The term “Oldbeasts” (agadisi-ju in Vanni) refers to a class of strange creatures that roam northern Modui. As the name implies, Oldbeasts have unnaturally long lives, and each is the subject of histories, stories and myths reaching back centuries. Each Oldbeast is unique, the only one of its kind. Often they resemble a more common animal, but much larger and with unique anatomical features, such as multiple heads or strange coloration. Sometimes they can look like hybrids of multiple different creatures, or take truly bizarre shapes without referent in the natural world.
Life Among Legends
The peoples of the Swaying Veld and Modui’s Heart have lived in close proximity to the Oldbeasts for centuries. Their relationship with the creatures is usually one of respectful noninterference. While some consider the Oldbeasts sacred – either as incarnations of various gods or as living gods themselves – others believe that, while they are wondrous and unique, they are ultimately just animals. Either way, most mab will choose to leave the beasts alone. For their part, Oldbeasts generally act like common animals, preferring to avoid settlements and keeping to an established hunting or grazing territory, the bounds of which are well-known to locals.
Of course, there are instances where mabish encroachment on an Oldbeast’s territory or an unexpected change in the animal’s behavior can bring the two groups into conflict. For example, in 433AF the Lionreign settlement of Salt Bend was wiped off the map when Red Horn Utun, a jakjadu-azu the size of a house, rampaged through it. The attack was completely unprecedented; the Oldbeast and the citizens of Salt Bend had coexisted peaceably for centuries; indeed, Utun had a reputation as a remarkably gentle beast, and generations of children had made a game out of climbing the enormous creature.
Vanni history is peppered with similar incidents; not surprisingly, the majority of these cases involve carnivorous Oldbeasts. Generally, if a mab is foolish enough to wander into the hunting ground of such a creature, his clan will not seek retribution should he disappear. However, there are stories in which one of these apex-predators develops a taste for mabflesh, transforming it into a terror among the settlements that border its hunting ground. Even in these extreme cases, action is only taken against the beast after careful deliberation.
Otutu-Odu, Horned Lion of the Eastern Steppes
The unchallenged master of the Eastern Steppes, Otutu-Odu is a huge, two-tailed lion with curving ram horns and a blue-black coat. Like other Oldbeasts, it is almost impossible to determine exactly how long he has stalked the hills; there are, however, millennia-old petroglyphs which seem to depict him. While his horns are one of the most coveted trophies among Haciki hunters, his impenetrable hide, predatory cunning and great size make him a formidable target.
Creatures of Myth
Unsurprisingly, Oldbeasts feature heavily in the foundational myths of the Swaying Veld, where they both aid and battle Vanni gods and heroes. For example, every Hanujadi child is taught that their capital city was founded when the god Woodshaper Hanu directed Kytoja-Zu, a rhinoceros beetle of gargantuan size, to pile up a mountain of earth in order to save the first Hanujadi from a great flood. The mighty beetle worked so hard that he died on top of the hill, and the clan’s Great Hall is still housed within his immense shell to this day.
Sightless Eye Reach gets its name from another myth involving an Oldbeast. In this story, Luckshaper Inaki, the monkey-headed trickster goddess, challenged Thousand-Eye Mother, a horrifying spider-like monster, to a staring contest, the winner of which would be declared lord of the jungle. Unknown to Thousand-Eye Mother, however, Inaki had her brother Lightshaper Gonyama put the brightest spark of the sun in her eyes, which dulled and eventually destroyed the Oldbeast’s vision over the course of their battle. Blind and despairing, the great spider retreated into the dark caves below the earth, and to this day seeks revenge by sending her poisonous children to torment the Inakijadi.
Almost all Oldbeasts are found in the northern areas of Modui, such as the Heart, the Swaying Veld and the Sundrinker Sands. The Oldbeast population in central and southern Modui were devastated by the spread of the Empire of Hacik and the rise of a particular Haciki tradition: the Questing Hunt.
The Haciki view the Oldbeasts (particularly the carnivorous variety) as unnatural monsters. During the First Expansion, Haciki knights began undertaking Questing Hunts, where they would hunt down and “slay” one of these creatures in single combat. A warrior whose hunt was successful was elevated to the rank of Beastkiller Knight, one of the highest honors in the Haciki chivalric caste. The rank was indicated by the wearing of a trophy taken from the slain animal, usually a cloak made from its skin or pelt.
As the number of Oldbeasts dwindled, it became harder and harder for an individual to become a Beastkiller Knight, and the title was in danger of fading away. In order to maintain what had become an elite fighting force and useful propaganda tool (the people of Hacik celebrate Beastkiller Knights as heroes), the military adopted a system where the squire of a Beastkiller would inherit the mantle after the current wearer passed away or retired.
Fearing that such as system could lead to nepotism and corruption, the military found a seemingly meritocratic solution: the Pup’s Brawl. Every four years, Hacik’s eight major chivalric Orders send a group of their finest young aspirants to compete with one another. A Beastkiller’s squire can only be chosen from the pool of winners, the so-called Steel Pups. Competition for these positions is fierce, as there are only 317 Oldbeast trophies in existence (and consequently, only 317 Beastkiller Knights at any time). Many of these trophies are quite old at this point, having been passed down for generations since the First Expansion.
A huge, three-headed shunshi, Metaori hunts the southern border of Dustmaw Reach. Her name, Talk-Talk, comes from the way in which her heads seem to communicate with one another in a ceaseless patter of yips, whines and barks. She is also known as “the Choir” for her triple-throated howls. While her pelt would make a fine trophy for an aspiring Beastkiller Knight, she is always surrounded by a pack of shunshi that will defend her viciously.
While the title of Beastkiller is one of the highest honors in Haciki society, it rarely leads to a comfortable position within either the government or the military. A Beastkiller’s place is on the front lines, not strategizing with high command or coordinating some industry for the war effort. Wherever war is waged in the name of the Queen-Navarch, you are sure to find a number of Beastkillers at the center of the fiercest fighting. If a Beastkiller is no longer able to fight, either due to injury or age, he is expected to retire, freeing his trophy for the next candidate (this is very rare – most Beastkillers would rather die on the battlefield then face the ignominy of retirement).
The only Beastkiller exempt from active service is the leader of the Cloakguard, the personal security force of the Queen-Navarch.
The Society and the Wardens
The creation of the New Owangru Society of Exploration and Adventure marked a shift in the relationship between Hacik, the Vanni, and the Oldbeasts. Headquartered in the Owangrun capital of Mmiri-Daal, the Society’s stated purpose is to provide guidance, expertise and support for travelers who want to explore the (in their words) “less-civilized” areas of the continent, such as the Swaying Veld and Modui’s Heart. In reality, these “expeditions” are actually hunting jaunts for well-heeled Haciki aristocrats who want to go after exotic game not found in central and southern Modui.
Early on, the Society realized it could charge hunters exorbitant sums for a chance to slay an Oldbeast, as success would allow that hunter to join the Beastkiller Knights. The knightly orders of Hacik, fearing an influx of lowborn poachers diluting the ranks of one of their proudest institutions, were quick to put rules in place; only a knight of Hacik can undertake a “true” Questing Hunt, and the leader of the Beastkillers, the Huntmaster, must recognize the Hunt as legitimate.
While the Society’s expeditions are technically illegal incursions onto Vanni territory, the Veld is massive and the complex power interplay between the clans makes policing it almost impossible. The Society has the small councils of many settlements along the Owangrun border in its pocket, allowing its agents to slip across and lead their clients to isolated, less-populous areas where the Oldbeasts can be found.
Though these hunting parties are usually able to avoid the Reachwatch (a kind of Vanni law enforcement, mainly operating in towns and cities), they may still have to contend with the Wardens. These clanless radicals have devoted themselves to defending the Oldbeasts by any means necessary. The Wardens operate outside the byzantine strictures of Vanni law; instead of turning these trespassers in to the Reachwatch to stand trial, they will simply execute them, leaving their bodies to feed the scavengers of the veld.
The so-called Lord of Bitter Lake is a enormous, many-legged alligator that lives deep within Modui’s Heart. Though his impressive bulk is almost never seen completely out of the lake, it is conjectured he is over 200 feet long. It is unclear where his head begins and ends, as his cavernous jaws seem to extend almost a third of the way down his body.
His name, Swarm-Song, comes from the unique way in which he hunts. A colony of white bats live on the roof of his mouth; when hungry, Karuko will split his body in a ear-shattering roar, shooting the bats out in a frenzied cloud that fills the jungle surrounding the lake. They will swarm any animals in the area, disorienting them and driving them towards the water, where Karuko will snap them up; afterwards, the bats then sate themselves on the grisly remains stuck between his many rows of teeth.
Karuko is considered sacred by the local Deepheart Dweller clans, as well as by the Sangbujadi of nearby Rainrest Reach, who think him an avatar of Sangbu Flowshaper, the alligator-headed god of rivers. Of course, any obeisance paid him is done so from a safe, respectful distance.