Monsters of the Old Frontier: Tash, the Breath-Taker

Out there on the frontier, there are villages that house mute people. They were not born that way, no magic or wound took their voice, it was the strings of Tash.

He is built something like a human, only made up of parts like a bird. His flesh is feathered, his feet are hooked like a crows, and his face is crested with a great raven-beak. He has four arms, two set above the others, which are smaller and frailer, while the first are strong and more jointed. It wears crude clothes, of a sort.

His greatest power, and the one for which he is named, is his power to steal the breath from a person. At a distance, he can gesture with his smaller hands, and draw forth a near invisible thread from someone's throat, and from then on, they will be unable to speak, while Tash quickly bottles and stoppers it, tucking it away to keep. The breath, and the voice can only be restored by breaking the bottle.

If he gets closer to you, and you cannot stop him, he can take your breath more fully, and lethally.

He takes breathes because he has none of his own, he needs them to stoke the fires of life in his chest.

His smaller arms have two other powers. Firstly, at a gentle touch across the lips he can sew your mouth shut. Not permanently thankfully, the sutures can easily be cut if you're careful. The second power is his 'Curse of Strings', which binds you all up in near-invisible strings, with which Tash puppet-masters your movements, leaving you an unwilling marionette. Again, like the lip-sutures, the strings can be cut, and the curse also consumes much of Tash's (not inconsiderable) attention.

In darkness, Tash's sable feathers blend in almost perfectly. This is merely mundane, if extraordinarily effective, camouflage.

His deadliest weapon, even beyond the knives he carries in his greater arms, is his beak, which more than once has been seen to punch straight through plate armour, pulling out a gorey and gooey heart impaled upon it.

Tash has a second reason to steal voices as well. It is his first and greatest weakness, the human voice (and the human voice only) harms and repels him. Normal talking seems to cause merely discomfort, but louder than that, and feathers have sloughed from him, and blood burst its way from its bare skin. So far, no one has been able to discover how much harm a full scream can cause. Tash is usually cunning enough that most voices are silenced before he is revealed.

His second weakness is his dependence on the breaths he steals. He has none of his own, without breaths to drink, he would die. Probably. Hopefully.

He has in his thrall a small number of Crow-Imp creatures. They are totally wretched, nearly worthless things, their only merit that they share Tash's breath-taking power, though they must work as pairs to bottle up the stolen breathes, lest they escape, as they are too small and feeble to accomplish this single-handedly. They are also disgustingly, disappointingly cowardly. No doubt they would cravenly swear fealty immediately to anyone who did manage to slay their master.

In a clash, Tash fights dirty. Preferably from stealth, he will steal as many breaths as he can, before striking decisively from the dark. He is quite capable of fighting many targets at once at no disadvantage, his greater arms parrying and striking while his smaller ones steal the remaining breaths, sewing shut lips, and marionetting problematic targets if needs be. Above all though, Tash is not a brave warrior. If the fight turns against him, he will readily quit the field with as many bottled breaths as he can get away with, throwing some down to slow pursuit if he thinks it would benefit him.

Tash's lair is a honey-comb maze of dark and poorly lit caves in the earth, the better for him to stalk his foes unseen. Some chambers deeper down contain crude shelves, filled up with stocks of bottled breaths for lean times. Others have cages of stolen victims, regularly visited to fill up bottles. Other caves are chock full of bottles. Where they came from, no one knows.

You will know the path of Tash by these signs; bird shit, sticky brown spittle, shiny black threads, suffocated corpses.

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