Wednesday, August 10, 2016

out in the swamp where the water is dark

monsters in dungeons and dragons can feel very taxonomical, as if some fantasy Linnaeus separated the ghoul from the ghast and the wight from the specter. In practice, it's just palette-swapping. However, I like the idea of monsters that suggest an unusual and inscrutable method of specifying one kind of creature from another.

by Tim Waters
distributed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

However, I also want there to be something of a blur between kinds of monsters. Monstrosity is something afflicted or achieved, it is a political category, a caste, a title. Bluebeard and Christman Genipperteinga are as much ogres as men; Elizabeth of Bathory was a woman, witch, and vampire. Monsters and witches can and should step on each other's conceptual turf, just because neither are wholly one thing. 

witches with beautiful hair
Such a witch keeps his or her hair in a long braid, ornamented to look like a snake. A single strand of it, teased free and tied around the finger, wrist, or neck of a victim, ensures their compliance in all things; so long as the strand is still attached to her head, the witch can command it to sever the member around which it is tied. Neither distance no scissors are protection against this; a witch's hair can stretch across oceans or over mountains, and no conventional means can cut it.
     Witch-hair is exceedingly fine, but a watchful witch-hunter can follow the hair from victim to owner. However, the witch can always use his or her victims as hostages no matter how far they may be, or even blackmail them into fighting their would-be rescuer.

blood-swallowing witches
A witch of this ilk has learned a very beautiful song that summons great swarms of mosquitoes. The witch then disperses them across the countryside to collect blood from her neighbors. When the mosquitoes return, they vomit the blood up into the witch's pots and pans, which the witch then brews into vile liqueurs. Some are fatally poisonous; others simply delicious, while the most coveted restores a measure of youth to the drinker.
     A witch-hunter knows a blood-swallowing witch by their love of music, by their hidden or strangely stained pots and pans, and by the barrels they keeps but never seems to tap. Imprudent enemies of a blood-swallowing witch might find themselves exsanguinated by a storm of mosquitoes.

witches whose shadows have eyes
The most mysterious kind of witch. shadows cast by these witches have eyes, as if their owner had two holes in their head and light was streaming through. Their shadows do their bidding, rising up off the ground, gaining strength and substance. A witch's shadow crawls about unnaturally, like a person trying to walk on all fours, but runs as fast as a horse and possesses the strength of two.
     These witches can only be caught by close examination of their shadow, or by their shadow's absence when they have commanded it to run off and perform some wickedness. Witches whose shadows have eyes have been known to hide their nature and rise to positions of great power and prestige.

witches who live under the mangroves
These witches can hold their breath as long as they please. They carry heavy cudgels and live out in the mangrove swamp, where they float facedown in the waterways or thrash like a drowning swimmer so that they can bludgeon their rescuers unconscious and carry them away to a half-submerged larder. When they are not hunting, these witches sleep in the dark waters between mangrove roots, thinking black and briny thoughts and trading secrets with passing crocodiles.
     Witches who live under the mangroves are betrayed by the mud in their mouth, which they can never quite spit out and which prevents them from speaking well. The eldest witches of this kind are trapped below their mangroves, transfixed by slow-growing roots over the course of their century sleep. They are easy to destroy if discovered, but their mgic is powerful and filled with venom.
by Guillaurme Schaer
distributed under CC BY NC 2.0

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