense of smell is frighteningly effective, with the two flared nostrils located along either side of the Gragami’s snout being able to pick up and recognise the scent of a man from a mile off downwind. Additionally, it is also extremely difficult to kill or even wound a Gragami since their thick, leathery hides cannot be pierced by the flint spear heads wielded by Fon warriors. I suppose this is why conventional wisdom among the Fon holds that among all men, only a tribal chief is capable of slaying a fully grown, adult Gragami. Anyone else who would declare his intention of attempting such a feat would immediately be mocked as a suicidal lunatic.
Given the potential menace that this beast poses to their safety, the Fon are probably grateful for the powerful conviction that no Gragami will ever venture to directly attack their villages. After all, as direct descendents of the tribes founding hero, the chiefs among the Fon possess the unique ability to strike these monsters dead with a simple glare.
So, in conclusion, it is evident that the Gragami is the source of much that is rich and elaborate in the beliefs of the Fon. However, evidence for their actual evidence is tenuous at best and at worst, simply nonexistent. Moreover, someone as cynical as me is inclined to belief that even if the Garigama ever existed to begin with, they would have long since been removed from the jungle and shipped off to the kingdom of Haracon by the Keepers. These criminals are notorious for their greed and no amount of jungle superstition would prevent them from trying to get their hands on an animal that would fetch a handsome price from some bored noble of Haracon.
There are also others who see the Gragami as a valuable commodity to be exploited. These are the witch doctors of Zibaba who belief that the liver and gall balder of these beasts contains a powerful elixir that is distilled into potions, can grant longevity to the drinker, if not actual immortality itself. I for my part tend to belief that the Gragami is probably an elaborate exaggeration of an actual animal such as a large predatory lizard and hence primarily functions in Fon society as a metaphor for the baser, more bestial instincts that afflict all humans periodically.
-An excerpt from Marcus Horad’s Illustrated Guide To The Barbarian Lands Beyond The Empire
A wild goose chase-The PC’s are hired by a wealthy witch doctor to search miles of unexplored jungle for a Gragami which they must kill and bring back. In addition to the dangers of the jungle, they must also brave the wrath of the Keepers that hold say over great swathes of the wilderness.