SHARED WORLDS Presents…

A Fantastic Bestiary

Here there be monsters! And beasts! And fantastical creatures. The faculty of Shared Worlds creative writing camp has called on some of speculative fiction's most compelling storytellers to chase down and gather up all manner of wondrous beasts. 

They come from many worlds, some like our own, many stranger still.  There are beasts from the world of Malaz, co-created by Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont, where other-than-human creatures are few but dreaded.  There are many more from the world of Ginen, created by Nnedi Okorafor, where fantastical flora and fauna abound.

Some of the beasts are strange, even creepy, like Cory Doctorow's Hyperman or Gail Carringer's Wax Automaton.  Others are terrifying like James O’Neal’s Crocostrictor. Some are small and furry, like Zoran Zivkovic's hamshees, Kathe Koja's Nyha, and Lev Grossman's Seeing Hare, while still others are lumbering behemoths or underwater wyrms.  And, of course, some are humorous, like Ekaterina Sedia's Mountain Reverse Hippo or Will Hindmarch's Cattywampus.

Scroll through our Fantastic Bestiary or, for the less intrepid, use the table of contents below to jump ahead to an entry by your favorite author.  And don't forget to return in August when the students of Shared Worlds 2010 have illustrated entries with original artwork, and included their own thoughts on these beasts.


Shared Worlds is a summer think tank at Wofford College for teenagers who have an interest in fantasy and science fiction literature. For two weeks, students create imaginary worlds and write fiction under the guidance of writers and professors. The instructors for 2010 will include Spiderwick Chronicles creator Holly Black, critically acclaimed YA and adult authors Kathe Koja and Marly Youmans, Nebula Award winner Michael Bishop, writer and gaming expert Will Hindmarch, and World Fantasy Award winner Jeff VanderMeer. Artist Scott Eagle will also conduct a workshop during the camp. Register online today!

 

The Shared Worlds Bestiary is edited and maintained by Christopher L. Dinkins (Instructor, Shared Worlds), Jeremy L. C. Jones (Director, Shared Worlds), Matt Staggs (Deep Eight, LLC), and Jeff VanderMeer (Assistant Director, Shared Worlds).

 

Shared Worlds and this bestiary are made possible in part by the generous support of our sponsors :Realms of Fantasy, Tor Books, and Wizards of the Coast.

 


Asadi (Michael Bishop)

Atalasian Bear (Marly Youmans)

Beatifibeast (Jesse Bullington)

Beauzoid (James Morrow)

Bush Cow (Nnedi Okorafor)

Cattywampus (Will Hindmarch)

Crocostrictor (James O’Neal)

Eguar (Robert V. S. Redick)

Elgort (Nnedi Okorafor)

Emerald Foliot (Elizabeth Hand)

Erastogaster (Jay Lake)

Geist (Jeff LaSala)

Ghost Skull (Ed Greenwood)

God Bug (Nnedi Okorafor)

Gosukwu (Nnedi Okorafor)

Huri (Michael Bishop)

Hyperman (Cory Doctorow)

Kessara (Daryl Gregory)

Kogythai (Tobias Buckell)

Lesser Sea Wyrm (Jay Lake)

Memory Snake (Nancy Kress)

Morta (Nnedi Okorafor)

Mountain Reverse Hippo (Ekaterina Sedia)

Mutatu (Nnedi Okorafor)

Nacht (Steven R. Erikson & Ian C. Esslemont)

Nyha (Kathe Koja)

Phorlam (Paul G. Tremblay)

Seeing Hare (Lev Grossman)

Skulkyn (Ed Greenwood)

Slime Mother (Robert V. S. Redick)

Squonk (Elizabeth Bear)

Stock Fish (Nnedi Okorafor)

Throat Snake (Ed Greenwood)

Wax Automaton (Gail Carringer)

Wraith (Zoran Zivkovic)


Asadi by Michael Bishop

Michael Bishop is the author of Brittle Innings and Transfigurations.


My 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.


The 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.


One 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!"


They 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 cellulose.

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.

 

Both 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 sf.

 

Atalasian Bear by Marly Youmans

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 hunters.


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 meaning hole.


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.


The 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.

 

In 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 Towards Hiroshima.


A 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.


Bush Cow by Nnedi Okorafor

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 Double Human.


About 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 Ruling Sea.

 

[In 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.

The 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 strained.

‘What’s wrong, Master Ott?’ asked Drellarek.

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.’

Chadfallow’s eyes snapped up. ‘You saw it?’ he said.

Ott nodded. ‘It lies basking in the sun.’

‘Fire from Rin,’ whispered Drellarek.

‘An eguar?’ squealed Erthalon Ness. ‘An eguar! What is that?’

Ott 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.’

Chadfallow shook his head. ‘They do not run far,’ he agreed, ‘but at close range they move with blinding speed.’

‘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.’

Ott 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 easily—’

‘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.’

Ott took 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 late.’

Alyash 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.’

Ott raked 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?

Ott pinched his arm savagely. Pazel wrenched his gaze from the creature and faced forwards. One by one the horses stepped onto the roof.

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 sides.

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 pale.

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 itself.

Pazel 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.

Pazel 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 was speaking.

Pazel had 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 something like.’

‘Run,’ gasped Pazel.

Pathkendle. Pathkendle. Compose yourself, or I swear on Magad’s life I’ll throw you from this horse.’

Pazel 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.

Ott 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 tears.’

‘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.

Drellarek shrugged. ‘The creature had a full belly, perhaps.’

‘No,’ said Pazel, ‘it’s hungry.’

They looked at him, speechless. ‘Is that what your Gift made of the thing’s one little bark?’ asked Swift.

‘Little bark?’ said Pazel.

Saroo 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 again:]


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 voice.

They dismounted, and the boys watered the horses from a feedbag. Alyash tore chunks from a dark loaf of bread and handed them around.

Pazel was 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.

Chadfallow’s face 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?’

Ott shook his head. ‘There are things I won’t discuss with a man who’d try to brand me a traitor.’

‘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.

Pazel 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—’

Pazel 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?’

Alyash 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!’

Pazel 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.

Chadfallow was 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, and lunged.

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.

Pazel felt 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.

Oh no. Ignus.

Pazel had 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.’

Pazel 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 by night.

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.

Pazel was 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 this time?’

‘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.’

Pazel covered his ears. He would not speak with the creature, not when it had just eaten—

‘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 mind next.’

‘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:

‘Acceptance 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 right.

‘Get up,’ said Pazel, smouldering. ‘What happens next is your problem.’

‘I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ said Chadfallow.

Pazel 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 Sea:]

 

Bolutu said 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.’

Bolutu gave 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

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.


The 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 technology.


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.


This 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 such flight).

God Bug by Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is the author of Zahrah the Windseeker and The Shadow Speaker.

 

A 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.


One aged 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.


The 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 Alphabet.


These 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 sharp.

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

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.

 

The 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 Knives.


From the World of Malaz is a beast, or “monster,” named the nacht.   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.


Ferret-sized, 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 Till Wonderland.


Fully 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.


When 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 army ants.


The 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.


The 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 tame one.

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.


This 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

Robert 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 Bear

Elizabeth Bear is the author of Chill and By the Mountain Bound.


The squonk is a mythical bird of the Pacific Northwest which can dissolve itself into its own tears when captured.

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?"


Stock Fish by Nnedi Okorafor

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 Greenwood
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).

It 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 anything.

 

Miss Tarabotti 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 shore.


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 rockslides.


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 brightly.


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 Water.


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 discharge.


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 restored.


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.