Friday, 6 May 2016

Commander Ludwig Nicstaed’s ‘The Creatures and Monsters of Esdaria: A Bestiary Written in Blood’, Part Three of Six

In part three of his bestiary, Commander Ludwig discusses the various type of drakonoid that are said to inhabit Esdaria. As one may expect, a large amount of this particular entry is drawn from folklore, and its value as a factual resource is highly questionable. It is, however, an interesting look into the mindset of the common Westernaean, and provides a glimpse into some of the stories they may have told and songs that they might have sung.
Drakonoids – Scale-Wearing Fiends  

Some assert that basilisks are leviathans in larval forms. This is not true, though, as basilisks are able to survive out of water. As long as a ship and able to swallow a Man whole, a basilisk has the appearance of a snake. It has neither arms nor legs, and moves by slithering on its belly. The scales which cover its body are the side of a Man’s two hands put side-by-side, and are vulnerable to fire. Steel cannot pierce them, for there are as solid as stone and as thick as a Dwarf’s forearm.

It has three eyes in either side of its head, which are ghostly and transparent in their appearance. Long-faced, they have a maw that is both narrow and as long as a Man lying down, filled with hundreds of teeth that are as sharp as razors and as tough as iron. Interestingly, the muscles used by the basilisk to open its jaws are weak, whilst those which it uses to bite down are strong enough to bite clean through a cow. If one should ever find oneself facing a basilisk, try and pin its upper jaw down, as the muscles which move it are too weak to re-open its mouth. Then, set it on fire.

This account, like that of the gryphon, is compelling and believable. There is a level of detail included in Ludwig’s writings which seems to be too detailed to be imagined. The Silver Sea, which Stonesport is built beside, has long been swathed in mystery, and the inhabitants of Westernaea – who are a seafaring folk by nature – often tell tales of great basilisks that can slither out of the sea and onto the land. Ludwig’s inclusion of how to defeat a basilisk is also revealing about his past – it seems likely that Ludwig will have had to one day face off against such a creature when defending Stonesport.

There is no living creature as ferocious, nor as excessively violent, as a cockatrice. Dwelling either in rocky hills or the branches of the oldest trees, a cockatrice can grow to the size of a horse in body, though its leathery wings can grow so large that they can cover entire barns with their span. At the tip of each wing thy have a hand-like claw with a few finger-like talons, which they use to savage their prey. They have the faces of great cockerels, but hideously ugly and covered in pocks and lumps. Their eyes are midnight-black and their tough, dark flesh is only partly covered by ragged, dark feathers.

They move about resting on their winged forearms, and push themselves forwards with the wiry, strong rear legs, which are also covered in talons. When they charge, they rise onto their hind legs and spread their wings wide for a few moments, making themselves as large and as fearsome as they can, before dashing forwards with the force of twenty angry bulls.

Existing in only the most ancient songs, dragons are, like leviathans, thought to be the remnants of a long, forgotten race that once inhabited Esdaria. Each song speaks of terrible, leathery wings and huge bodies covered in scales that can flatten entire military units with their bulks. They can come in many colours and many are able to breathe fire from their mouths.

Odr does not speak of dragons in his letters, so here, Ludwig is drawing upon folk-stories. No-one in living memory has ever seen a dragon, and it has long been argued that they have died out in Esdaria – if they ever even existed in the first place.

Almost as large as an ankyr, and covered in purple feathers and scales, the thunderbird is a rare creature that inhabits the Cold North beyond the many ranges of mountains. It is, in appearance, everything the cockatrice aspires to be: magnificent in colour, with a hooked beak and a great halo of dark blue and purple plumage. Clouds pour from its wings and it is said that when they grow large enough, they are able to send great claps of thunder crashing across the landscape with nothing more than a flap of his wings.

This is borrowed from Odr’s first letter, in which he speaks of a thunderbird being sighted in the sky to the north of his village on the day he left to travel. The first Men saw thunderbirds as good omens – symbolic that, even if a great storm were to strike them whilst they went about their business, they would achieve whatever it was they set out to do as their fate was the will of the gods. It is possible such creatures exist, but there has been no expedition into the Cold North for nearly one-thousand years. The lack of detail here suggests Ludwig never actually saw a Thunderbird.

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