Din-Bak was a nomadic monk who travelled the distant corners of Rinnm, the continent beyond the Polished Sea, documenting rare and unusual creatures heretofore unheard of and unknown, cataloguing his life's work, as he called it, for the sake of knowledge and future generations.
Barbo was a spicy dwarf who devoted his life to hunting the Mhug-Atla'r, the "Great Unknown Beast" of Dwarven legend. The dwarf followed any lead of foul beast or obscene monster, great and small, regardless of where it lead him. One time, during a spirited hunt for what turned out to be an over-fed hippopotamus, Barbo encountered Din-Bak.
The two managed to find common ground, and before long form a friendship. Together they searched the world for monsters. All of them in Din-Bak's case, and just the one elusive one, as far as Barbo was concerned.
Entry 417, chapter titled, "The Wonders and Perversions of the Shen-Ilar Jungles, wherein Mhug-Atla'r manages to evade Barbo once more, and other adventures."
Dance of the Drunken Bats of Kulkulyan
The city of Kulkulyan in its entirety is made of the same sullen-gray stone, a contrast to the verdant jungles which engulf it. The Kulkulyani fear the jungles and always remain inside their ancient walls, we quickly learned. We arrived serendipitously at the right time to witness the singularly bizarre annual event for which this ancient city is known. Thousands upon thousands of bats descend upon Kulkulyan in chaotic swirling swarms, darkening the evening skies even further. They come at dusk for three nights, and then they cease to appear until the following year, again for three nights. But alas, these are no ordinary bats. They are rather large for bats, their fur a sickly burnt orange color and their snouts, ebon and leathery. Barbo mentioned that they looked more like demon-foxes with wings but I digress.
The bats arrive drunk, inebriated only the gods know how, flying awkwardly and haphazardly, often smashing themselves against the stone towers and domes. Guano flying freely and liberally, as if launched from catapults, the streets are slicked with the bat droppings ankle-deep within hours.
Kulkulyan's inhabitants are nowhere to be seen outside during these times, safe behind their thick stone walls. They do not seek to harm the bats, and somewhat sanely choose to stay indoors, watching and celebrating the spectacle. There are however those, who call themselves the "Bat Men" (my best attempt at literal translation). These gangs of rowdies run naked in the streets often masked for obvious reasons, flapping their arms and screeching, defecating everywhere, hanging upside down, and otherwise emulating the bats while acting out their youthful frustrations in all sorts of unappealing ways.
The bats are somewhat dangerous. Out of their little bat minds, they flip suicidally in the air, impale themselves upon spires, flop around helplessly in the streets, utterly at random, screech their horrible shrieks and otherwise act like mad jesters. Even jaded Barbo gaped at the scene mouth-agape, unsure of what to do. There were just too many of them to take an axe to, he reasoned wisely. Bats and Bat-Men. We watched the bat bedlam in awe from a tavern window, then in the morning proceeded to question the local populace as to the origin and meaning behind this bizarre event, as we watched the ritualistic burning of the guano, cleansing of the streets, in preparation for the feasts and parades to come. The Kulkulyani offered countless legends and folklore. They even told us a complex creation myth centering on these peculiar creatures and their even more peculiar behavior. The tales went on and on, and filled our heads (and my notebook).
I would include some of the more outlandish legends and explanations offered, were it not for the fact that dear Barbo and I found ourselves months later deeper in the Shen-Ilar Jungle, where we came upon another tribe of people, the Viyu, who so simply and ably solved for us the mystery of the Drunken Bats of Kulkulyan!
The reasons behind the Dance of the Drunken Bats, as it is known here, are sublimely simple. Firstly the bats are called "fruit bats" by the Viyu. These fox-sized creatures favor the monstrously large fruits that grow in these jungles. One particular fruit explains the rest of the mystery. There is something called a Yummrum Tree which grows in these parts. Once a year, and for only three days, the tree rains down its ripened fruit, head-sized lemon-yellow bombs. Cracking open upon contact with the ground, the ample juices inside these fruits begin to ferment almost immediately, creating a potent, alcohol-laced concoction (and lots of it). The bats then descend upon the offered feast, knowing innately when to come. After gorging themselves on the fruit, the bats take off again, but now the powerful potion takes its toll. Losing all sense of cardinal direction, their echolocation out of sorts, the bats fly in the opposite way to their caves, ending up unerringly in Kulkulyan, which lies directly on this opposite path.
When I inquired as to why the Viyu do not simply communicate this information to the inhabitants of Kulkulyan, I was given two reasons. That the Viyu considered it rude to shatter the spiritual beliefs of the Kulkulyani, and that those same Kulkulyani or "people of stone", would not believe the Viyu anyway, considering them to be jungle savages. I note the irony in my notebook for posterity.
Barbo of course gleefully volunteered to break the news to the Kulkulyani himself, as was my companion's nature, but I insisted we continue on our way. Barbo was only appeased however after I agreed that we return in a year's time and collect some of this "fruit juice" for ourselves and our further thirsty travels.
Additional Ideas (5)
Shadow-Ox of Pao-Du Mountain
"The Shadow-Ox looms above all but the Mountain itself." --Hagaanite saying.
Entry 473, chapter titled, "The Endless Plateau, and the queer red mountains", wherein we see with our own eyes the world's largest bovine, and Mhug-Altla'r manages to evade Barbo's grasp yet again.
Thrice the size of a common ox and more, this sedate creature appeared both fearsome and majestic, as we approached it at last, having arrived in Hagaan-beside-the-Mountain.
Weighing eight tons if a pound and standing thirty five feet at the shoulder, one could only but imagine an antediluvian race of mega-giants who once bred these creatures eons ago. Alas, but the one survives to this day, and the people of Hagaan and Pao-Du Mountain have named it the Shadow-Ox for the great shadow that its massive form casts, whenever the Sun shines upon it.
We studied the sedate behemoth as best we could for several days. Well, I did, Barbo mostly drank the local spirits and complained.
The Shadow-Ox, or the over-grown Yak as I began to think of it after a few days, moved little, if at all. It spent most of its time grazing on the vast fields of red and green lichen, carpeting the stony lands.
No doubt the reader is waiting to read about some amazing quality or anecdote involving the Shadow-Ox. There is none of interest to share. Giant and somewhat useless it is. You may presume that the Hagaanites of Pao-Du Mountain shear the beast for wool, but no, they do not molest the sloth-like bovine in any way. They simply leave it alone to eat its lichen. During summer, as the sun scorches the plateau, the Hagaanites rest and idle in the shade the beast creates. In coldest winter, they have been known to warm themselves beneath and between the many matted and braided folds of fur, which hang down from the Shadow-Ox's belly like vines.
The Hagaanites do however consider the creature a treasured symbol of luck and good fortune. Mistreating the behemoth in any way will invite immediate wrath and rebuke.
We inquired as to the age of this creature, and were told it had grazed in this valley for ten thousand years and twenty. This I simply did not believe.
It is a common theme in my notes I am afraid, that once dear Barbo and I stumble upon some legendary, fantastic beast of legend, ascribed great powers or wondrous ecology, more often than not, the creature in question turns out to be somewhat mundane.
Alas, such is life.
We continue from the base of Pao-Du Mountian on the morrow, heading further north to investigate and document, hopefully amicably, the Riders of Lesser Oq, and their ferocious Thorn-Elk mounts. This should prove to be a more exhilarating experience than our encounter with the ennui-inducing Shadow-Ox.
Carcass Thrice-Worm of Reng
Entry 552, chapter titled, "A disturbing encounter while traversing the inhospitable deserts of Reng" wherein we learn of a horrifying creature, an esoteric order, and how Barbo came so close to confronting the Mhug-Atla'r, only to have it evade him at the last, crucial moment.
We braved the wastes of Reng as we did all challenging terrain. Methodically and ably. Barbo needed less water than a camel, and I for my part, was not without certain ascetic training. One foot in front of the other.
Before long, we found ourselves sharing water and conversation with a small group of caravan traders beneath an olive moon. It was here that we first heard the dreaded name of the nightmarish Carcass Thrice-Worm. At least that was the literal translation I gathered from the dervish.
Weeks later we encountered several monks belonging to an unusual order, who not only shared knowledge of the Carcass Thrice-Worm, but showed us the creatures during a particularly gory display!
The monks had come out to the wastes in order to enact a ritual, upon one of their own. Apparently, one of the monks was deemed ready and volunteered to have his "three worms" removed to show his utter devotion to the order's tenets and codes. This involved a gruesome surgery, performed upon him by his fellow monks, that even made Barbo look away.
Now I must add that according to these monks the three worms live inside us all. The Upper Worm, resides somewhere inside the throat area, and governs the emotion of gluttony. The Middle Worm resides somewhere within the large intestine, and governs greed and envy. The Lower Worm resides somewhere inside the groin and governs lust and lasciviousness. This I learned and more. Whenever someone dies, according to these same monks, the Thrice-Worm escapes the carcass, and take on a swollen form. While inside the living host they are nigh invisible to the eye, but when they crawl forth from a corpse they swell to resemble fattened earthworm/cicada hybrids, mauve, indigo, and ebon-black respectively. They crawl off and bury themselves deep inside the earth, and nothing more is known of them, even by the monks.
We half-watched somewhat revolted by the sights and sounds of the surgery. Three operating monks gathered about their prone fellow, and went to work on him, each monk using cruel looking metallic implements to delve deep inside their brother's flesh. The sounds of his screams that day, stayed with us long after we left the wastes of Reng behind.
At the ultimate moment, the monks gestured for us to look, and look we did, and could see to our horror, that three finger-sized disgusting creatures described above, crawled forth from the monk's flesh (who was passed out by now), and wriggled away, squirming beneath the blazing sun, and leaving wet stains in their wake upon the sands.
The monks then insisted that their de-wormed brother would recover in time, and rise reborn, incapable of surrendering to the baser and uglier emotions.
The monks then asked if Barbo or I would care to have our Thrice-Worms removed. They had the gall to smile as they did so.
Barbo and I looked at one another, then politely declined the honor, thanked the brothers for their time, and quickly went on our way.
Needless to say we had no appetites for days after, and spoke little, each one of us disturbed now of course by the sensation of feeling Carcass Thrice-Worms wriggling inside of us.
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.
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.
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.