Ancient legend says that the god of darkness Cor-Dius’ bears an old grudge against the god of light Hel-Lustra. Some believe that this hate is so strong that it oozes forth from the earth and takes on physical form as mana crystals.
Such tales are nothing but silly superstition of course, but this one does perhaps accurately portray how dangerous and vile mana crystals can be. They are the scourge of human civilization all across the world. No matter where you travel you cannot escape the lingering threat of these deadly formations.
The most common type of crystal is rarely even identified as such. It is a black oily looking growth that is usually mistaken for rock, hence it’s name Blackstone. Luckily, this basic form of mana is inert and has no magical effects; it simply grows and spreads deep within the dark corners of the earth.
As it expands, Blackstone consumes the dirt and rock around itself to create long twisting tunnels. Eventually, Blackstone growths will run their course and old crystal formations will dissolve, leaving nothing but rock behind. This is how significant portions of the Dark Paths were probably created.
Unfortunately, that is not all Blackstone does. As it expands the crystals will occasionally consume something that causes what is commonly known as a mana stone to form. These crystals are bright and occasionally even glow, which makes them hard to miss. They come in many different colors, shapes, and sizes, but the important part is the magic that lies within them.
Every mana stone has a unique magical effect that a mage can produce by using their mage gift to burn the crystal. While many are useless or even dangerous to users, some are extremely powerful and useful.
These stone are the foundation of a mage’s power, and all the stones created by the guilds are copies or offshoots of naturally formed mana crystals. This makes such stones incredibly valuable to mages, and thus treasures of great value. Many a life has been lost searching for such stones.
The Dark Paths are of course extremely dangerous themselves, but crystal formations make them even more deadly. For once you have Blackstone and mana crystals forming you will also start to see mutation.
Exposure to mana crystals sometimes causes the crystals to take root within living things. The process transforms an animal and creates a mutant. Such creatures are not only unnaturally strong, large, and swift, but the mana within them can actually imbue them with magical powers.
These horrors are the stuff of nightmares, and a plague upon all human civilization. As crystal caves grow they can breach the surface, and deposit their vile contents upon it. Thus, what was once considered safe civilized land can suddenly become wild and dangerous, as mutant abominations run wild across it.
Stories abound of such beasts, such as those of hard working farmers being slain by rats the size of dogs that can pass through walls or drive men mad with their whispers. Only, by removing the mana stones and sealing the tunnel can the nearby lands be made safe again.
Some of the creatures that dwell within crystal caves have no obvious earthly origin, but instead seemed formed completely of the crystals themselves. Slimes are the best known of these, but rumors persist of hulking creatures made of Blackstone that dwell within the deepest parts of crystal caves.
The magic derived from crystal caves is useful, but personally I do not believe it makes up for the threat such formations pose to humanity. They are just far too dangerous and unpredictable; you never know where one will appear, or what will crawl out of it.
Monsters of legend such as the Breshura Cyclops or the Wurm of Terringale were probably mutants as well, and the stories passed down about these monsters puts those of any modern mutant to shame. These creatures leveled cities and cast down empires. One day, I fear that something truly horrendous will again be born within the depths of these horrid places, and then all of humanity will weep and know the face of fear.
-Farstidiuous Der Lanmount, Royal Gervaien Surveyor.
A traveler to the shores of Vesteria, the continent West of the Homelands, would come across many strange and beautiful creatures. Even among this bizarre menagerie of beasts the harpy stands out due to its startling and disturbing appearance.
At first glance the harpy appears to be a large bird of prey. They are forest creatures but are most commonly seen soaring through the air off in the distance with their lengthy feathered wings extended. Since harpies rarely allow humans to get closer than this, unless they are hunting them, this confusion is understandable.
Like a bird they also have a sleek grey and white feathered body, and two rear legs that end in curved talons. Adults range in size anywhere from four to four and a half feet in height, but they can appear larger when their wings are extended.
Closer inspection however will quickly reveal features that exclude the beasts from the bird family. Most obviously the harpy has no beak, but possesses a toothy maw instead. It also has two large fore claws that extend forth from its wings. These claws are used for both climbing, and defending itself.
Together along with the hair like black crest on their heads these traits give the harpy an unsettlingly humanlike appearance. The bodies of harpies have a graceful feminine shape, and when calm their faces are intelligent and even beautiful. However, when they grow excited or angry they open their mouths and their visages grow vicious and wrinkled. The transformation can be startling.
These features place the winged raptors firmly among the ancient family of saurians. As the reader is undoubtedly aware the other notable member of this family that survives in Vesteria is the great drake. The resemblance may not be immediately apparent but like harpies drakes possess feathers, scaly skin, two sets of claws, and a mouth full of teeth.
Harpies are social creatures capable of a wide range of vocal communication. They are even able to mimic other animals or human voices, an ability they use to taunt prey and lure it closer. Mainly however they communicate amongst themselves using shrill bird like cries.
Flocks of harpies gather together and create large communal nests on cliffs or above the forest canopy in particularly tall trees. These structures are constructed using mud, dried plants, and branches. Usually, these communal nests are a collection of muddy domed spheres. This provides the flock with warm shelter and protects their young from predators, other harpies, and the harsh winters of northern Vesteria.
Most of a flock’s nourishment comes from small animals such as rabbits and earth dogs, but they will also hunt larger prey. Frequently, these winged beasts hunt in loose flights of three to six members. They will split up and fly through the canopy looking for suitable targets. When one of the flight finds something it will signal its partners using innocent sounding noises that won’t alert its prey.
They will then silently converge on the target and use their cries and mimicry to lure their prey into a disadvantaged position or to isolate it from the rest of its herd. Once they are reasonably sure of success the winged beasts will descend on their prey and tear it apart. Harpies will then carry chunks of their meal up to high branches where they are safe from other predators. This often results in grisly scenes where blood is splattered across and below the nearby trees.
The ability of harpies to mimic human speech, their social nature, and their somewhat humanlike appearance has caused some to speculate that they are intelligent creatures on the same level as man. This is not true in the least. Captured specimens portray no more intelligence than a dog, and are also completely untamable. They will play along for awhile but always flee from their human trainers at the first chance they get.
Peasants and rural nobility have been known to shoot the creatures on sight. This is due to the fact they have been known to attack children or livestock that wander too close to the woods. Being cunning creatures harpies now rarely let men or women get within bowshot if they see the person is armed.
Folklore is filled of tales of harpies luring men to their death through beautiful singing. These tales are unlikely to be true though as such complex and detailed mimicry has never been observed. At most harpies have been noted to repeat a single short sentence. Still, it is a fanciful notion with a disquieting kernel of truth at its core.
Another common myth is that all harpies are female, and reproduce with human men. This is obviously false. Male harpies are simply very feminine looking and hard to distinguish from the females.
Truly, the harpy is a creature of unsettling contradictions. It seemingly blends the features of men and bird together but is actually neither. It is intelligent and beautiful, yet also violent, savage, and forever untamable.
-Farstidiuous Der Lanmount, Royal Gervaien Surveyor.