Michael Bishop is the author of Brittle Innings and Transfigurations.
candidate for the "Fantastic Beasts" assignment is an alien species
called the Asadi, which resemble -- to some extent --
earthly baboons, except that during daylight hours they gather in a clearing in
a forest on their native planet, BoskVeld, and mill
about silently, whereas at night they retreat into the trees and
foliage to find separate sleeping spots.
Asadi don't communicate through speech. A xenographer studying the species must gain a kind of
acceptance through so-called social invisibility, a state which a member of the
species attains through pariahhood, the negative
status of becoming an outcast without being exiled. Initially, human
observers had little idea which offenses warranted this extreme punishment, but
did come to understand that the Asadi
distinguish the outcast by shaving the offender's collar of fur. Because all
adult Asadi have these manes, regardless of sex, this
method of identifying the pariah is universal and certain.
xenographer, Egan Chaney, described them as
"Great grey-fleshed creatures, their heads heavy with violent drapings of fur." Because Chaney had no mane, he was
able to move among them as a pariah. He wrote, "Hovering, then moving
away, averting their murky eyes, the Asadi --
individual by individual, I noticed -- made their decision and that first
indispensable victory was in my grasp: I was ignored!"
appear to be herbivorous. In fact, they eat and digest wood, much as termites
do, through the aid of bacteria in their intestines that break down the
planet BoskVeld circles the sun Denebola.
The planet itself has two burnt-gold, unreal-looking moons. The eyes of the
creatures warrant description: They resemble the bottoms of thick-glassed
bottles. Also, their eyes consist of two parts: a thin transparent covering,
which is apparently hard, like plastic, and the complex, membranous organ of
sight that this covering protects. It's as if each Asadi
is born wearing a built-in pair of safety glasses. Moreover, the alleged
"murkiness" of Asadi eyes derives from the
fact that, behind the outer lens or cap, their eyes are almost constantly
changing color, a yellow replacing an indigo, and a green the yellow, with such
speed that human beings have trouble discerning any particular color at all. In
any case, the chameleonic quality of their eyes has social significance. They
communicate by these color changes rather than through speech.
these creatures appear in my novella, "Death and Designation Among the Asadi," and in the
full-length novel based on it, Transfigurations, and
these works helped make my early reputation as a writer of anthropological
Atalasian Bear by Marly
Marly Youmans is the
author The Wolf Pit and Ingledove.
The Atalasian Bear, also
known as a firecat or as a hell-bear
in the area near the Qualla Boundary of western North
Carolina, is one of the rarest mammals in the world and not a true bear at
all. Its humped shape and thick pelt may
suggest a bear, but the dramatic rust, black, and white fur set it apart. The pattern of coloration resembles nothing
so much as a calico cat, and both mottling on the body and faces divided
between two colors are common. The pointed, whisker-tipped ears suggest the
cat, as do the surprising golden eyes. But there the resemblance ends. The Atalasian bear
has strong claws for digging, and its short snout ends in a drooping nose. The mouth is almost invisible.
Like the bee and the wasp or the naked mole rat and the Damaraland mole rat, the Atalasian
Bear is eusocial.
One queen rules a nest of four or five Atalasian
pups and adults. If a second queen is
born, she is eventually pushed out to find her own way, usually with a smaller
male in tow. The males weigh about forty
pounds, and the females are about ten pounds heavier. Generally there are two
soldier bears in the family, at least one mate, and all members except the queen
are burrowers. Infant mortality among Atalasian Bears is quite high, and the dead pups are
thought to be secreted in the walls of tunnels.
It is said by some that the grieving queen decorates their burial
chambers with silver and gold. That rumor may have given rise to the slaughter
of Atalasian Bears during the mid-nineteenth century.
This North American mammal is found primarily in mountainous
areas where mountain laurel and rhododendron grow in abundance. These laurel hells, as they were named
by settlers, gave rise to the animal's common name of hell-bear. The Atalasian bear
is naturally timid and seldom ventures from the cover of rhododendron branches
and private tunnels. A family den may
have as many as seven tunnels leading to a central chamber. In the nineteenth-century, larger burrows
with dozens of chambers housing thirty to seventy bears were reported by
One of the most curious tendencies of this little-known
animal is a magpie urge to scavenge or steal any glittering objects and hoard
them in its tunnels. Atalasian
bears have been known to decorate their bodies with cast-off jewelry, tin foil,
strings of sequins, and other trash.
A letter from the early ethnographer James Mooney records
that a Cherokee boy captured and kept such an animal in a bark-and-mud lodge It appeared
inordinately fond of spring ramps and fed on a diet of grubs and tubers in the
summer. The bear appeared to understand
short commands and evidently was fond of swimming. Eventually it tired of
captivity and burrowed its way out. The
name Atalasian derives from a Cherokee word
The descendants of Scots-Irish settlers in Jackson County
often saw the Atalasian bears in the community known
as Little Canada. They were also abundant in what is now the Smokey Mountain
National Park. Horace Kephart,
author of Our Southern Highlanders, reported seeing one around 1905 in
the Hazel Creek region. Among his neighbors, it was said that the
bears often appeared in another guise, so that any party of elderly strangers
was regarded as possible Atalasian bears in human
form. Similarly, any unknown old woman,
if hunched and dressed in tattered clothes and gauded
with jewelry, fell under suspicion of being an Atalasian
queen. The animals have not been seen
for some years, and it is feared that they may be close to extinction.
Beatifibeast by Jesse Bullington
Jesse Bullington is the author of The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart.
Beatifibeast, also known as the Martyr-monster, has a
unique form of reproduction wherein the asexual adult lays a partially
fertilized egg in a safe location. The egg requires the dying howl of the
parental beatifibeast to become fully fertilized and
hatch, and only then if the beatifibeast has fallen
at the hands of a predetermined individual of another species—usually a human
or demi-human of relative virtue, hereafter referred
to as the “hero.” Upon reaching adulthood beatifibeasts
acquire the psychic ability to locate and imprint on a specific hero from
hundreds of leagues away, a process that triggers the materialization and
gestation of an embryo. The egg is eventually laid, the beatifibeast
is eventually killed by its hero, and the beautiful cycle continues.
addition to locating and identifying its hero, the beatifibeast
also uses its mild telepathic powers to identify what its destined slayer is
most afraid of or disgusted by and then transmogrifies its body accordingly.
Wolf heads, bat wings, serpent scales, and spine-ridged, acid-oozing tentacles
are all common features on the adult beatifibeast. Juveniles, prior to imprinting on their hero and altering their
appearance, are small, fuzzy, and adorable.
Beauzoid by James Morrow
James Morrow is the author of The Philosopher’s Apprentice and Shambling
living art object comprising luminous geometric solids, iridescent cilia, and
colors not found elsewhere in the universe.
The Beauzoid is the most beautiful being in the
galaxy. Each time it appears in the sky over an urban park or public square,
some people are so transfixed by its perfect proportions and radiant hues that
they lose all interest in their mundane lives and vow to follow the creature wherever
it leads them. The hypnotic power of the Beauzoid has
inspired some governments to declare it an enemy of the human race.
Nnedi Okorafor is the author of Zahrah
the Windseeker and The Shadow Speaker.
Also known as the "Bandit of the Jungle". A small cute mammal
with soft white or brown fur, golden eyes, and four
stubby padded black nimble-toed legs. They are known for crafty methods of
stealing the fruits from explorers' bags.
Cattywampus by Will Hindmarch
Will Hindmarch is the co-author of Things We Think About
Games and the developer of the role-playing game Vampire: The Requiem.
A curious and wary creature that
dwells deep in forgotten desert oases, the cattywampus
is rather like a svelte hippo with sixteen legs. Well, "legs." Each
of the animal's mighty body-joints — two shoulders in front, two haunches in
back — attaches to four finger-like limbs, giving the creature the appearance
of having four thumbless, oversized hands with which
to ambulate. This gives the creature a bizarre lope and a profound ability to
grip and interact with objects that catch its fancy. It eats rather like a rat,
holding food between two or more of its forward-most "fingers" and
chewing down with its few but enormous teeth.
Cattywampuses often dwell in little packs, roaming from oasis to oasis or
careening across the arid plains with their strange gallop. Do not startle a cattywampus, however, for while ordinarily peaceful, they
are also skittish. A single panicked cattywampus is
like four trampling horses.
Crocostrictor by James O’Neal
James O’Neal is the author of The Human Disguise and The
ten years from now a geneticist at the University of Miami was splicing genes
and combined an American Crocodile and one of the numerous boa constrictors
that have flourished in the Everglades since being released by weary pet owners
and escaping from zoos after hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Shortly after the genetic scientist hatched his first brood of eleven of these
crocodile/boa constrictor combination creatures the city of Miami fell into chaos and the University was abandoned.
A subsequent storm released all eleven creatures into the wild.
They immediately started to reproduce and over the next eight years created three
generations which each mutated to adapt the encroaching Everglades
on the urban landscape.
The creatures have a nine to fifteen foot snakelike body with useable front
claws. The body is not round like a snake's but more oblong like a
crocodile. The head is elongated and looks like a crocodile. The
creature glides through the water and scoots on the ground. The mouth is
filled with layers of razor sharp teeth and its stomach can hold up to five
hundred pounds of food.
They are pure carnivore and eat any living creature from small fish to cows. They
prowl both fresh and salt water and are multiplying at an alarming rate.
Eguar by Robert V. S. Redick
Robert V. S. Redick is the author of The Red Wolf Conspiracy and The
these pages the reader will encounter an eguar, and
learn quite a bit about them. Some
background: Pazel, our hero, is sixteen. He is
afflicted with a gift/curse that lets him learn languages magically, but also
produces horrible mental fits. Sandor Ott is the master spy and assassin for the largest empire (Arqual) in this divided world (Alifros).
Alyash (“the bosun) and Drellarek (“the Turach”; a Turach is a deadly imperial soldier) are two of Ott’s many underlings. Dr Chadfallow
is Pazel’s old family friend, but he also betrayed Pazel once, and Pazel has not quite forgiven him.
party is crossing a great, wild island. To do so they must pass through the
ruins of a fortress-city on a mountaintop, rumoured to
be guarded by something truly horrible and strange.]
By the time they finished eating Sandor Ott was descending the
stair. As he reached them Pazel saw that his face was
‘What’s wrong, Master Ott?’
The spymaster’s hands twitched at his sides.
When he spoke there was a tremor in his voice. ‘The stair leads onto the roof
of the fortress-city,’ he said, ‘and from there a path runs straight and level
to the place where we descend. You will ride on my left, at a walk, and you
will not speak. But if I give the order you must gallop like the very wind. I
have just learned who is master of this mountain. It is an eguar.’
snapped up. ‘You saw it?’ he said.
nodded. ‘It lies basking in the sun.’
‘Fire from Rin,’
‘An eguar?’ squealed Erthalon Ness. ‘An eguar!
What is that?’
whirled and struck the man across the face. ‘Something that
will gladly devour you, if only you keep screaming.’ To the gaping tarboys, he said, ‘Never mind, lads. We shall be in the
city for but half an hour, or less. And eguars cannot
outrun horses any better than the Leopard People can.’
his head. ‘They do not run far,’ he agreed, ‘but at close range they move with
‘Enough of your airs!’ snapped Ott. ‘There is no book from which to learn the truth about
such a creature. And you have never walked the wild places of Alifros, as I have done all my life.’
‘Yet I know this to be true,’ said Chadfallow.
‘How?’ demanded Alyash.
The doctor closed his eyes. ‘From Ramachni the mage,’ he said at last, ‘who makes his home in
greater peaks than these, among dragons and shadowmambrs
and hrathmog hordes. And yes, eguar. They can catch horses, Ott.
And they have means of killing even that which they do not catch.’
‘But what does it look like?’ pleaded Saroo.
‘You’ll see soon enough,’ said Ott. ‘Now pay attention: if we are separated, ride straight
at the lowering sun. You’ll see a little station-house, and beyond it a triple
archway, the only one of its kind. Ride through those arches, and down the
stairs beyond them. We will regroup at the bottom and resume our journey.’
‘Master Ott,’ said Drellarek, ‘there is always the sea route.’
glanced at the Turach with disappointment. ‘We stand
here because the sea route is closed. The waves are too high for smaller
vessels, and we cannot wait for a calm.’
‘But the Chathrand could
‘The Chathrand must not
be seen again by any living soul, Sergeant Drellarek!
I thought you at least understood that.’
‘What I should like to understand,’ said Chadfallow,
‘is what we’re doing here at all.’
out his canteen, and watched the doctor as he drank. Then he wiped his mouth
and said, ‘Shorten your stirrups, and check your girth straps. We’re running
mounted, wincing as he swung his wounded leg over the saddle. Drellarek spat an oath, but a moment later he too was on
his horse. The others reluctantly followed suit. As long as the Turach and the spies were united they had little choice.
One old doctor and three tarboys could hardly fight
the deadly men.
They walked the horses on the stair, trying to
keep to the moss and leaf-litter, for the beasts’ iron shoes echoed loudly on
the stone. Ott and Pazel
were in the lead. The spymaster’s hand was on his sword-hilt. He whispered
continually to his charger, who nickered deep in her throat despite his
soothing. That falcon of his could be
useful now, Pazel thought. Where’s he gone?
Some dozen steps from the rooftop, Chadfallow raised a hand, and the party halted.
‘Listen to me,’ he whispered. ‘You must not look
directly at the eguar. To do so might provoke it,
like a bull. And if you see some trace of the creature, some place where it has
crawled, walk your horse around the spot – never through it. Above all, guard
your thoughts! Stay calm! Eguar have a spellcraft all their own.’
them with a final glance. ‘No more talking,’ he said.
At the top of the stair the sun met them full in
the face. Pazel shielded his eyes – and saw the eguar instantly, even before his mind took in his
surroundings. Fear washed over him, irrational and huge. The beast was perhaps
a thousand feet away, coal black, facing them. It resembled nothing so much as
a great burned crocodile with its legs tucked under its body, and a spiny fan
like that of a sailfish running down its back. A vapour surrounded it – a
quaking of the air, as if the creature were a living bonfire. Pazel could not see its eyes. Was it sleeping?
pinched his arm savagely. Pazel wrenched his gaze
from the creature and faced forwards. One by one the horses stepped onto the
What he saw before him would have stolen Pazel’s breath, had he any to spare. It was as if they had
climbed not just onto the roof of a fortress but that of the very world, and
found it hot and blinding as a desert. The courtyard was vast and severe.
Towers rose at its vertices, some intact, others shattered. Clusters of rooftop
halls, like minor towns unto themselves, were scattered across its expanse.
There were broken domes and standing colonnades, shattered fountains, pedestals
with statues of men whose features, like those of the creatures at the ruined
gate, had melted over centuries of wind and rain. There was a great
amphitheatre, and a bulbous cistern on stubby legs, and round shafts built
straight down through the fortress-city, with staircases carved into their
There were also many smooth, pondlike
cavities in the stone. All were filled with black water that glistened in a way
that somehow turned Pazel’s stomach.
Beyond the fortress, the jungle-clad mountains
swept west into the heart of Bramian; a second row of
peaks marched north. The structure, Pazel saw now,
stood on a bend in the range. And along both arms of the range the mighty wall
raced away. It was broad as a city boulevard, and he could not see the end of
it in either direction.
But from the corner of his eye he could still
see the black, vapour-shrouded eguar. He felt ashamed
at the extent of his fear. But the same terror shone in the others’ faces, when
he glimpsed them. Even Drellarek looked slightly
They crept forwards. The shattered halls and pavillions dropped behind them one by one. Reason told Pazel that the triple arch was less than a mile from the
stair where they had begun, yet it seemed impossibly distant. There were no
leaves here, and each footfall of the horses rang out terribly distinct. Erthalon Ness appeared to be weeping.
Then the eguar opened
its eyes. They were white, and burned like stars in the dark flesh. Ott stiffened. Someone’s horse neighed and pranced. But
still the beast did not move.
Close at hand now was the first of the
water-filled cavities. Ott gave it a wide berth. Pazel saw that the gleam on the water’s surface actually
extended faintly to the stone on one side, as if something had been dragged
from the cavity and left a trail of silvery ooze behind it. His eyes followed
the trail. It meandered away from them across the rooftop, growing brighter the
farther it went, until it ended (Don’t
look! he screamed inwardly, too late) with the eguar
gasped aloud. He’d met its eyes – and a force like a hurricane struck him in
that instant. But it was not a physical blow, for the others sat rigid as ever
on their steeds, unaware of the power streaming from the eguar.
doubled over the saddlehorn, pain between his
temples, bile on his tongue. Ott’s
hand tightened viciously on his arm but he could barely feel it. What was the
creature doing to him? And then he glimpsed its moving jaws, and understood. It
heard many strange tongues, and learned to speak them, in the five years he had
lived with the Gift. Flikkermen croaked and gurgled; nunekkam squeaked; the ixchels’
tongue was full of sombre, minor-key music. The augrongs
boomed out abstract metaphors, and Klyst and her murth-kin worked charms each time they spoke. But no
language he had ever heard prepared him for the eguar’s.
It flooded his brain, violent as the waves beating into the sea-cave, and a
hundred times more frightening.
‘Have you gone mad?’ hissed Sandor
Ott. ‘Be still. The creature is only yawning, or
‘Run,’ gasped Pazel.
‘Pathkendle. Pathkendle. Compose yourself, or I swear on Magad’s
life I’ll throw you from this horse.’
composed himself. The thing had stopped speaking, but the echoes of its words
still washed about in his head. The horses were skittish now, and it grew
steadily harder to keep them from breaking into a run. A terrible odour had
arisen, too: a caustic smell, like acid thrown on a fire. Pazel
felt his throat begin to itch.
Far across the plaza, the eguar
snapped its jaws. The sound echoed from the turrets beside them. Erthalon Ness sobbed audibly, and Pazel
felt Ott’s body tense.
Then, miraculously, they were at the arch.
Beyond it, stairs led down onto the wall, thirty feet below the level of the
rooftop. In a matter of seconds they were through; it was over. Pazel released a huge breath, one he had held unconsciously
since that first ticklish feeling in his throat. Swift and Saroo
looked giddy with relief.
beckoned them on another hundred yards or so. Then he turned and smiled.
‘At your ease, and well done! Even you, Maggot
Ness: I thought for a moment we would have to throttle you to stop those
‘It didn't even try to harm us!’ said Saroo. ‘It just watched us go by.’
‘Don’t be too proud to learn something, Doctor,’
said Ott. ‘In my experience it is always better to
understand a predator than to fear it.’
‘I’m with you there,’ said Chadfallow
darkly, looking back at the archway.
shrugged. ‘The creature had a full belly, perhaps.’
‘No,’ said Pazel,
They looked at him, speechless. ‘Is that what
your Gift made of the thing’s one little bark?’ asked Swift.
bark?’ said Pazel.
screwed up his face and made a brief, clipped noise, somewhere between a roar
and a burp. Swift and Drellarek laughed. But Pazel was dumbfounded. ‘It was talking,’ he said. ‘It went
on and on.’
‘You have something in common with the Ness family,’ said Ott. ‘Madness, in a word. Come, gentlemen! We have gained the
highway; now we must ride like highwaymen. Thirty miles lie ahead of us, and we
must cover them by nightfall, or take our chances in the dark.’
[later, returning, a fight breaks
out between the travelers, just before they reach the Fortress City
Perhaps two miles from the city they came to a
low saddle in the hill, and Ott called for rest. Pazel could just make out the triple arch they had passed
through the day before. He shuddered at the memory of the eguar’s
They dismounted, and the boys watered the horses
from a feedbag. Alyash tore chunks from a dark loaf
of bread and handed them around.
suddenly afraid for Chadfallow. His fury had hardly
vanished – Chadfallow was one to talk of betrayals! –
but in spite of everything Pazel
somehow felt he would be lost without the man. Can’t you see what you’re risking, fool? he
wanted to shout. Ott’s probably killed more people with his bare
hands than you’ve saved in surgery.
For the moment, however, Ott
just looked amused. “His Supremacy would have consigned your letter to the
fire. He knows quite well the necessities of this campaign to perfect his
dominion. You, for starters, are certainly expendable. As for his friendship
with Isiq—’ He looked at Alyash
and Drellarek, and suddenly the three of them began
to laugh, low and hard. Pazel watched them, recalling
how Niriviel had taunted Thasha.
The Pit fiends. They have done something to the admiral.
was darkening with rage. ‘What of future “necessities?”’ he asked. ‘How many
leeches will you affix to the body of the Empire? Will you have the territorial
governors assassinated? The lord admiral, perhaps?
Will you decide that Magad’s sons are unworthy to
inherit the crown, and kill them as you did Empress Maisa’s?’
his head. ‘There are things I won’t discuss with a man who’d try to brand me a
‘You are a traitor,’ said Chadfallow,
his control slipping further. ‘You are a weak, grasping, small-minded man. You
have perverted all that I lived for and held most dear. I will name your dog, Sandor Ott: it is the Empire of Arqual itself. You have trained it with cruelty and fear.
You have made it vicious, ready to bite anyone who crosses its path.’
The spymaster’s laughter was abruptly gone. Drellarek and Alyash fell silent.
Ott rose to his feet, eyes locked on Chadfallow.
‘Not just anyone,’ he said.
leaped up and grabbed Chadfallow by the arm.
‘Please,’ he hissed, ‘don’t say any more.’
‘We’re going to need him, Ott,’
said Alyash, still smiling.
‘There is a field surgeon here at Bramian Station,’ said Sandor Ott. ‘He can serve the Great Ship, in a pinch. Chadfallow, you have twice defamed me with the one insult I
swore never to bear. Call me a traitor again, and you will see if I am weak.’
‘You’re a tr—’
struck Chadfallow as hard as he could. There was a
sound like a snapped branch, and blood gushed from the doctor’s nose as he stumbled
to the ground. He stared at Pazel, amazed, not even
trying to staunch the flow.
‘Shut your damned mouth!’ screamed Pazel at the doctor. ‘Wait, Mr Ott,
he’ll take it back, please, please, I’ll make him—’
Sandor Ott drew his long white knife. Pazel
stood between them, arms thrown wide, pleading with the assassin. There was a
dreamlike quality to his voice; it sounded soft and far away, like an echo.
Behind him, Chadfallow rose and tugged out his sword.
‘Put it down, Doctor!’ laughed Drellarek. ‘That’s blary suicide,
and you know it. Come to your senses and apologise, if you want to live.’
‘Will one of you,’ said the spymaster, ‘kindly
take Mr Pathkendle aside?’
started to rise, but Drellarek waved him off. ‘Rest
that leg while you can. I’ll get him.’
‘Decent of you,’ said Alyash.
The Turach stood and
lumbered towards Pazel. He did not bother to draw a
blade. When he saw Pazel’s fighting stance, he
pointed and grinned. ‘Look at this one, Master Ott.
I’m done for!’
blocked his first blow with an upraised arm, but the strength behind the Turach’s fist was crushing. The second blow found his
stomach; the third, to the back of his head, came close to knocking him out. As
Ott sidled towards the doctor, turning the knife
casually in his hand, Drellarek grabbed Pazel by the shirt and lifted him clear of the ground. Pazel lashed out with his legs and caught the man in the
stomach. Drellarek winced and struck him again.
backing away from Ott, sword up, body rigid, boots
shuffling awkward on the stones. His face was frozen, like an actor’s mask: the
kind depicting some elemental sin, like folly or despair. Ott,
however, looked like a man who had shed every worry. He was by far the older,
but as he drove Chadfallow before him he was returned
astonishingly to his youth. Relaxed and graceful, he took a dancing side-step,
Something terrible and bloody occurred, but it
was not what anyone foresaw. Drellarek, Ott and Chadfallow simply
disappeared. Where the party had stood an instant before there was only
darkness and a blast of heat. Pazel felt himself
thrown backwards with terrible force. When he landed his upper body was
dangling over the rimless edge of the wall, and a screaming horse lay sprawled
across his legs. The animal surged to its feet, and Pazel,
blind with pain and sliding towards death, flailed out with his hands and
caught a stirrup. The horse spun on its hindquarters, eyes mad with terror,
wrenching him back from the precipice even as the animal’s own forefeet slipped
over the edge. Pazel could only let go the stirrup as
the horse crashed into the trees below. Then he felt heat on the back of his
neck, and turned.
The eguar stood over
him. Its white-hot eyes blazed in the dark crocodilian head. Pazel clawed at his throat, choking, and his eyes streamed
with tears. He was inside its cocoon of vapours, and the smell was like acid
thrown on hot coals; he was amazed not to have died already.
But Drellarek was
dead. The Turach’s body dangled from the creature’s
mouth, and it was shrivelling like an old squash roasted over a flame. The
saliva of the eguar sizzled on Drellarek’s
skin, and around its teeth the man’s very armour was in flames. Then the
creature raised its head skywards, and swallowed the Turach
with three snaps of its jaws.
his gorge rise. He could not turn his back on the eguar,
so he dragged himself away with his arms, expecting death, that death, with
every scraping inch. He saw Swift and Saroo on the
wall beyond the creature, running for the fortress roof. Then he looked down. Ott and Chadfallow lay motionless
beneath the eguar’s feet.
crawled free of the vapours and lay retching on his side. The eguar’s eyes were still fixed on him, burning his mind even
as the vapours had burned his lungs. And then the creature spoke.
This time Pazel was
expecting the hurricane – and the eguar, perhaps, was
aware of Pazel’s limits. He was not faced with the
same flood of meaning as before, and yet it still seemed that the eguar put whole speeches into single words, and to hear
them gave Pazel the grotesque sensation of gulping a
meal in large, unmasticated chunks.
‘I, Ma’tathgryl-eguar-child-of-the-south nameless-desireless-pitiless-all-these-are-prisons
forward-and-backward perceive their plan, their venom, their
cleverness-madness-debauchery-faith, perceive you, lidless-unarmoured-unskinned
child-man, mind thrown open, with them, apart.’
That was one word, one
maddeningly complicated growl. Reeling from it, Pazel
managed to climb to his feet and back a few more steps away. He knew his Gift
would tell him how to answer, and struggled desperately against the urge to
try. Hearing the eguar’s language with human ears was
bad enough; thinking in it might drive him mad.
He tried something far simpler: he used the
language of the Leopard People. ‘Why did you help me?’ he said.
‘Shackles of certainty in cage of desire in dead
spindrift isle of self.’
understood. He must not assume the eguar meant him
well. And as if to underscore the point the creature opened its mouth wide and
breathed in his direction, and Pazel
felt the vapour cloud billow over him again, but now mixed with some new bile
or potion from the gullet of the beast. The vapour weakened him, and his knees
gave out. He fell forward, staring up at the creature, trapped by those
white-hot eyes. Then the eguar spoke again, and Pazel began to scream as never before in his life.
He was not in pain, but he was horribly
violated. The eguar had peeled open his mind like an
orange, and was examining all it contained. Pazel did
not just feel naked; he felt as though someone had cut away his skin, and shone
a bright light on his muscles and veins, and told him to dance.
But he would not dance (the eguar
knew this, knew it before Pazel did, knew every
twitch and motive of his soul). The beast was looking for something very
specific, and Pazel somehow knew he must not give it
up. His rage at the intrusion was searing; he would have tried to kill any
human who invaded him in this way, he was thinking like a lunatic, like an
assassin, like Ott.
The eguar might have
been amused. With another battering-ram of a word it told Pazel
that it had already looked into Sandor Ott’s mind, and that Pazel’s rage
bore little resemblance to the spymaster’s. Then he offered to show the
killer’s mind to Pazel. And before Pazel could refuse the eguar gave
him a foretaste.
Like floodwater released from a dam, Sandor Ott’s life history washed
over him. Pazel could barely stand what he saw. Dark
infant years in a slum; women’s hands feeding, then gouging him, twisting his
limbs; other children screaming, horrible men always enraged. Slammed doors,
broken windows, a barnyard stench in the crowded bedrooms, the dead wrapped in
threadbare sheets. Alleys full of muttering men, victims of the talking fever;
they seized at his ankles and he barely escaped. Epidemic, someone said. A cart heaped with paupers fleeing the city
Then exile, a mud-wattle village on the side of
a gritty, treeless hill. Threats from the cattlemen and
gentry, the owners of that useless knob. Torched
roofs, tortured parents, an elder staked and writhing on the ground.
More years of road-wandering, sores on his shoeless feet, a beggar’s bowl tied
to a string at his waist. Cold riverbanks, hard streetcorners, kicks. The taste of spoiled meat,
fermented cabbage, potato skins scraped from the cobbles with a knife.
tearing at his own face with his fingernails. ‘Make it stop! Make it stop!’ he
begged. The memories had spanned less than Ott’s first
decade of life.
The eguar took its
claw from Ott’s chest, and the flood ceased
instantly. The spymaster began to moan and stir. The creature prepared once
more to delve into Pazel’s mind. And all at once Pazel knew what it wanted, and knew the weapon he could use
against the thing before him. The Master-Words.
He had two of them left, Ramachni’s
gifts, a word to tame fire and a word that would ‘blind to give new sight.’ He
had no idea what the latter would do, but he knew that the fire-word might save
him, might even destroy this beast and its blazing power.
No sooner had he formed the thought than the eguar knew it too. With the speed of a rattlesnake it
coiled its body and leaped. A great wind threw Pazel
flat. Then the eguar and its cloud of dark vapours
were gone, and the weakness in his limbs disappeared.
He got to his hands and knees. The wall was
slick with silvery ooze. Ott and Chadfallow
lay moaning a few yards away. Pazel crawled towards
the doctor and shook him. Chadfallow’s eyes were open
but did not seem to see.
‘Wake up,’ said Pazel,
his voice raw and burned.
From the jungle on the wall’s north side came a loud crack. Pazel turned,
punch-drunk. Some hundred yards away, great trees were shuddering and bending.
Then he saw the eguar slide its bulk onto a huge
limb. Once more the white eyes gleamed – but this time Pazel
looked away before it was too late.
‘Child of Ormael,’
said the eguar.
‘Damn you to the Pits!’ cried Pazel, weeping with rage. ‘You could speak like a human all
‘The Pits have no place for me,’ said the eguar. ‘Listen, Smythídor: I know where you are bound, and what awaits you
there, and what you will need to face it.’
covered his ears. He would not speak with the creature, not when it had just
‘Your enemy,’ said the eguar,
as if Pazel had spoken aloud. ‘A
man hoping for the chance to kill you. But I do not think you should die
yet, not while the Stone moves over the waters. Not while a war is struggling
to be hatched – kicking, writhing in blood and fire from its shell. Not before
you see the wondrous South, the world my brethren made. Rejoice, human, rejoice
in your skinlessness, your immolation, the nakedness
of nerves. Rejoice above all in your fellowship, ere you turn and find it a
memory, a dry shell without warmth. But you must never again refuse knowledge, Smythídor. I would have shown you the doctor’s
‘I don’t want to see – and what I saw of Ott’s mind was hideous.
Stay away, stay away, or I swear I’ll use that word.’ He shook Chadfallow again. ‘Wake up, damn you, I need your help.’
Then the eguar hissed
a final word in its own language, making Pazel wince
– although it was, compared to earlier utterances, remarkably brief:
is agony denial is death.’
With that the creature departed, thrashing and
tearing through the trees. Pazel got shakily to his
feet and put his hands over his ears. He could see Alyash
running towards them along the wall. When he turned around Chadfallow
was sitting up, filthy with slime and blood. His nose was bent sharply to the
‘Get up,’ said Pazel,
smouldering. ‘What happens next is your problem.’
‘I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ said
looked the doctor in the eye, and waited. One breath,
two. And then he dropped to a crouch and squeezed his eyes shut as the mind-fit
erupted in his skull.
[A later discussion
between Pazel and Bolutu, a
man from across the Ruling
nothing at first. Pazel supposed he was thinking over
the creature’s words, but when his voice came again it was clear that he was in
shock. ‘You spoke . . . to a what?’
‘An eguar. Do you know what that is?’
‘Keep your distance. You should have burned your
clothes. An eguar. Gods of
night, you’ll have contaminated the ship!’
‘We did burn our clothes,’ Pazel
interrupted. ‘On Bramian, Dr Chadfallow
insisted. And he made us scrub in a river – wash our hair, clean under our
nails. We nearly froze to death.’
a great sigh. ‘That’s all right, then. Yes, I know what an eguar
is, though I have never seen one. They are ancient creatures, ancestors of
dragons. The poisons in their breath and secretions are a thousand times more
lethal than that of the deadliest snake, and the magic in their blood is akin
to that raging fire in which the world was made. When the maukslar, the demon lords, reigned in Alifros,
they kept eguar as palace watchdogs. Most have died
out. Where they die a crater opens, as if the land itself were decaying with
the corpse. Living eguar are
terribly rare today. I did not know that any were to be found north of the Ruling Sea.’
Elgort by Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor is the author of Zahrah
the Windseeker and The Shadow Speaker.
A nasty deadly beast. The ultimate killing
machine. It is so irrationally food-minded that it will run over a cliff
if it sees possible prey on the other side. It is so angry that its meat is
spicy. Large as a Woolly Mammoth, the elgort is an
egg-laying beast capable of moving very, very fast, despite its short legs. It
has smooth tight shiny black skin and a powerful trunk lined with hundreds of
large sharp teeth. It eats its food, small deer or large hippo, in exactly
three blood-spattering chomps. The elgort has only
one enemy, the Gosukwu, a long-armed monkey-like
monster about the size of a small truck with blue woolly fur. When an elgort mother is attacked by a Gosukwu
and her eggs are in danger, she picks up the unfertilized egg with her trunk
and throws it at the Gosukwu. This usually works. The
Gosukwu catches the egg and then walks away with it,
satisfied. Nearby, it’ll make a meal of the egg and then move on.
Emerald Foliot by
Elizabeth Hand is the author of Generation Loss and Mortal Love.
A creature the
size of a balled fist, with a pointed snout, upraised spines; a tiny
out-thrust arrow of a tail, legs invisible beneath its rounded torso. A brilliant, jewel-like
green, like the carapace of a scarab beetle. Its spikes weren’t
spikes but tiny overlapping scales, or maybe feathers, shot with iridescent
mauve and amethyst as it moved. Its eyes were the rich damson of a
pansy’s inner petals. Its snout ended in a beak like an echidna’s, the
same deep purple as its eyes, and poked into the soft black earth,
occasionally emerged with a writhing worm or beetle impaled upon it.
Once, the wind stirred a dead leaf: startled, the creature halted. Its
scales rose to form a stiff, brilliantly-colored armor, a farthingale glimmering every shade of violet and green. Vermilion
claws protruded from beneath its body; a bright droplet appeared at the end of
the pointed beak as it made an ominous, low humming sound, like a swarm of
bees. When no predator appeared the scales flattened, the shining claws
withdrew, and the creature scurried as before.
Erastogaster by Jay Lake
Jay Lake is the
author of Green and Madness of Flowers.
Erastogaster breeds deep within the gut of the Lesser
Sea Wyrm, itself a little-understood creature of the
benthic depths. When an Erastogaster larva hatches,
it makes its way through the Lesser Sea Wyrm's vast
circulatory system, fighting the blood parasites and the host's own immune
system in a bid to escape through the gills. Perhaps one in ten succeed in this
terrible journey, but those who escape are strengthened by the blood of their fallen
brethren and sisters, and swim upward toward the open sky.
Once on the surface, they assume the forms of drowned men and are brought by
currents to distant shores, surviving on filter feeding and the life-giving
rays of the sun. If an Erastogaster is lucky,
its body will be discovered and buried where the larva can pupate, transforming
within the pseudograve into a shambling hulk that
will eventually claw its way upward by night t to hunt cattle, deer and people
for its food. This is the source of many legends, from the swamp things
of Louisiana to the voudoun
zombis of Dahomey and Haiti.
While the "drowned man" phase of an Erastogaster
is easily disposed of, and the larva is virtually helpless, the
"hulk" phase is nearly impossible to combat. Legend holds there are
only three methods of stopping an Erastogaster on the
hunt. The first is to overwhelm it with silver-dipped blades by night, then
burn the corpse to bones and scatter the ashes in saltwater under a new
moon. The second is to drive it to mate with another Erastogaster,
whereupon both collapse as the eggs within draw sustenance from their
progenitors before slipping into the sea to drift down into the Lesser Sea Wyrm's domain. The third is to have a virgin collar the
hulk with a braided silver rope and sing it to sleep, whereupon it will
transform into a docile twin of the of the girl or boy who captured it, a
valued doppelganger servant for life.
In the end, while the Erastogaster has identifiable
phases, it most truly resembles your dreams and nightmares of yourself at your strongest
and your worst.
Geist by Jeff LaSala
Jeff LaSala is the author of The Darkwood
Mask and Savant.
The Geist is a creature of modern folklore.
Unlike Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, its notoriety is not limited by
geography. Starting around 2020,
sightings of this apocryphal creature have cropped up in many countries and all
across the globe. Stories of its
appearance have originated in every metropolis, countless smaller cities and
towns, and even in remote and rural regions—like the wilds of Siberia, the
burning sands of the Sahara, and in expedition camps in Antarctica.
The assumption is that the Geist
is highly intelligent, but it avoids interaction with people. Sightings are rare, but over the years enough
have been documented that it has become a creature of legend and superstition,
even in a time when logic and reason far outweigh belief in the
supernatural. One fact is fairly consistent about the Geist’s appearances: it comes to feed on the digital
resources of the modern world, seeking out data-archives, information vaults,
or anywhere knowledge is stored. It has been seen clinging to the sides of
corporate skyscrapers like a giant mosquito and spotted crawling through the
subterranean bowels of a fusion power plant like a demonic gremlin. Yet none can deduce a pattern to such
feedings; the Geist may bypass a massive computerized
library and descend instead upon a private residence, tapping into and draining
whatever machinery it finds of both power and data. Almost as if it were searching for something specific . . . .
The Geist is apparently
nocturnal. During the day, it is
presumed to hide underground like a vampire or perch in lofty places like a
gargoyle. Whether this is because it
shuns the daylight hours or simply wishes to avoid detection, none can
say. Its name comes from the German term
zeitgeist, or “spirit of the age.” A
wealthy and well known executive of one of the most powerful mega-corporations
first coined the name, musing that perhaps the Geist is
the personification of the modern age with its use of fantastic yet terrible
No lens, camera, or recording technology is able to capture a
clear or consistent image of the Geist, a fact which
further strengthens its mystery and makes it highly sought after by those who
crave its technology. It does not appear
on radars or surveillance systems and it has evaded all attempts at capture. Something about its body seems to refract
light in such a way that renders the creature practically invisible to
everything but the naked eye. Therefore, what follows merely accounts what
some eyewitnesses have described.
The Geist is the size of an adult
male. It seems more or less androgynous,
lean but muscular, with a body the color of basalt, obsidian, or some other
black-hued stone. When remaining
perfectly still, it actually resembles a black or dark gray statue of
diabolical shape, giving rise to some beliefs that it is a living gargoyle out
of old medieval legends. It has
prodigious bat-like wings, but once spread apart these wings are actually more
reminiscent of a pterosaur's than a bat's. Each of its arms ends in a humanlike hand,
each digit in a razor-sharp nail. Its
narrow head is vaguely humanlike, but its face lacks an obvious mouth and nose.
Its eyes are lusterless black lenses, and protrusions at the top of its skull
suggest a pair of horns. One or more tails
that look like steel cables sprout from the base of its spine. Finally, a mass of long, thin, and prehensile
wires writhe, snakelike, from its torso; some are capped with blades, others
with connectors, and others will less recognizable implements. It is with these wires that the Geist seems to feed, digging into machinery or interfacing
with various data ports.
For all its fearsome appearance, there are no verified
attacks made against humans. Not
directly, anyway. The Geist has been known to render
unconscious or otherwise neutralize hostiles who threaten it. Many theories exist as to what the Geist really is: a devil, an angel, an alien, a vampire, a
specter, an android gargoyle . . . the list goes on. It may be robotic, some
sort of cutting edge AI, but most likely it’s a hybrid of human, animal, and machine.
Ghost Skull by Ed Greenwood
Ed Greenwood is the author of Arch Wizard and Falconfar.
small, sleek wild predator is a black-furred, tailed feline not much larger
than a domestic house cat (which it closely resembles). It can run up walls and
even traverse many ceilings on its exuded-at-will adhesive paws, and it eats the
flesh of small creatures it can catch (such as household pets) or even
disabled, dying, or recently deceased humans. Its bite delivers a venom that paralyzes small creatures for hours and larger
ones for minutes. It is a danger to humans for the stranger power that has
given it the strange name it bears: it can at will project (for short
distances) a silent, translucent image of a floating human skull that it can
turn and move about at will, to entice or frighten human prey into moving
within reach or frighten them into fleeing (perhaps to suffer injury during
God Bug by Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor is the author of Zahrah
the Windseeker and The Shadow Speaker.
common scarab beetle found all over Ginen. They can
be a metallic blue, pink or many colors. They always have a flower-shaped
design on their backs, stylish pink tiny spheres on the tips of their antenna,
and pretty white speckles on their legs. When it feels the urge, it will
spontaneously multiply, becoming two independent God Bugs. When it multiples,
it may make a soft popping or giggling sound. There have been rare cases where
one has multiplied into four or five.
Gosukwu by Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor is the author of Zahrah
the Windseeker and The Shadow Speaker.
A long-armed monkey-like monster about the size of a small
truck with blue woolly fur.
Huri by Michael Bishop
Bishop is the author of Brittle Innings and Transfigurations.
outcast member of the Asadi appeared in their
clearing one day. This creature had a grizzled mane, a wizened face, shriveled
hands, and a body bleached to a filthy cream. His strangeness was heightened by
the fact that he came accompanied . . . by a small, purplish-black creature perching
on his shoulder: winged lizard, or bat, or deformed homunculus, if
not all of these things at once. But whereas the old man had great round
eyes that changed color extremely slowly, if at all, the creature on his
shoulder had not even a pair of empty sockets. It was blind, blind by virtue of
its lack of any organs of sight. It sat on the aged Asadi's
shoulder and manipulated its tiny hands compulsively, tugging at the old man's
mane, then opening and closing them on empty air, then tugging once again at
its protector's grizzled collar. Chaney, the xenologist,
dubbed this second creature a huri, as a
sort of portmanteau word for fury and harpy.
Hyperman by Cory Doctorow
Cory Doctorow is the author of Makers and Little Brother.
Hyperman exists in four spatial dimensions. When it
protrudes into ours, you see it as a series of slices (imagine that you are
sticking your face through a sheet of paper, being observed by a
two-dimensional flat person drawn on the page) -- the tip of the nose, the
bridge, the face, the head, the back of the head.
The Hyperman can go from anywhere to anywhere by
taking strides through four-space. If it brings a three-dimensional object,
say, a book, into the fourth dimension and rotates it on the 4D axis, it comes
back into three-space with all the type backwards. If it does this with a piece
of cake, it comes back with all its sugars reversed, so that you can eat it
without gaining weight (but you might get explosive diarrhea).
If you want to learn more about what a 4D person is like, read Rudy Rucker's Spaceland.
Kessara by Daryl Gregory
Daryl Gregory is the author of Pandemonium and The Devil’s
colorful, moth-like creatures are found only in the Tamiladivas,
a chain of islands in the Hassai sea,
and are known to tourists as "island jewels" and to natives as
"little blessings" (though the Tamiladive
language is notoriously difficult, and translations may not be exact).
The kessara have inch-long, hour-glass shaped bodies,
and long, translucent wings that range in texture from downy soft to brittle and
The kessara are famous for their light shows. Near
dusk, swarms of the creatures gather near resorts, sightseeing boats, and
luxury condominiums. The insects' torsos glow a bright white, and their wings
shimmer and shift color, putting on an impressive, kaleidoscopic show. A
typical kessara community includes 5,000 to 10,000
individuals, but the creatures have been known to spontaneously form megaswarms that can light up miles of beaches.
The kessara are attracted to strong emotion, and have
been known to engulf visiting honeymooners and bickering spouses alike,
suffocating and/or crushing them to death, an event referred to as "the
sudden blessing". Kessara coloration seems to
vary with the mood of nearby humans. Kessara can take
on shimmering, lustful greens, haughty blues, and angry yellows. A red swarm
was reported only once, an event the Tamiladivans
refer to approvingly as "the big blessing."
The kessara's tiny, gem-like eggs are much prized,
however. It's considered a great honor to allow a swarm to deposit the eggs in
one's skin and wear them throughout the winter/quarantine period. (Attempting
to remove them is not advised: disturbed larvae instinctively burrow.) Extreme
anger, joy, and mind-shattering fear keep the young kessara
well fed, so the best hosts tend to be tourists, real estate developers, and
others new to the area. In the spring, the eggs hatch within a moderately
painful fifteen minute period, leaving the host exhausted and drenched in his
or her own blood. Not to worry! Thanks to modern medical techniques, survival
rates for "the spring blessing" are now approaching 30%. The tourism
industry remains strong, with visitors pouring in weekly. They won't be
disappointed: The Tamiladivans are predicting
"the mother of all blessings" in the very near future.
Kogythai by Tobias Buckell
Tobias Buckell is the author of Crystal Rain and Sly Mongoose.
Kogythai lurk under the waves, tentacles strong enough to rip a
smaller man in two, their saw-toothed mouths hungry
for meat. Their bony faces lurk in the shadows of their large shells, spiraled
and luminescent, too hard for a spear to penetrate. At night, sitting along the
riverbanks near the ocean the tip of their shells, where they taper from
layered spirals out into a cone-like end, drag along the riverstones
at the bottom making a faint tap-tap-tap. It's a faint sound, but don't get too
close when you listen to it. The Kogythai are braving
the fresh water, which is poisonous to them, to get closer to their prey:
unwary young children, innocently playing where air meets water.
Lesser Sea Wyrm by
Jay Lake is the
author of Green and Madness of Flowers.
A little-understood creature of the benthic depths.
Memory Snake by Nancy Kress
Nancy Kress is the author of Beggars in Spain and Steal Across the Sky.
Memory Snake is feared on its world. It has powerful fangs, fatal venom, and
dark red eyes. The most amazing thing about it, however, is that it will attack
and kill anyone except the first
three people it sees after it is hatched -- already two feet long -- from its
egg. Those three people are safe from it for life. No one else is.
Morta by Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor is the author of Zahrah
the Windseeker and The Shadow Speaker.
A beautiful red bird with a long thin red beak, stick-like
red legs, red eyes and a sweeping red tail. It eats only red
insects. When it dies, its dead body continues to fly aimlessly for days. They
are easy prey for tree beasts who snatch them out of
the sky. Found on the South side forest.
Mountain Reverse Hippo by Ekaterina Sedia
Ekaterina Sedia is the author of The Secret History of Moscow and The
Alchemy of Stone.
The mountain reverse hippo has
evolved to walk on its front legs, with its substantial belly protruding
between them; the hind legs are long and spindly, and clasp the reverse hippo’s
food in front of its snout. When it’s walking erect, one might even mistake the
creature for a regular biped, until he or she realizes that a curious
contortion of its spine allows its hind legs to dangle in front and take on the
appearance of paws. Its head is large and warty, and its mouth is wide and
filled with square, rough teeth of an herbivore (or so one would think). Its
rotund body is covered with thick hairless hide, which appears slightly
iridescent from certain angles.
Mutatu by Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor is the author of Zahrah
the Windseeker and The Shadow Speaker.
A large flightless migrating bird with three long thick legs
and soft downy black feathers. It has a blow hole at the top of its head that
it whistles through and a large heavy parrot-like beak which it uses for
self-defense. Mutatus also like to knock beaks and
whistle to make their form of music. These birds are vegetarians and feed
on fennel seeds which give them a pleasant spicy smell. Mutatus
migrate in long lines to their nesting grounds in the north. Women ride the
indifferent birds across these migratory lines (which happen to run through
human towns) like public transportation. Mutatus hate
male humans. No one knows why.
Nacht by Steven R. Erikson & Ian C. Esslemont
Steven R. Erikson & Ian C. Esslemont co-created the World of Malaz. Erikson is the author of Gardens of the
Moon and Esslemont is the author of Night of
the World of Malaz is a beast, or “monster,” named
It is rather like a cross between a monkey, a gargoyle, and a bat.
A flying monkey you might name it. Covered in black
fur, with prominent sharp teeth, and membrane bat-like wings. They
live in large family groups, hang out where bats might
be found, in towers, cliff-faces, and caves. Like monkeys, they are
curious, inquisitive, and territorial. But be warned, they can be much
more intelligent than at first one might imagine.
Nyha by Kathe Koja
Kathe Koja is the author of Headlong
and Kissing the Bee.
fierce as a flick-knife, impossible to catch, impossible not to want to: a nyha is what you glimpse when you cut your gaze sideways,
that blend of hue and teeth and speed in the underbrush. The female is
the larger of the species; the male wears the plumage. Their sprayed toxin
causes blindness in the susceptible.
Phorlam by Paul G. Tremblay
Paul G. Tremblay is the author of The Little Sleep and No Sleep
grown, the Phorlam is three to five feet long (with
two feet of that length belonging to its thin prehensile tail) and weighs
almost forty pounds. Squat and low to the ground, the Phorlam
is four-legged although it almost has no forelegs to speak of. Instead its toes
(four on each foot) are as long and thin as a tarantula’s legs. Like most
lizards it is cold blooded. It prefers warm and dry environs so that it may sun
its red-scaled, domed back. Loosely connected by a complex network of thin,
pliable cartilage and ligaments, the dome scales are able to shift position,
overlap, and slide around and over each other.
threatened, the Phorlam employs a truly unique
defense. It burrows, hiding its broad snout and head in the sand, but leaves
the dome of back scales exposed. The Phorlam will
twitch its body and sway slightly from side to side, making the scales scurry
and move. The dancing scales resemble a nasty swarm of particularly aggressive
Phorlam’s life expectancy is not known. Many of our
most respected families claim to have kept the same Phorlam
in their dwelling for countless generations. Its cultural role has remained
unchanged for centuries. The Phorlam continues to be
consulted on questions from the most mundane (how much should I bring to market
today?) to the complex quandaries that impact the political and societal
landscape. This foretelling aspect of the Phorlam has
remained quaintly un-ritualized. Anyone may ask the Phorlam
a question, or series of questions. The Phorlam then
responds by shaking its dome of scales. We are left to simply decipher the
shapes and symbols the scales form on its back, secure in the knowledge that
the answer is there, somewhere.
Seeing Hare by Lev Grossman
Lev Grossman is the author of Codex and The Magicians.
Seeing Hare is a unique beast: there is only one of it. It's larger than an
ordinary hare -- when up on its hind legs, it comes up to a man's waist -- and
its fur is a glossy grey-brown, the color of dead grass in winter. It can also
be distinguished from an ordinary hare by its unusual air of almost human
intelligence. Though make no mistake, the Seeing Hare is a wild animal, not a
The Seeing Hare's name refers to its gift, which is that it can see the future.
It's much sought after, because the rules of the Hare's gift state that it must
tell the fortune of whoever catches it, which it does in its raspy, rabbity voice. The Seeing Hare is immortal, but it's only
caught once or twice a century, because, obviously, it takes a damn fine hunter
to catch a hare that can see the future. The Seeing Hare hates being caught,
and it doesn't always deliver the news about its captor's future graciously.
And it takes a special satisfaction when the news isn't good.
Skulkyn by Ed Greenwood
Ed Greenwood is the author of Arch Wizard and Falconfar.
seldom-detected, amorphous creature survives by draining heat energy from
warm-blooded creatures. It is usually to be found spread in a thin coating or
layer over the handles of weapons, tools, and household items. When set, it has
a hard, unyielding, metallic-seeming surface that is a glossy gold in hue—but
it can at will flow, creeping with astonishing rapidity in any direction it
chooses (often to move to another item it suspects will soon see more handling
from humans or contact from other large warm-blooded creatures). When moving,
it turns translucent, losing all golden hue and reflective properties. Heat
can't harm it, and it can part at will (exposing whatever's underneath it) to lessen
damage from cuts or blows delivered to it. Skulkyns
are believed to be able to enter into humans and other large warm-blooded
creatures who are asleep or immobilized, by merging into the flesh of such
creatures (a slow process), but do so only when seeking to hide from persistent
attacks or to travel to another location where there will be more warm-blooded
creatures (for example, to ride an explorer from a wilderland
ruin being explored to the explorer's customary abode). Touching a skulkyn confers a chill.
Slime Mother by Robert V. S. Redick
V. S. Redick is the
author of The Red Wolf Conspiracy and The Ruling Sea.
The Murth-Queen of the
Third Pit, a.k.a. the Mother of Pain, She-Who-Digests-Her-Foes.
Terrible though it is to believe, this demoness is
not a myth. She is known to have spawned foul offspring in the forgotten lands
across the Nelluroq and to have journeyed north as
far as the Pellurids, where she ate men whole and
forced the islanders to her service until the Sea Princes defeated her on
Serpent’s Head and cast her body into the Nelluroq
Vortex. The Pelluridin fear her yet, and many assign
her dominion over the Third Pit of the cursed Nine, where she squats in
toad-form upon a throne of flesh.
The Squonk by Elizabeth
Elizabeth Bear is the author of Chill and By the Mountain Bound.
squonk is a mythical bird of the Pacific
Northwest which can dissolve itself into its own tears when
When the oiled canvas sack in Martha's hand quit twitching and making the
honking sobbing noises, she got worried the bird in it was dead. But maybe it
was playing 'possum, just waiting for her to loosen the drawstring and give it
a peek of sky to fly to. It was still heavy, heavy and a little wet--with what,
she didn't like to think--and she tried not to touch the outside while she
carried it home.
Billy met her by the gate. She held up the bag, trying not to worry when it
didn't kick in response. "Wait until you see what I got!"
He bounced on his toes. "What what?"
"Inside," she said.
She let her brother lead her into their tumbledown cabin, up the steep mossy
slope to the rocks and the great trees that sheltered it. Dad's boots still gathered
dust by the door. She set the bag on the crumb-covered table, which Billy had
pushed out from under the hole in the tin roof. While Billy closed the door
latch, she made sure the windows and the chimney flue were sealed.
When she came back to the table, she found him waiting.
"I ain't never seen anything like this,"
Martha said, and unknotted the strings on the bag. With a breath of
anticipation, she upended it on the table.
And jumped back from a splash of viscous fluid that ran off
the boards and splattered the floor. "What the heck?" Matt
said, pulling back in dismay.
The sack was light, empty. But Martha couldn't help peering into it anyway. One
lonely violet feather still stuck, curled and damp, to the inside weave. She
pulled it out for proof.
"There was a bird," she said. "In the trap.
A kind of bird I'd never seen before, all purple and blue and goosey-necked. Fat, like a little turkey, with gooney wings. It had like a feather pompom on its head...."
She trailed off, stricken. She held the feather out to Billy silently. Billy
took it, sniffed it, touched it to his tongue-tip.
"Salty," he said, and made a face. "Well, there ain't no bird in there now. You
figure it dissolved?"
Nnedi Okorafor is the author of Zahrah
the Windseeker and The Shadow Speaker.
Large brown fish with incredibly ugly faces. They have extended jaws
filled with jagged teeth, foggy yellow eyes, and hundreds of unattractive sharp
filaments hanging from their long bodies. They are very mean and grow terribly
angry when caught. If they feel they cannot escape, they become petrified
within minutes, thinking, "You'll not enjoy my flesh!" However, their
petrified bodies are actually very tasty and considered a delicacy.
Throat Snake by Ed
Ed Greenwood is the author of Arch Wizard and Falconfar.
A nocturnal predator that subsists on the blood of much
larger creatures that it kills by strangulation. Picture a long, thin,
ribbon-bodied (that is, flexible, capable of flattening out to glide or slap,
or bulging into a rounded cross-section, and expanding when full of victims'
blood) snake of mottled dark hues (black, purple, charcoal, and lighter gray),
with pairs of fleshy, frond-like wings it can fold tight to its body when need
be, and flare to glide or ride winds. It tends to glide down from trees and
other heights, or ride strong breezes, rather than flying far - - but it can
fly (and swim, too).
has a circle of tiny, razor-sharp teeth around several long, flexible, thin
sucking tubes (that look rather like spaghetti). It customarily hunts by
"pouncing" out of the night to strike large creatures, wrap around
their necks, and strangle them. Creatures familiar with eels might well mistake
this creature for an eel.
Wax Automaton by Gail Carringer
Gail Carringer is the author of Soulless and Changeless.
Alexia jerked backwards in horror. That
face! It was like a wax copy of something not quite human, smooth and pale
with no blemish, no scar, and no hair to speak of. On the forehead four letters
had been written in some sort of smudged black substance: VIXI. And those
eyes! They were dark and curiously blank, so flat and expressionless it was
as though nothing lived within the mind behind them. Here was a man who watched
the world without blinking, yet somehow refrained from looking directly at
backed away from that smooth face in repugnance. The apparition reached forward
and slammed the door to the cab, jerking the handle to lock it closed. Only
then did his set expression change. He grinned a slow
lazy grin that crept across his waxy face the way oil spreads over water. His mouth
was full of straight white squares, not teeth. Alexia was certain that smile
would haunt her dreams for years to come.
Wraith by Zoran Živković and translated from the
Serbian by Mary Popović
Zoran Zivkovic is the
author of The Last Book and The Fourth Cycle.
For generations, the pack had been coming to the
This would always occur in the fifth month,
Tule, when the young ones were strong enough for the long trek down from the
mountains and when the small, white, soft-furred hamshees
were most numerous and easiest to catch. The pack reached the coast of the Big
Water when Tule was at its zenith because it was only then, and only there,
that the presences appeared.
The wraith-like forms, composed of the sparkling
of the bluish air laden with the scents of evaporating waters, could be seen by
all the members of the pack, but communication with them could only be
established by the marked ones. For many generations, before the cubs who bore
the mark discovered their talent, ordinary inhabitants of the distant Highlands used to make these pilgrimages to the coast.
Seated in a great circle on the rough grains of black crystal, they would begin
to howl a monotonous refrain, waiting for the presences to materialize out of
nothing before them.
The wraiths would wander about in apparently
aimless fashion, passing through the bodies of the members of the pack, whose
fur would bristle, and through large rocks along the shore as though they had
no substance and were unaware of them. Their broad, clumsy feet reached down to
the black sand, almost but not quite touching it, remaining just a few
hairbreadths above and leaving no impression.
This spectacle would not last long. As soon as
Tule began to set above the bay, changing the wrinkled Big Water from dark blue
to turquoise, the presences would evanesce into the nonexistence from which
they had emerged for a brief spell, leaving behind only a faint crackling and a
deceptive smell of burning, which soon vanished. The pack would remain for a
long time yet, sitting in a circle, keeping up the slow chanting, until the
color of the Big Water changed once more, this time to light green. Then they
would begin the slow return trek to the settlements in the Highlands,
across the swampy bottoms and steep mountainsides with their many perilous
The birth of the first young one to bear the
mark passed unnoticed. If anyone in his clan observed the regular band of white
color above the fifth paw, he saw it only as a distinctive marking, nothing out
of the ordinary among the multicolored pelts of the members. Its special
properties only became evident the next time the pack formed a circle by the
shore and sat down, singing the song of invitation, to wait for the
apparitions. A few moments before the ephemeral forms began to coalesce from
nothing into the air, the white band on the young one’s paw started to glow
And then a new event occurred. Although the
wraiths, as before, passed effortlessly through the solid bodies of the pack
and through the rocks along the shore, evidently oblivious of them, they began
to gather closely around the young one with the mark and then extended their
high-placed forelimbs toward him, cautiously and tentatively. The cub did not
shrink back. The clawless hands of the apparitions could not go through him;
his fur resisted them with a shower of sparks. The hands slid down to the white
band, which seemed to attract them.
Guided by a vague impulse, the young one then
rose and walked into the center of the circle formed by the sitting pack. The
wraiths followed him without hesitation and soon formed another, smaller circle
around him. This would have hidden him from view if they were opaque, but being
transparent, the pack could still see him, although not so clearly, as if
through a layer of water that allowed a wavering glimpse of the bottom.
The crackling and smell of burning that
accompanied the arrival of the presences suddenly increased, making the
bristling fur of the pack members sparkle and glow. The cub, whom
they saw through the bodies of the wraiths, now reared up on the hindmost of
his three pairs of legs, making him almost half as tall as the ephemeral forms
around him. If an adult member of the pack had reared up in the same manner, he
would have been as tall as the presences.
The cub spoke to the apparitions, and they
responded. The language spoken was neither the language of the tribe nor the
thin squealing of the hamshees, but a speech never
heard in the Highlands—a choppy, jagged language full of strange utterances and
sharp intakes of breath, to which the throats of the mountain tribe were
unaccustomed. Yet the cub, who hardly knew the basics of his mother tongue,
spoke this one distinctly, communicating easily with the wraiths, sounding as
though his mouth were full of sharp gravel from the slopes below the Highlands.
There was not much time for this rough,
sharp-edged talk that resembled the echo of a rockslide down the cliffs. Tule
was already setting and the Big Water, which had never known waves, was
becoming suffused with a different color. Although clearly unwilling to go so
soon, the apparitions began to dissolve around the upright cub, accelerating
their brittle speech in a feverish attempt to tell him as much as possible.
When the last wraith dissolved, talking without pause to the last, rasping
breath, the marked cub suddenly collapsed onto the wet sand. The band over his
fifth paw lost its brightness, but also its previous white color, turning dark
and apparently singed from too much exposure to the sparks and the tentative
touches of the presences.
He fell into a fitful, troubled sleep and they
had to carry him back to the Highlands. Along
the way they listened to his sharp-edged ravings in the unintelligible language
of the wraiths. He woke only after the pack had left the lowlands, which were
swarming with wingless, buzzing insects that unsuccessfully tried to push their
long, poisonous stingers through the thick fur of the denizens of the mountains.
But his awakening did not bring any explanation to the pack, eager for
knowledge: the cub, no longer marked, remembered nothing, and the memory of the
conversation with the apparitions never returned to him.
The pack learned nothing from the next two
marked cubs, either. Males also, they, too, could never remember the meetings
on the shore, although in their sleep they occasionally spoke the gravelly,
incomprehensible language of the wraiths. At such times the band over the fifth
paw would again glimmer a little, but only briefly. Otherwise, the marks
remained permanently darkened. When the previously marked traveled again to the
Big Water, they were as invisible to the crackling, intangible forms as any
other member of the pack. Only once could the mark function as a link.
The fourth cub to bear the mark was a female.
From her, the pack gained their first, albeit limited knowledge of the
presences. She, too, had fallen limply on the sand after the glimmering forms
around her evanesced into the nonexistence from which they came, but she
regained consciousness soon after, while the pack was still on the shore, and
retained a vivid memory of the encounter. On the journey back through the wet
lowlands, under attack by swarms of wingless insects, the pack listened to her
story. Very little could be understood—not so much because the young female
still had only an elementary knowledge of her own species’ language as because
the many aspects of the strange wraith-world did not conform to anything in the
language of the pack.
Only after the passage of many more generations
and a long succession of useless males and far fewer females whose stories,
however scanty, could be added to each other and gradually built up, did a
single story begin to emerge. This was a grand, marvelous story, an adumbration
only, far stranger than all the legends preserved from ancient times and told
in the mountain dwellings while the gloomy light of Lopur
flowed from the sky, legends told to divert everybody’s thoughts, if only for a
short while, from the terrible hunger that always came with the fourth month.
This grand story was about a strange pack of
four-limbed, one-headed creatures who lived on the Other Side (of the Big
Water, presumably, since nothing else had another, unreachable side). These
creatures did not hunt hamshees or communicate in any
of the dialects of the Highlands, but they
were still somehow related to the pack to the extent that they were constantly
haunted by the need to establish a connection. This urge for connection was
irresistible, for after each successful communication the alien kin would lose
a member. The fate of these unfortunates was unknown, but worse than anything
that could be imagined in the Highlands.
This sacrifice had to be endured, however, in
order to achieve the ultimate purpose: the total union of the two packs, in
some place that was neither the shore of the Big Water, although it would begin
there, nor the Other-Side world of the strange kindred, but some third region
that had only three differently-colored moons in the sky, a region without
water and without hamshees, as the Highlands were in
the ages before the ur-pack, before even the stunted
shrubs and mosses.
And yet that repulsive, lifeless place possessed
a single feature that made it very familiar to the pack—so familiar that its
members, who never trusted anything alien, were neither anxious nor hesitant to
undertake an uncertain union with such different cousins and the certain loss
of the safe haven of their native world under the many colors of light that
shone from its five moons. That feature was a circle, similar to the one the
inhabitants of the Highlands formed when they came down to the shore or when,
during the short period of darkness between the setting of Tule and the rising
of little Kilm, the first moon, they raised their
ritual star chant, which they ended with a mighty yell to the spangled heavens,
as a greeting to the new cycle.
Song arose from this alien circle, too, but a
song incomparably more delightful and more inspired than the monotonous howling
of the pack; a song full of mighty ascent and high flights that branched out,
sounding considerably more harmonious and perfect than their final shout in the
darkness of the Plateau, a shout that terrified the small hamshees.
The vital need to take part in that song pushed aside all the ancient instincts
of the pack, forcing it to accept as its own the purpose suggested by the
strange kindred who sacrificed themselves and journeyed to the shore from the
unimaginable distances beyond the Big Water.
So did the pack agree to the union.
According to the Great Story, however, spun by
the young females—each adding a hair to that luxuriant fur—the union could be
accomplished only when three marked cubs entered the circle on the shore at the
same time to serve as three bases and movers of the union in which they
themselves would not take part.
And so the pack waited from generation to
generation, as patient as their moons of many colors, which changed places in
the heavens with faultless accuracy, commanding the rise and fall of the meager
life on the world they illuminated: small, ruddy Kilm;
yellow, pock-marked Borod; Morhad,
enveloped in a dense green veil; dark Lopur,
crisscrossed with fiery threads; and the greatest of them all, blue Tule.
At last, without any hint of what was to come,
just before one of the countless moonsets of Lopur,
while the inhabitants of the Plateau were alleviating their hunger by
contemplation of the forthcoming feast of Tule, the final yell of the star song
sounded simultaneously before three different abodes, announcing that three
cubs bearing the mark had entered the world.
The slaughter of the hamshees,
when the blue moon came up, was much more restrained than on any previous
occasion. The pack caught only as many as were needed for the journey to the
coast. In the place toward which they would set out from the edge of the Big
Water, the tender meat of the mountain rodents would no longer be needed,
although the Story said nothing about what they would eat when, united, they
arrived at the circle of song. If hunger greater than the famine of Lopur were the price that had to be paid to achieve this,
the pack was ready to accept it.
On the shore, the marked cubs were positioned at
three equally spaced points in the circle. The black sand was damper than
usual, wetting the fur where their limbs were tucked under them, but this only
stressed the glistening whiteness of the marks.
The arrival of the presences this time was not
slow and gradual. The moment Tule touched its zenith, the air in the circle
began to sparkle and erupt, while the usual crackling rose to a deafening
crash. At once, everybody’s fur stood stiffly on end, giving off myriad blue
lightning flashes in response to the fiery challenge from inside the circle.
The white bands over the three fifth paws became
spindles of blazing light, spinning the offspring of the two worlds into a
single thread of fire, as they trembled from the violence of the forces that
clashed above them. A series of ruddy flashes: then forms materialized in the
circle, swiftly filling it and becoming as numerous as the members of the
circle. Instantly the fireworks died down, and the thunderous crashing
diminished to a muffled echo, which seemed to come from far out on the Big
Each now leaving behind a double set of shallow
footprints in the wet sand, the shapes of the kindred began to find places
around the rim of the circle made by the pack, forming pairs with the members.
Only the three marked cubs were left without mates. The three continued to
shake from head to toe frantically, trying to hold back the torrent of forces
and tensions within them until the right moment, longing for the act of
Release finally came just as Tule flooded the open
water with turquoise. Flashes and explosions burst out from the three base
points, and the circle started to rotate, slowly at first, then faster and
faster, taking with it the pairs of diverse beings, now irrestrainably
joining, becoming one. The edge of the circle soon melted into an
undifferentiated line of light that plowed a deep furrow in the sand, throwing
up clouds of black quartz; a frenzied yell arose along the shore, in comparison
with which the final bellow of the pack’s star song would seem like the meek
whisper of a frightened hamshee.
Like all climaxes, this one was brief. Just as
it seemed that the tremendous speed of the rotation would inevitably break the
circle of shining into fragments that would fly off in all directions and
devastate a large tract of the coast, the circle suddenly began to fade and
lose its brilliance, dispersing first into multicolored sparks and then into a
colorless absence that swiftly sucked the fury into itself. And the deep
silence that had reigned at the edge of the Big Water since time immemorial was
A smoldering circular groove in the sand, above
which stood three small, dark, singed humps, was the only trace that remained
of this wild spree by forces from the Other Side. Tule was already touching the
edge of the world when one of the humps at last moved off,
soon followed by the other two, stumbling across the swampy lowlands toward the
far mountains they were never to reach.