The lands of the Zebra are one of some myths, not helped by the fact that most ungulates are not of a curious sort. And those curious sorts are unwilling to brave the sweltering weather of The Savanna in search of legends and tales. Though those that recorded the stories of the great war would find some tales...one that could haunt nightmares.
The war had started outside of The Savanna, in the lands of the most known ungulates tribes. However the Lions, predator kings of The Savanna and nearby jungles, could see what was to come. Their tribes agreed to a plan to eradicate the Zebra and fortify The Savanna as a secured territory that they and other predators could use as the war progressed.
Against the full might of the lions, it would seem the zebra’s fate was sealed. But when the other ungulate tribes came to aid them, the Lion tribes were now scattered, with the Zebra tribes on the offensive.
All by the actions of the old serpent Jaunty the Smiler…
As the Lions begin their attacks, Jaunty came to the Zebra chieftains with an offer. He wished the younger serpents a safe haven from the war in Foenum, and in exchange he would give them what they needed to survive the lions genoside against them.
Whatever discussion was had of this deal is unknown, but the result was the Serpent Shamans.
By a ritual of the old serpent, the zebra warriors who volunteered we bound to a willing serpent. Their lives now linked, and if one died the other would join soon. These zebra could command the power of venom and the serpents power of illusion, and in exchange they would sustain the snake now bound to them.
One humorous aside was that the longer lived snakes were more annoyed but this arrangement. Even so, they were allowed to use the full abilities of their powers at the Zebra’s request, no longer bound to Jaunty’s rules. What would keep them in check was that only their host could feed them, barring them from their worst impulses.
What the Lion’s saw as a clear victory soon bogged down, and then reversed. As their numbers grew sick from toxins, the zebra armies would recover from their wounds quickly. As their mighty paws hit only air, focused hooves struck them at their weakest point. First, the lions were beaten back, then they were on the run from their prey.
Those ungulates that came to aid were the first to report sightings of the Serpent Shamans. First noting some zebra with stark white manes, then realizing in shock that a snake was coiled around the equine’s midsection. These shamans were calm, though direct, seeing as the war was still to be fought and said they would aid others in any way they could.
Thankfully, the war would soon end. The surviving predators were sent to The Hold, though clearly missing the snakes of The Savanna.
Though the stories of the Serpent Shamans would have simply lived as an oddity, one tale made it something else.
One night, after a battle, the Shaman made camp away from the other ungulate forces. This was odd, as even the other zebra were welcome to join the others at rest. A few curious creatures quietly aproched the shaman's camp wanting an answer to the mystery, and found it…
The bodies of slain predators were next to a burning fire, and the odor of heated flesh came to their noses. The shaman seemed to speak to one another, as they partook of the flesh of their foes. Equine teeth tore into cooked flesh in a grisly feast.
Few would believe this story, it’s facts too horrible to be seen a real. Even so, Jaunty did say that only those who bound to the Snake could sustain it...
After the war, none of these shaman would leave The Savanna. They would travel around, offering services as healers and guides. As years would pass their story did fade from memory, except as a campfire tale that still scares foals to this day.
Amid the trials and triumphs of the ungulates tribes, often left aside was the swine of The Outlands.
The Boars somewhat earned that title. Disinterested in the building of much to their name, nor engaging in trade or much discussion with others. The predators were a threat to them as much as any other, but they saw it as someone else's problem. They would always have fresh numbers to replace those eaten, and would always find a new source of food.
Even so, there were no slouches when the time to fight came. Their tusks and size were not simply for show.
Despite this, they saw the war in Foenum as not theirs to fight. Let the other ungulates and paws fight among themselves, so long as it never reaches their territory. Even so, more than a few predators would fall to the boars hooves...and teeth.
Unlike the Longma, the Boars felt no shame in indulging in the full extent of their omnivorous nature. Be they predator or ungulate…
They would find out later that the war they had been avoiding had ended, peace had been restored and that the predators would never trouble them again.
And then they were told to control their numbers...to prevent the starvation of others.
This order from a representative of the Prophet disgusted them, and they could stomach rotten fruit. Why were they to be ordered anything by the other tribes? Why were they even better than them?
This brief sulk would bring about a decision that would bring fear to the future.
They would increase their numbers, uncaring to what they were told by the other ungulates. When food became scarce in their lands, they’d rob their neighbors. More than one picnic would be raided and farm plundered by the boars. And their numbers would continue to swell…
In time, regardless to whom reseals the lock on The Hold, the Boars of The Outlands were soon to be a threat. The other tribes had honored their agreement, and their numbers now lacked. Despite what the boars lacked, they had strength and numbers with the drive of their unending hunger to sustain those numbers.
No one would stop their unending numbers.
They see the Sheep of Baaaaah as easy prey, and would delight to put the Reindeer of The Tundra into the dirt, rubbing their precious beauty in the mud.
They would eat what they could, and dominate that which they could not. And Foenum was not prepared for the coming tide.
The Sheep of Baaaaah would do what they could to avoid ghost stories, though some feel that they may be in one…
In the year before the Keykeeper Crisis, some sheeple would find their dogs acting unusual. They looked nervous about something, some would look outside at night as if they saw something moving in the darkness.
Most of those sheeple would believe it was nothing, but then a couple of them swore they saw something in the night, the silhouette of a Wolf!
These stories were quickly disproven. There were no paw prints found in these sightings, nor were these wolves seen by others. All in Baaaaah’s commons agreed it was merely the results of imagination, seeing revisiting the issue as poppycock.
Even so, some rumors persisted, even if kept to Those Few Ewe’s that believed them.
One such story, a lamb followed their sheepdog outside on a moonlit night. The dog started growling, and when she looked to see what it was, she saw it.
A wolf, larger than she’d known loomed over her. She recalls her knees giving out, though this dark wolf seemed disinterested in her. First looking at her sheepdog, then to her, then it looked into the horizon.
It’s body was unnatural, like it’s features shifted as she watched. She would swear, at times, it seemed canine teeth formed in the dark mass that made the wolf’s body, creating the look of a fanged jaw from any part of its form. It’s paws could extend like spikes, and it’s mouth! It opened wide enough, she believed it could swallow her whole!
She passed out from the terror.
She awoke later, finding herself back at home, her dog by her side. The sheepdog did it’s best to comfort her as she hugged it tightly.
How she returned was a question that could not be answered. Her dog could not have done such a thing easily, and that this beast would have let her leave defied logic.
The other tales were much less frightful, perhaps as none of the other ewes had gotten so close. As stories of the predators returning spread, Those Few Ewe wondered if this wolf apparition was simply another such messenger of the predators from The Hold. Though one would speak up…
“If it was, why didn’t it say something? And why did it seem so distant?”
And adding a terrifying turn to the story another ewe added. “What if that dark wolf was never in The Hold to begin with? You heard about the drawings in the wolf dens? What if that was The Black Wolf?”
It became quiet for a moment...as the group of ewes felt as though they had all seen the face of death itself.
Understandably, Those Few Ewe watch nervously as new events play out. Though their sheepdogs seem more courageous than they are, they still would wish to find an answer to the questions.
“How much more is there to this? And what is the Black wolf?” Which they admit was the best questions they had.
One upon a time, amid The Tundra, there lived a Reindeer buck. He was friendly, though unassuming. Kind, but boring. The buck lived a more modest life amid the more fabulous neighbors in the village he called home. He lived in such quiet anonymity he would wonder if any remembered his name.
Though, more than once, he feared his mundane nature would leave him single for the rest of his life...
That changed one day, when he saw in the village outskirts the prettiest doe reindeer he had ever laid eyes upon. And she beckoned to him! So entranced by her, he failed to notice his sprite frantically warning him away, before it vanished never to be seen again.
She was nice, and didn’t judge his mundane life, even saying he would make a good husband and father. He followed her to a cave in the northern mountains, her home and now his as well. It looked well furnished for a simple cave, with a door at it’s mouth to keep the cold winds away.
The buck was happy. He had met his dream deer and his boring life was over now. In short time, they would consummate their relationship, and she would give birth to their lovely children.
But that was when something felt amiss…
The buck thought it was nothing at first. His lovely wife insisted on getting food for the little ones, and he couldn’t remember the children eating a single vegetable. And at night, he thought he heard the mewing of a cat.
When the enchantment he had been under for those months ended, he would discover why…
He awoke to find his loving wife had gone, and his children...they were Cougar cubs! His mind reeled in shock, and it only got worse when he saw the blood in the kitchen...and the skulls with antlers!
The buck shivered and wept, not just at a feeling of betrayal to his feelings, but knowing he had lived with a monstrous cougar witch. But it was then he felt the children nuzzling him...
Even if they ate flesh, they still saw him as their father. It helped somewhat. It was then that he saw a leather bound book with a note, addressed to “My loving husband”. It had been left for him, to aid him and to offer some answers.
He learned his wife had taken care of a few things before her departure. She made a point to kill the male cubs, knowing as they grew, they would soon see their father as a rival to slay for dominance. Inside the book there were maps to rabbit warrens, lakes, even other reindeer she had guessed were easy targets...and how the little ones like raspberry jam.
Also, strange arcane writings. Details for rituals with blood, bone, and flesh. Her daughters would need to know their heritage after all. And in some notes were written the means of how he could use these spells as well...
And lastly, a promise to return to him and plea that he look after their daughters for now.
This den was his now and the children were his responsibility. In time, the little ones would grow and hunt. That fact scared him. Would he be forced to feed others to them? Even so, they were family now, and he’d rather not see his frightening wife return angry.
At least, for awhile, he may convince others the cubs are just strange kittens...
A Unicorn scholar of The Woodlands has finished his long journey through The Tundra, finally reaching the city of Rien. He had come on a trip of research, to interview one of the last Deer-hunters in the city.
The stories among the Deerfolk painted the old buck as a codger with morbid interests. Some wondered if it was his age or his hunts that made old Corduroy into the eerie old buck he had become.
As expected, the hunters home was luxurious to behold. After a knock at the door, and telling the old codger his interest in research, the unicorn was quickly let in. For an elderly reindeer, Corduroy was very welcoming.
He was more than happy to talk about topics, even having his sprite fetch some gold oat porridge and tea for his guest. In the lounge he would talk about war stories, his hunts, and the trophies he still had. The old deer-hunter lit his pipe as he pointed out his old hunting gear in the room.
In a glass case sat a long tattered scarf and a button vest with iron plates sewn into it, alongside a few hats. Notably, the vest had more than a few claw marks. Some had even left a gash in the plates under the fabric.
In time, to the unicorns relief, the conversation came to the trophies. Corduroy had made a point to collect the remains with great care, not just as a trophy, but as a way to remember the quarry he had conquered.
He nearly had a full gallery of specimens. Wolf, Cougar, even the elusive Snake and Alligator! He did lament his lack of Bear remains though.
“Either the beast was broken before it’s demise, or it’s very bones melt on death. Right shame. It would be a delight to examine such a powerful creature in detail.” And the hunters ramblings would go to those moments he pieced together the predators anatomy.
The unicorn scholar was impressed, Corduroy’s ramblings aside, the glass cased specimens were well kept and assembled. He could feel the size of them, and could get the closest look any ungulate had at the predators teeth...though it felt unnerving to say the least. The skeletons stood as they would have in life, looking ready to pounce!
When asked why the old deer-hunter was not part of The Tundra Tournament, Corduroy replied “I’m much too old for these new adventures, and I smoke too much you see.” At which he coughed. “Besides, a real hunter isn’t the kind who stands hoof to paw in a simple fight. They track and they find the best opportunity to strike. The young ones will never know the feel of a methodical battle, always rushing into things to show how strong they are.” He had a brief chuckle for a moment, when they were interrupted.
It was a buzzing insect flying around the room, with the unicorn swatting away at it with his hooves. Corduroy looked undeterred by the interruption, taking a long drag from his pipe. He then blew a cloud of smoke into the air. As the unicorn watched, the hunter eyed the insect before the cloud contracted and became a block of ice. It hit the floor, the insect now trapped inside, it’s frozen wings still posed in flight. The unicorns mouth hung open for a moment.
“Sometimes, a slower approach can do wonders, sir.” Corduroy added, taking an idle puff from his pipe. “More tea?”
For a moment, the unicorn had to wonder what this old hunter was like in his prime...
While stories of the surviving Alligators in the swamps are few, one had some popularity.
When the Marsh Tacky became neighbors to the Swamp Gators, they would see some of the gator’s habits. One unsettling habit was the eating of their own dead at times. To the Alligators, meat was meat, even their own. While some did ask to eat dead Tacky, they understood when the answer was no.
Another strange tradition was the gators placing their uneaten dead at certain places in the marshes. Not merely leftovers, these dead were taken aside so no one could partake of them.
These areas reeked with a smell that would draw appreciation from the Condors of The Prairie. In these wet, muddy, canopy shadowed places were Alligator bodies lain to rest. Either atop the wet soil or placed in the murky waters.
The sight of aged wooden markers told the Tacky that the Gators had been doing this for some time now.
And they were not merely dumped. Care was given so that the gator was belly up, on the ground or as they sank. Those on the soil had a moist mud-like substance applied to the bodies, which the Gators kept in wood vessels. Once finished, the dead Alligators were left to the elements.
In days they would putrefy, explaining the smell. Within weeks all that remained were eroded bone fragments...and that stench.
When the Marsh Tackey asked why the gators did this, they were told: “Swamp gits’ ‘ungry like an’one else. So’mn has’ ta’ keep it fed.”
While it was easy to see this as simple reptile superstition(and hard to understand), there were some facts that said otherwise. Trees and bushes in the area bore fruit quickly, and long grasses grew in days. Somehow, the marsh’s soil had properties unseen in any part of Foenum.
They say this may be the reason that the Marsh Tacky would offer their own dead to the swamps hunger as well…
In time, the terrible cost of war would be forgotten. But, for a time, the dead left in its wake was a problem for the ungulates. The slain needed to be counted, and brave warriors returned home for burial, and beasts for what was decided best.
While the Sheep were not active in combat, a few did help in non combat roles. Giving aid and managing supplies. For an unusual sheep named Jimmy, he took the unenviable job managing collected bodies from battles.
While he would joke about how his job is quite easy, “Check ‘em in, verify a few things, do the paperwork, be ‘round pub after.”even some capable Longma would wince at what Jimmy saw doing his job.
But one day he would find something even he would find unusual. Jimmy had seen all manner of broken, bloodied, and torn….but never desiccated. Asking the understandably moody cow that pulled the cart in, he was told it was the condition the bodies were found in.
They were both predator and prey from a pitched battle. And when one retreated the other followed, with one ungulate reporting the skirmish to a base camp. These slain had been in a corner of the Green Acre, near a group of shrubs and trees. And by the cows report, allegedly had been left unattended to for only a single day. She could not answer him as to why the bodies looked dried.
With a sigh, Jimmy got to work.
It was more than obvious the dead were killed in battle, and wasn’t too hard to identify which ungulate community needed to be informed of their lost members. But as he looked closer, he found that none of the bodies had blood in them. The killing wounds were dry, and organs visible in the torn flesh were shriveled. And that was when he realized, despite the dead being left alone a day, no scavenger bird had touched them…
Prying the cart pulling cow after his findings, Jimmy would learn about a longma who helped load the corpses for her. The good news was that this longma warrior was still in town, not far from the makeshift mortuary. The bad news what that the warrior was in the pub, several cups in by the time he found them.
When Jimmy met the warrior, this brave fighter looked haunted as his eyes swam in a drunken haze. He was thankfully able to talk. Though his peculiar ramble started with the trees and shrubs as opposed to how he had found the bodies.
This longma had found that spot months earlier. He spoke of how the trees looked bony without any leaves and how the bushes looked wilted. It was strange, as the autumn months were far off. He had once wondered about trying to tend to them, but concerns as the conflicts near Huoshan escalated called his attention elsewhere.
When his story finally arrived to his discovery of the war dead, he paused, checking to see if he had any drink left in his cup. The longma warrior did indeed find the bodies in their desiccated state. But it was what he also saw that unnerves him.
The trees were lush now, branches thick with leaves. And the bushes were similarly vibrant, with a small scattering of flowers budding from them. The corpses aside, this corner of the plains were quite lively. More lively than the shaken warrior remembered it from his prior visit.
Having had his cup refilled, the warrior told of what he imagined from that sight. While Jimmy found such a story unlikely, he could see the correlation that lead to that conclusion.
In the year after the war, Jimmy would visit that isolated area. It had gone from a few trees and shrubbery, to almost a tiny forest. There were several trees now, and even a garden worth of flowers in full bloom.
It was beautiful. But if he believed the story he heard, Jimmy knew what might have breathed life into this copse...
Figure one of these days, I get to fleshing out those OCs.....
Understandably, The Prairie where the cattlefolk roamed was vast. Even after generations, no cow or bull had fully mapped it. And, as not known places do invite mystery, even foals ponder what might dwell over the next hill.
The cattlefolk’s neighbors, tribes of buffalo and wild horses, would tell stories of strange places. Though, they would often refuse to tell where such places were.
The only exception was “The Spotted Mountain”. It’s name is derived from how ,on its surface, parts of the stone face were visibly much darker than others. And it’s location was only known as a small town which cows called home had been built several miles from it. One inquisitive bovine believed those dark spots may have come from “an unknown something” burning hot enough to leave deep burn marks on the stone.
While said cows found the landmark a curiosity, the buffalo warned of its dangers. Speaking of a “curse” and “a place creatures die”. While certainly superstitious, even outlandish, the sight of circling vultures near the mountain did discourage travelers. Any bovine that had survived the war against the predators, and even those after, knew what circling vultures often signaled.
Death was not far away there.
Alas, a few cattle foals decided to venture to the spotted mountain. And days later, a search party went looking for them. Their main concern, at first, was the calves had gotten lost or trapped and needed to be guided back home. It was when they found one walking alone that they would fear for the worst.
The cow’s name was Delia. They found her near stumbling and wild eyed, stained with blood. She was badly dehydrated, and collapsed as the search party called out to her.
The town’s doctor quickly carted her to his clinic as the search party continued on. The girl was badly ill with a malady he had never seen before, but despite the blood stains was apparently uninjured. She claimed her very skin burned during her lucid moments, but otherwise she only groaned and cried. She was clearly feverish.
As she rested at the clinic, with the doctor doing what he could, the search party returned with grim news. Officially, the other calves had died tragically from misadventure and the vultures had found them first. The head of the search party refused to say more than that, only going to the parents of the lost to give the bad news.
Though one parent was heard crying, “What do you mean their skulls were smashed?! No bird or vulture could have done that!”
Any further was mere speculations, though the buffalo told the town doc that he should keep the stricken cow near a source of “good water”. The doctor felt that meant to keep her well hydrated.
While Delia’s condition became more stable she remained bedridden. Despite available water, she often needed someone to help her drink and help with swallowing it. Meanwhile, her parents and older brother grimly put together her sadly expected funeral. Only her brother would visit on occasion, but was pained to she her is this miserable state. She was once energetic, now it is uncertain if she would survive.
The fact that some cattlefolk in town had seen a vulture either circling above or perching on nearby homes felt like an ominous portent of things to come. Whatever the poor girl was afflicted with, death wasn’t far away.
As the days passed, Delia became more lucid. She was happy to talk with her brother and doctor during visits, though had no memory of what had happened to her. While the burning had mostly passed, her limbs were still weak.
It was around this point she would mention a “Mr Crowley”.
She spoke well of him, saying he would visit her with a strange encouragement, claiming she had lasted longer than others. Both the doctor and her brother would wonder who this mystery visitor, but found few answers. No cattlefolk in town had such a name, nor had the doctor seen such a person enter the clinic.
While there were new worries of Delia mental state, her physical condition did not offer much good news. One of her hind legs was now crippled, she could no longer feel or move it. The doctor worried now that her body might be wasting away despite his care.
Though over the next couple days, other events would eclipse those concerns.
Somehow, Delia learned about her family's funeral arrangements for her despite her brother having forbidden anyone to speak of them to her. While this was certainly upsetting to all involved, what came next had her family frightened.
Delia had a doll she kept in her room at home. As her family had been busy with other concerns, none had time to deliver it to her at the clinic. Then one day, it was at her bedside one morning. Delia claimed Mr. Crowley had brought it to her. Meanwhile, her parents were in near panic as this mystery creature had somehow gotten into their house.
And then there were the “gifts”. Strange, sun dried morsels that Delia had been given by her visitor. She claimed Mr. Crowley told her they would keep her from getting sicker. He had even promised to keep an eye on her condition. Whatever these morsels were, her condition seemed to improve.
Lastly, she spoke of odd dreams.
In one, she saw what she described as “A giant chicken with teeth but no beak” and a giant city of bright stones. In another, she saw a storm that seemed to throw mountains through the sky. She said Mr. Crowley told her they were the memories on a thing long forgotten, and that her sickness had come from her “taken in” a portion of it’s essence.
While she didn’t understand what he meant, she did recall then that she drank from a pond in a cave. She was still unable to recall where that pond was.
Eventually, the doctor would ask “What does this Mr. Crowley know about this sickness ya gotten, little girl?” Delia would at least begin with the fact that even she wasn’t fully sure.
From what she understood of what Mr. Crowley had told her, the water she drank was tainted with “the essences of burning stone”. And that it had been burning away at her body. That most creatures that drank that water died quickly or entered a violent state before succumbing. He had even said some buffalo had drank of those waters, and almost always saw the drinkers die in a few days. Worse, the violent ones would rush to devour live creatures nearby.
When asked why any buffalo would even risk such a thing, Delia said it had something to do with the dreams. Those that survived beyond those few days could now see the world beyond. Mr. Crowley even explained it was “Like trading a portion of one's living flesh for knowledge beyond.''
The poor calf had no idea as to what it all meant. But did claim he added “It helped to have the flesh of other creatures during the burning. The consumed flesh would be taken instead of their own.”
While it was a strange story to hear, it made the doctor uneasy. He recalled the strange morsels Mr. Crowley had been giving Delia.
Understandably, he would ask what Delia thought of Mr. Crowley. She did at least find him unusual, saying she would wake at night to find him at the foot of her bed. He was nice enough though, keeping her company when she felt alone and telling her strange stories...and of the tenderness of rabbit flesh.
Perhaps it was her unfortunate state, but the talk of flesh eating didn’t bother her. She had already felt near death for some time by that point. Mr. Crowley even stated “Death will have all our flesh. It is the most patient of all predators.”
A few more days would pass without any other major incident. While Delia had recovered enough that she could get out of bed, she needed a leg brace for her crippled leg. She would never be able to trample or stampede like other cows.
As she left the clinic with her brother, a vulture landed in front of them. While her brother leapt back in fear, she smiled at it.
“Hi there, Mr. Crowley!” She said happily.
The vulture squawked in response. Whether the family knew it or not, the child had made the most unsettling friend.