I mentioned in an earlier post (or, more precisely, Kaia Blackwing, my shameless self-insert character, did), that Skhara suffered a devastating plague in ancient times.  However, at no point did I go into detail about it, for if I had done so earlier, there would be a link to such a page.  In fact, I may fix that, assuming I can: I’ll go back and put a link to this page in an even earlier post, something I’ve never done before.  Anyway, the story goes that when Skhara fell, a great plague was unleashed upon the land from within Castle Holgar itself.  Hardly anything survived, plant or animal, and nothing grew within the Blackwood after that – nothing good, anyway.

Gnarled trees held on, with the only signs of life being in a few fresh twigs, well out of the reach of most animals.  The most lively trees were all hawthorns, and anyone who’s ever seen one knows how nasty those things are, with great branching spikes covering their trunks.  Little to no undergrowth survived, and most that did was poisonous anyway.  Yet, within this vast forest (roughly the size of modern-day France, in fact), the animals to be spared from the plague adapted to the conditions, becoming grotesque, corrupt versions of their ancestors in the almost lifeless Blackwood.  Rabbits took to scavenging, tearing off chunks of flesh from carrion as fast as they could, before the vultures swooped down to stake their claim.  The worst, however, were the deer.  Without enough ground vegetation, and the only trees with any bark being covered in flesh-rending spikes, they took to eating meat.

Deer were always the favourites of wolf packs (and the night’s dragon), but they started to stand their ground and fight back.  The largest stags were always the wolves’ prime choice, but also the most dangerous.  The stag rarely won and drove the wolves off, but even still, one or two wolves always ended up getting impaled on the antlers, which branched less and less every year, for they became weapons to use against wolves, rather than other stags.  If the wolves were hungry enough, they would eat their fallen siblings, but if not, the dead wolves were left for the birds (and rabbits).  Whenever a stag fell, rivals would encroach upon his territory, sometimes finding the dead deer and chewing on its bones, along with whatever meat was left by that time.  Sometimes, the deer ate the rabbits.  Other times, they snapped at the vultures and crows, occasionally getting lucky and pulling one down.

Of course, at the very bottom of the food chain, sustaining all of these desperate carnivores, were the rodents, crawling about in the hawthorn trees, gathering berries, and stashing them in hollows and among the roots.  They did very well, and in turn, fed the rabbits and crows, and occasionally, the deer as well.  As for them, hunters living on the borders of the Blackwood, in what is now the frontier of the Kantossi Democratic League, eventually had their first encounter with carnivorous deer.  Eating meat and competing with wolves had changed them in a few generations, making them much more dangerous to hunt than ordinary deer.  It also made them taste different, but only the night’s dragon, which was still the uncontested master of the forest, could truly appreciate that.

When a traveller brought stories of a large and somewhat deformed stag to a Kantossi frontier town, a group of hunters hired him as their guide to show them exactly where he had seen the animal.  For several days, they tracked the stag, which had turned round and run over his own tracks several times, keeping the hunters moving in circles until they got dizzy and had to stop.  This stag was going to be a trophy to be spoken of for generations, if the traveller wasn’t exaggerating its unusual appearance.  The tracks gave away its size, and the challenge merely egged the hunters on.  This was a challenge for them, and they nicknamed the stag “Brain,” for how clever he was.  The hunt itself wasn’t totally unproductive, as they managed to get two smaller doe from the hunt, as well as several very good looks at Brain, such that a faithful painting was able to be made when they returned to town, and the story of Brain circulated throughout the frontier.  However, the stag wasn’t seen again for some time, and disappeared back into the Blackwood, well beyond the frontier.

Some years later, Brain returned.  This time, however, he had roamed so far that he was in an area of the frontier that had not yet heard his story.  There, after repeatedly mauling sheep and making off with tiny lambs, he gained a different name: “Blood.”  For the longest time, no-one knew what sort of animal Blood even was, for it simply came in the dead of night, leaving a bloody mess of injured sheep, and the shepherd was always one lamb short whenever it happened.  When Blood finally attacked on a clear night with two full moons in the sky, the townsfolk finally got a look at his silhouette, and knew exactly what they were dealing with.  Hunters came from all round to finally take down this strange deer that they all knew as Brain.  At first, they didn’t believe the tale that the stag was killing sheep, but after one had volunteered to watch the sheep one night, he saw the creature hop over the newly repaired fence, into the moonlit pasture.  He wasn’t sure if this was his target, and couldn’t get a decent shot anyway, so he fired his gun into the air to scare it off and bring the others to him.  The stag did not go back the way he came, instead running off to the side, and staying just out of view.  The hunter hurriedly re-loaded his flintlock, but it did him no good.  The stag had somehow snuck up behind and impaled him, leaving him dying when help finally arrived.  The hunters who had converged on this farming town stopped using the name “Brain” to refer to this killer stag altogether.

Rather than wait for this monster, for lack of a better word, the hunters formed all decided to enter the woods on the outskirts of town during the day, hoping to find some sort of trail leading them to Blood.  This forest wasn’t the Blackwood, but given how foreboding it was, it may as well have been.  For nearly ten days, the twenty or so hunters went in, ready to shoot something, only to come out at the end of the day at least one man short.  Every time they saw Blood, he would be covered in his namesake, sometimes feasting on the flesh of a dead hunter.  Blood managed to pick them off, one by one, until one hunter finally managed to get the drop on him – literally.  Blood was drinking from a small stream just beyond a low cliff, and the hunter was looking straight down at him.  He aimed and pulled the trigger.  Click.  Blood pricked up his ears.  There wasn’t time for this.  This murderous animal had to die.  The hunter drew his knife, and dove onto the stag’s back, stabbing him in the throat and spine.  He suffered a broken leg and some nasty facial scars, but Blood was finally dead.  The townsfolk had a great feast, and it is said that Blood tasted more like a bear than a deer.  Tales of Brain and Blood circulated throughout the land, and when it discovered that others of his kind existed, mostly within the Blackwood, the term “brainblood” was coined as a name for these carnivorous deer.

In terms of how bizarre creatures of this world can be, brainbloods are quite tame (not in terms of behaviour, obviously).  After all, I’ve already covered the subject of dragons, and if I can make time to draw up character templates, the next entry in this series will be about the humanoids: the lavkins, votrels, semki/maaliks, druorns, and dwarves.

2 thoughts on “Strange Creatures of Rossbera, Part 1: Brainbloods

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