A Recipe for Monsters



It was the height of noon, and a yellow sun shon heavy on the drover's lane. It put a shimmering heat in the clay, filled ruts cut by hooves and wagons' wheels with grubby, liquid mirage. It lent a loud energy to the insects sat burring in myrtle-green thickets, and an oily gleam to the wings of loitering, brash crows. 

Up the lane, through the shimmer, a lot of whuffling swine crested the hill. Some six spotted, bristly backs tanned by sun-cracked mud. Their trotters threw up a spill of dust and dry leaves. They gruntled idly, nipped at sweet begonia pixies flittering along the hedged lane. 

A twiggy lass trailed behind, wore a sticky straw hat and a lot of acne. Boredly, she twitched the hogs' heels with a wicker switch, drove them steadily.

"Hallo, Bierde," said a small voice near a shaded stile.

Bierde turned her hatted head, squinted, spied a mouse. He sat atop a fence post neath a thick shade of mistletoe. He wore his shirt open, clutched a clay jug beaded with condensation. "Hallo, Kleinwick," she said, smiling.

Kleinwick leapt atop the hog nearest Bierde, sat. "Cider?" He said, proffering the jar. "Been pressing all day with Haroldt. Nicked some ice chippings, for it."

Bierde drank gratefully. "Ya, you're a good mouse. Fine thing for the heat."

"Cursibly hot, this sun," Klienwick mused, pink nose twitching. 

"Aye." She handed the jug back.

"Where're you bringing these swine?"

"Next county over. Some rich young master in Laarssumph wants them."

Klienwick twitched his ears. "Long way to take such a small drove." 

Bierde shrugged. "Wants them sorely. She came calling specially. In a coach. Said she heard we'd the best sows in the land."

"Who's is it, then?"

"Master by the name of Senguier."

"Oh," squealed Klienwick. He reflexively straightened, put his ears back. 

"What?"

"Ya, I'll bid you good luck with that." The mouse leapt to a nearby fence, jug sloshing cider.

"What's wrong with Senguier?" said the swineherd. 

"Farewell!" called the departing mouse. 

Bierde frowned. She switched a dawdling pig's heels, kept on along the lane. 

Over the hills she took the beasts, through drover's paths cut through field and thicket. The ways were old, but clearly demarcated, oft set with ancient markers etched in runes, like nonsense milestones. Clay, punished by sun and trotters, disintegrated and lifted into dust. Its gray, powdered leavings trailed after the trundling parade, caked both swine and sweating swineherd. Bierde stopped her charges often at rainwater cisterns built along the way. They all drank eagerly. 

Well after noontime, they descended into the boggy vale of Laarssumph, and the sun did not follow. There, the path wound through mazy high ground midst wide peat-bottomed pools of opaque depth. Pines overhung the way, dripped chill condensate onto black and bruise-purple scrub. Bierde's charges twitched their ears in complaint, for the mosquitoes were thick and scathing.

In the low belly of the vale, sunset had near already come. Bare streaks of remaining sunlight peered over the distant verge of hills, cast orange streaks on opaque pools. Nightingales called close at hand. The swine carried on slow, cautious.

Eventually, the drover's lane intersected with an old road, near-overgrown by boglife. There stood a waystone planted atilt in peat. In its surface, over shallow, worn-out runes of old, were cut new directions. Bierde squinted at the marks. The pigs stared, too, blinked their white-lashed eyes, no more literate than their herder. 

Bierde craned her neck, peered down both winding lanes. Down one, midst the sticks, a lantern shon, affixed to the height of a wrought iron gate. Bierde flicked her wicker switch. The drove set off that way.

They passed under onto a cobbled drive. Ahead, light showed through the drooping boughs of dead pines. Candle light, hoary in windows high and sagging. A manse of some old esteem sat there; its grounds long-ago overtaken by bog, its stone facade worn and greening with algae. 

Bierde marveled as she grew near, craned to peer at sneering gargoyles clung to mossy sills and machicolations.

The swine began to whimper and champ. Bierde looked about quick, startled as well. A broad figure in a duster stood not far off, round a low, wooden outbuilding beside the house. Its head was hidden in a large, deep traveling hood. It approached at some speed.

"Hallo?" Bierde said, startled.

The figure kept on. Bierde backed off. Her swine stamped and squealed. Another appeared from the outbuilding, likewise hooded, but in overalls and a woolen coat. It marched to join its fellow.

"Please, I'm looking for Senguier," said Bierde, voice cracking. She took a step back. 

The pair grew quite close; huge, leather-gloved hands gripped into fists. They huffed weirdly, as if enraged. Bierde dug in her heels to flee.

"Kein, Kern, be gentle," called a sharp, high tone. The large pair quit, humbly.

At the manse's stoop had appeared a woman. She wore an expression of neutral command; pulled cross high, flat cheekbones too lined for her age. Her stained overalls were worn incongruously over a billowy silk shirt.

"Master Senguier" said Bierde. She removed her hat, wiped her hair-stuck brow.

"My apologies," said Senguier. "My servants are twins. They are simple, and often boorish."

Bierde looked to the brothers. They had come close and knelt to rub the swine, who gruntled and huffed sociably, nuzzled with flat snouts. At this distance, it was evident the two wore burlap sacks under their outsized bulk of hoods, with naught but wide-spaced holes torn for sight.

"You two keep the piggery?" frowned Bierde. The pair did not react, instead pet the swine tenderly with thick hands. 

Senguier smiled oddly, approached to stand amidst them. "They do not speak, Bierde. Blight has taken that from them, and their faces."

"Oh."

"Brothers, do take the pretty sows to see their new home," commanded Senguier.

Bierde moved to help, but one brother rose, stepped to block her. The swineherd spied one dark, watery eye under the burlap. Impassive, white-lashed. Bierde frowned.

"No," said Senguier, sharply. She pulled Bierde aside, smiled thin. "You've done enough. You've worked hard to bring them out to me."

"Oh."

Quietly, the brothers ushered the sows away. The beasts followed, tails eagerly whipping.

Senguier produced a small, heavy envelope, handed it to Bierde. It clinked on her palm. "For that hard work, I have included a bonus."

"Thank you." 

"You'd best get back soon, yes? The Sumph is a dreadful place, at night."

Bierde blinked at her, at the queer, red-brown stains on her overalls; at the yellow tang of formaldehyde.

Noticing this, Senguier gave another quick smile. Something like exasperation showed in her lined eyes. "Yes?"

Bierde mused. "You're an aristocrat, ain't you, Master? What d'you want with sows?"

Senguier paused. She examined the swineherd's round, acned face. Something twitched her lip. From the outbuilding sounded squeals, then the bellowing chortle of a hog. Senguier smiled weirdly. "For the piglets, of course."

Bierde scampered hurriedly all the way home.



Rough, blunt fingers pawed over the markings. Sticks, spurred circles, intertwined and cut deep into black granite.

"'Beware…'" read the hand's owner, a hairy, tiny guide in a green woolen hat. He sniffed his feelered, mustachioed nose, put his stub of candle close to the marks. Light flickered in the recesses. He squinted through his mole's eyes. "'Herein lie our arts.'"

A posse of five hard-bit and leathered cutters stood about him, watched him work anxiously. The space about was quite dark, depthy, save for candlelight playing over the round, runed portal. It smelled of rot and ammonia.

"And here," he said, pointing to a pair of harsh lines. "'Seruk ast ul derun.'" He moved down a line, licked his lips. "'Junkil ast ul derun.'"

There was a spot of silence. The lead cutter, a one-eyed man with yellow teeth, spoke. "Aye?" he prompted.

Small, darting eyes squinted up at him. "'Things to be forgotten; places to be forgotten,'" recited the Guide. "The Litany.
* Thought you'd know it."

Some muttering rose from the others. One-Eye rolled his remaining orb. "Sure, I do. Just not in that cursed tongue. S'why we hired you, Sortholt."

"Keep reading," snipped a woman in a lensed spectacle helm.

"Keep your trousers on, Viré," said Sortholt. "I'd not be so excited to get in there, if I were you." He felt for the next line, kept reading.

"'Head of serpent, thew of ox; born of gall and iron mother.'" Sortholt shrugged. "It rhymes, in the old tongue. Means there's a chimera of some kind."

One-Eye nodded. "A kætoblepas. Ready lances, you lot."

Each cutter opened his or her pack, produced four steel rods with threaded ends. Steel squeaked, turned in rough hands. They connected each, made longer poles. ** Atop these were screwed long, cruel bayonets.

One-Eye readied a long-hafted sledge, took up next to the door. "Y'sure it's not trapped?" he asked.

"Aye," said Sortholt, backing clear away. "You know how to kill it, yeah?"

"Oi, shut it. Sure we do," One-Eye scoffed. "On three." He hoisted the sledge. "A'one, two–"

The last was lost to a crash of stone. Rubble clattered, slid from its bearing in the wall. Dust and cloying, ancient putridity rushed without. The cutters choked, shivered.

A match flared. One-Eye shon a bullseye lantern at the open door. "In."

In went the five lancers, backlit by lantern light. They entered a broad plain of stone, its walls lost to dark. For a small moment, only footfalls and nervous, bated breath sounded in that great space.


Something pale flashed into the light. Serpentine flesh, stringy like frayed, dry muscle. Fangs hooked into flesh, yanked one cutter screaming into the black.

The rest began to reel, turn in panic. "Hold fast!" shouted One-Eye. "Keep together!" He swung the light about, tried to follow the taken cutter's cries. Pillars showed under the beam, distant, carved with organ-like twists. Midst them, in a nest of white bones, hunched the beast. The cutters startled for the sight. 

It was a dolorous thing. A mighty, grey, ox-like hulk with a sinewy neck twice as long again. From that neck hung a bestial face, drooped heavy and indistinct. It bent to regard, almost mornfull, the bloodied cutter it had snatched. Gore dripped from long fangs, mingled with clear venom. It did not look to the light. 

"Point and advance," said One-Eye, breath catching on the foul air.

The lance-points turned, wavered in fearful hands. Their wielders stepped once, twice, a dozen times; grew near. The monster did not raise its head. One cutter stifled a gag. So close, it stank of putrescine and urine.

Neath its dripping head, the wounded cutter whimpered, now lost for screams. She lay trembling, eyes locked with the fanged visage.

"Keep at it," whispered One-Eye to the others, his tone of confidence eroded. He set down his lantern to face the thing, drew a saber. "Strike!"

Four lances flashed. The long neck jerked, pierced. It seized into striking motion. Someone cried out. Hooves clapped against the floor. Steel and teeth grated against bone. Liquid bespattered stone. All grew silent, save for the wheeze of stale air fleeing a collapsed lung.

Long minutes later, two cutters stumbled from that chamber: Viré, supporting a barely-unconscious lad. Both were battered and stained, trembling.

"Kill it?" said Sortholt, worrying his rough hands. 

Viré nodded, lay the lad down. "Barely."

"Didn't have a clue how to, did he?"

"Not a whit," laughed Viré, half sobbing. "But it knew how to kill us."

"Aye," nodded the guide. He looked through the tomb's broken gate.

"That's what they're made for."


Chimeras

For every sorcerer, there is a cauldron. A pitted, iron belly warmed by coal. A gaping gut fed with gore and obscenity. A womb, from whose clotted lip chimeras are born.

A chimera is a recombination of flesh. Disparate pieces of man and beast, broken down, boiled, and reassembled in the cauldron's roil. An artificial organism, purpose-built; greater and more awful than the sum of its components.

This recombination is a sorcerer's most fundamental art. An avenue to ever greater dominion over life. By its power, the sorcerers of old ruled for great ages, sustained by armies of what are today's most dreadful monsters of lore. 

And all the while, they developed more.

Patterns

For millennia, sorcerers toiled over their iron wombs, puzzling out the rude gestation of new chimeras. A million and more patterns, they tested. They cut, and flayed, and stitched flesh into new shapes, put it to the amniotic boil in hopes an effective life tried out. Dog, serpent, babe, and crow, all were dissected and rejoined for the pot. Ox, toad, scorpion, and tiger, all combined and sent to the burbling gore. ***

The sorcerers' successes came slow. Their failures were numerous. Often, the cauldron yielded weak, gormless combinations, no better than the countless fetal wrecks that never lived at all. For every half-promising experiment, a hundred thousand wet failures were dragged from the cauldron's caked rim.

When successes did come, though, they were terrible indeed. These patterns they recorded, kept with special jealousy. It is these patterns that we know today as among the Coast's most fearful monsters.

Now, long after the height of sorcery, these patterns are secreted deep away. They lie in the buried tomes of old sorcery; in the sequestered, chained stacks of deep academia; or in the flawed, stolen pages of mad folk and hedge sorcerers. To acquire one is no easy feat, for a recipe for monsters is precious indeed. ††

A selection of most notable patterns is detailed below. 

  • Manticore has existed in Coastal lore since its first deployment by the relic-lords of old. Its name, oft-incorrectly assigned to the mere tyger of the far South, means simply "man-eater." It is a name well-earned, for the manticore—fused from tyger, porcupine, and human babe—sports three rows of teeth in an ear-to-ear, cannibal smile. Neck-down, the beast is akin to a broad tyger clad in red-tipped spines. When erect, these spines are a fearsome weapon: Subtly barbed, and apt to stick in flesh like arrowheads. When laid flat, they are better than iron maille. The worst manticores, brewed from a pattern perfected in Ancient Naussia, sport a giant scorpion's sting for a tail. Both patterns were intelligent and highly obedient; an archetypal sorcerer's pet. Reports claim manticores live yet today, prowling high mountain haunts and guarding the deep Underworld fastness of their sleeping masters. 
  • Kætoblepas is an engine of terror, a toxic wretch spliced from man, serpent, and ox. It is a miserable thing: A wiry, ungulate hulk, large as a bull, with a serpentine neck twice as long again. From this trunk hangs a bestial head; downturned, drooling between fangs an emission so putrid, so noxious, it poisons the land the kætoblepas treads. This putridity is a chemical weapon of meticulous design, arousing irrational panic and apprehension in those who breath it. When paired with a glimpse of the kætoblepas' death-mask visage, the stuff elicits paralysing fear in all but the most stalwart foes. Kætoblepas was once produced and unleashed as a terror unit, meant to sap and punish enemies and subjects alike. It's use was otherwise limited, for the monster was, from its birth from the cauldron, unpredictable and quite mad. In modern times, it is practically unknown, save for a final few rumored specimens who roam the very farthest wilderlands and Underworld keeps, insane even before the long ages rotted their minds. 
  • Lampago is produced by boiling a human babe with double its weight in young dogs. The result is a tailless, long-limbed, nude thing with a long-muzzled human head. It is intelligent and highly obedient, capable of complying with relatively complicated tasks such as patrol and reconnaissance. For the later task, it is particularly useful, as it may come to produce human language after just a year in age. ††† Established sorcerer-kingdoms could produce lampago in significant batches after establishing effective slave bases or tithe-lines from dominated states. Such bulk production occasionally birthed mutant specimens with multiple auxiliary heads. These were short-lived, but quite prized if proven hardy. Distasteful legends yet abound of sorcerers gladly boiling their own children to produce lampago. Such beasts often feature as sorcerer's familiars, in myth. These days, though the pattern for lampago is dangerously well-copied in academic occultism, the lampago is most often seen as a heraldic character, rather than in the flesh.
  • Calcatrix is a pursuit pattern brewed from the flesh of toad, bat, and cockerel. Its rubbery body is that of an outsized, naked bird, with four long hand-limbs like a bat's, but with no webbing. When commanded to take a scent, it will pursue its target to the end of the world, even if set to pursue from lands away. Unlike a good and natural hound, it will not simply immobilize caught prey, but lacerate them with long fingers and a hooked beak. A recipe for calcatrix's creation is said to have been found in a Chicol-era sorcery tower in the South. A Tevillan Viscount is rumored to have reproduced the monster for purposes of hunting both foxes and mankind. 
  • Pigmen, also known as "long hogs," are a recent development in the art of the cauldron. Created by Northern nouveau practitioners of unearthed sorcery, pigmen are not true chimeras, whose pattern requirements are substantial.  Rather, they are a variety of hybrid, one made possible by the compatibility of human and swine's flesh. ‡‡ While they are produced via the combination of human and piglet in a cauldron, later generations need not be, as the first pigman produced is capable of successful, if obscene, reproduction with basic swine. Whether born by nature or by cauldron, pigmen are apt sorcerer's servants. They are large and strong, oft surpassing 150 kilos, making them fine builders and brutish guards. So long as they go undiscovered, a small troupe of pigmen can greatly assist a would-be sorcerer in their dark ambitions. The Office of Secrets is concernedly attempting to trace these new-age practitioners and their long hogs. They are alarmed by tales of depraved magicians birthing or stealing infants for purpose of pigman genesis; distressed for the national security implications of rogue pigmen spawning fast within Firlish borders. Most of all, the Office is afeared for one very real posibility: The ushering-in of a new age of Coastal sorcery.


Author's Note

This blew slightly out of proportion in the process of being written. My ability to produce short articles is… shortening, and much yet remains to be told of the art of sorcery. 

Footnotes

* The Litany of Tombs, as cutters and scholars know it, is a phrase oft inscribed on the portals of tombs, warning, or perhaps challenging, those who would enter them.
** Standard, collapsible variety. Inexpensive steel. Ten feet, at standard length.
*** Chimeras, when properly fused, do not overly resemble a collection of disparate parts. When a pattern is produced successfully, it gains uniform structures and tissue, including skin and appropriate musculature to function effectively, if not hideously. Chimeras of considerable age, which are not uncommon, as they are nigh-undying by design, often appear frayed and pale, even skinless. Despite their tattered appearance, their strength is only somewhat reduced by the centuries.

† Few chimeras, save for beast-men, yet survive outside of tombs, where they are set as guardians. A rare few, usually the largest and most clever, have kept hidden dens for centuries after the fall of their masters. They lurk in farthest mountain valleys, safe from those who might exterminate them.
†† Said recipes are truly requisite for the creation of chimeras. No simple process of cutting and boiling will suffice. Along with the basic combination of animals to be fused, patterns include the vital specifications for cauldron keeping, including the amniotic gore particular to each chimera, and the other arcana required to produce life from butchered beasts.
††† Most chimeras lack the ability to speak.

‡ Near every chimera pattern requires what is legendarily known as a "sorcerer's stone," an organic catalyst essential in the reshaping of flesh and life. The creation of such a stone, while widely researched for intentions both scholarly and wicked, remains a mystery. Pigmen require no such mysterious rock for their creation.
‡‡ Discovery of the pigman pattern was historically impossible, as swine were only discovered in recent centuries. Myth abounds of a Captain Libri of Pesk, who famously, perhaps fictitiously, discovered Pig Island long ago. He brought the beasts to the Coast under no small duress, as his journey home proved a stormy and dreadful one. During the voyage, the Captain's trusted first mate, a man by the name of Pig, was lost to sirens. Supposedly, both the far-off Pig Island and swine themselves were dubbed in honor of him by the good Captain. Whether this is true, none can any longer recall. 

Benton

Chief Producer of Typos at Incunabuli.com.

No comments:

Post a Comment