It’s dark out on the moors after the fire. The hollow husk of the castle stands humped in murk and silence, and the crows pick at the corpses that litter the ground. A rebellion against a cruel duke ended here, though the creature stalking through the fields neither knows this, nor cares. A pair of scavengers pick through the bodies, taking weapons, armour, whatever might fetch gold. They are followed by a figure, it is hunched, and feathered perhaps, it stalks them, crawling between the bodies, darting from pile of death to pile of death, snake-like. The scavengers stop, they have found something worth investigating. The creature has found an opportunity. It stands tall now on legs too long to be human and with too many joints to be anything like an animal. Its long beaked head points up to the night sky as its long feathered cloak flows and flutters behind it. The piercing, shrieking cry echoes across the field, startling the scavengers. It is maybe twenty feet tall, though its legs make up the majority of its height. It lowers it head, glowers at them through empty eyes, face hollow like a bird skull. The scavengers turn to flee, but it is already too late. The wings of the thing have unfurled, reaching around, encircling the scavengers. They run, but already the wings have drifted ahead of them, cutting off escape. They turn to face their pursuer. It is advancing, its legs furling and unfurling rather than stepping as it approaches. More feather-limbs raise up from its back, and dart forward. The Stredge will glut itself tonight.

Stredges are vile creatures that some might call demons, formed as they are either by or merely near self-destructive acts. A suicide, or self-harm might rarely summon one. Poisoning a well to kill one’s neighbour, dooming the village in the process, might well call one to you. Civil wars can bring nearly a dozen. They are not common, but that is small comfort to those stalked by one.

They are, at least so scholars claim, probably not demons in actuality. They don’t seem to have any particular hunting pattern or strategy, unless slaying anything it can see is considered a strategy. It seems neither to have any particular requirement to hunt either, for they have been known to stalk the same place for decades at a time, without ever finding prey to feast upon. At least, as far as is known. There is a purpose to a Stredge’s feeding however. Whilst its beak was buried deep within the chest of one of its victims, slurping up blood and giblets of meat, new feathers were seen growing from its back.

As for fighting and slaying Stredges, there are precious few accounts. One seemingly reliable fact is that once the Stredge has struck, and there are dead prey, it will invariably attempt to feed, sucking a corpse or fallen person dry in a matter of seconds, leaving at least a small window to attempt escape. Accounts also tell that weapon blows during this period of feeding are suicidal to attempt, and the feather-weapons of the Stredge whip and slice about it. These feathers have been reported to pierce a man straight through, or cut his head from his shoulders.

There are but two accounts of the death of a Stredge. The first, it transpired, was entirely fabricated. The apparent shattered head and plucked feathers of a slain Stredge were revealed to be merely carved cow bones and treated leather. The other account claims that to slay a Stredge requires that a blade or weapon be plunged into its head just as the feather-weapons of the Stredge have you fully encircled, and are then about to strike. The account goes, that as the feathers pull back to lunge forward again is the one moment the Stredge is vulnerable. So far, none have been able to replicate this purported feat.

Quite what it is that Stredges want, or think, or desire; save for Meat and death, is uncertain. Many times, places once haunted by a Stredge will be found many decades later, bereft of its monster, though it will have left behind a rather disturbing scrap-and-salvage sculpture of itself behind. Damaging such a sculpture has never gone well for the hooligan. Reports have also been made of Stredge-writing, symbols and forms carved into the earth, or a flank of a tree, or cow. Nothing has ever come of studying such things. In all likelihood, they are merely elaborate, and slightly sick, jokes.

There is a strange tale of a reclusive wizard who attempted to purposefully summon Stredges near his domain, as a way to ensure that none would attempt to approach his lair. Despite murdering no less that four of his own family, burning progressively large fractions of his personal library, and eventually his tower itself, still he could not attract the attention of a Stredge. In a fit of remorse, he handed himself in at the closest city, fully confessed his crimes, and was summarily sentenced to death. The next morning, his drained and empty husk was all that was found in his cell, the bars of his window pried apart, and great gouges on the stone walls. Stredges, it seems, know honesty when they see it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Recent Stuff

Cafe Prost and the Little Red Notebook

The Jackalope is here, and requires a SACRIFICE. Anne requested the following gift: The Coffee House - Cafe Prost! It is well known i...

This the gud stuph right hear