Thursday, October 23, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Phantasm, Part 2: "Beasts And Other Beings"

Painting by Pamela Poole
The magical world of Phantasm is home to many of the creatures we on Earth believe to be hoaxes and myths. The greatest of these is without a doubt the dragon. Dragons’ scales are similar to a snake’s, but much larger and thicker. They have long, thick, serpentine necks, and they possess pointing snouts full of savage, sharp teeth, a crest of horns around their heads, and a flexible tail with a pointed barb at the end. These winged behemoths bear greatness not out of fear and coerciveness, but borne out of respect. They are typically reclusive, which makes their infrequent appearances in the lives of the other Phantasmians all the more prominent. Typically, dragons, with their keen senses (they can sense emotions) and longevity (meaning they live through several generations of the other creatures) contributing to their understanding of the ways of other creatures, serve as harbingers of war or world-changing news. When one is visited by a dragon, you can be sure that being will play an important role in an impending event. The single greatest gift bestowed by a Dragon is Dragon-Voice. Only non-dragons can receive Dragon-Voice (obviously) and to receive it, the being must perform a task or make a decision that deems it worthy of a Name from the Dragon-Namer (usually the Clan-leader’s offspring or mate) and become a member of the Dragon-Clan.
Names are a very serious concept among dragons; before this “proving” (which even a young dragon must experience), a dragon is merely given the generic name “dragon,” which is their equivalent of our name “baby” or “newbie.” Once a dragon has proved itself, though, the Dragon-Namer gives it a name that often has special meaning based on the role that dragon (or non-dragon) will have in a future event or conflict. Once a name is given, the being (whether dragon or non-dragon) is a Brother or Sister in the Dragon-Clan. With Dragon-Voice, a non-dragon can speak to and understand Dragon. In situations of dire need, a dragon (or a non-dragon with Dragon-Voice) may call the name of the clan (usually also the name of the Clan-leader) and according to Dragon-Law, every dragon who hears it must come or risk being branded with the name “Worm” for the rest of its life. The worm is the lowest life-form to a dragon. To be named as such is the worst degradation known to dragon. Very frequently, a dragon wounded in battle will suffer infection of the untreated wound, and soon it is infested with the vile “worm.” A dragon infected with the worms is either cast out of his clan, regardless of his rank, or he is willingly slain by a dragon enemy, for no dragon will kill another dragon. 

            Second only to the dragon is the majestic unicorn. Pure, glistening white, the unicorn is a valiant, noble creature, often chosen as a guardian or protector. A newborn unicorn does not have a horn; it begins growing shortly after birth. As it grows, the horn is milky-white in color. Once a unicorn reaches maturity and the horn reaches its full length, the milky-white coating sloughs off and the unicorn’s assignment of protection is decided by the color of the horn beneath. A unicorn’s horn is transparent, like a diamond; its conical surface is completely smooth, and tapers from its head like a long sword. Typically the color is clear, (protecting the creatures in the mountains), blue (protecting the Lake-creatures), green (protecting the little folk: elves and fairies and such), or amber (protecting the towns). Very rarely, a unicorn has a red horn. A red-horned unicorn has the especial privilege of protecting the Phantasmagyth.

A Word On The Phantasmagyth
The Phantasmagyth serves as the protection of Phantasm. Its appearance is like that of a large, clear jewel set in gold, with an ornate gold chain attached to it. The Phantasmagyth remains around the neck of the red-horned unicorn, and as long as that is the case, no outsider can enter Phantasm. If an outsider does enter, by contrived artificial or mechanical means, this is a threat to the red-horned unicorn, and all of the other guardian-unicorns will seek to monitor the intruder and keep the Phantasmagyth safe at all costs. If an intruder either kills the red-horned unicorn or by trickery, flattery, or other false means obtains the Phantasmagyth, that intruder—whomever he may be—has complete control over all the beings in Phantasm except the dragons. They must obey his order, no matter what. It may be that the intruder is a human from Earth, and perhaps he has managed to bring the Phantasmagyth back with him, and he activates the Phantasmagyth (by placing the chain on the setting of the Phantasmagyth; in the event of an emergency, the red-horned unicorn can separate the two parts, the Chain and the gyth, which becomes nothing more than a large, sparkling gem; the real power of the Phantasmagyth is in the Chain) on Earth. If this were to happen, he would have dominion over all the beings on Earth, and the capacity to force them to do whatever he wants. This is why it is so vastly important to every creature in Phantasm to protect the Phantasmagyth, and why it is such a high honor for the red-horned unicorn, of which there can only be one at a time. 

Unicorns can speak, though you need fairy dust to understand them. (In fact, a human needs fairy dust to understand most of the creatures in Phantasm except the dragons, who communicate only to those with Dragon-Voice, the gryphons, whom no one can understand, the trolls, and the dwarves.)

Little Folk
            To explain fairy dust, I must first describe fairies. The Little Folk of Phantasm are divided into two genders: Elves and Fairies. I say “genders” because all girls are fairies, and all boys are elves. The Little Folk of Phantasm are not miniscule, and they do not look like flowers; they look more like people, only they are six inches high on average. So you see, compared with the common conception of fairies, real fairies are much taller.
Fairies have hands and feet just like we do, (no curly-toed shoes), and are generally pale (not a glass-like skin tone, but more fair-skinned), but it is really their faces that set them apart from us in the matter of appearance. A fairy’s eyes are shaped like large almonds, and her eyebrows are shaped like a wide V. Fairies’ ears are pointed, but not just at the top. The earlobes are pointed, too, giving the organ an elliptical shape. Fairies have wings; elves don’t. Fairies’ wings are not at all like butterfly wings; they’re more like a swallow’s wings, unfolding from behind their backs when they fly and tucking in when they are still. The wings are typically white, with a pearly sheen to them. Fairies do not glow either, at least not all the time. The movement of their wings causes them to illuminate.

A word about fairy dust: it doesn’t make you fly. It almost looks like mustard powder with a very faint sheen to it; the fairy dust serves as a translator. Putting it in your ears helps you understand the fairy (who speaks in little bell-noises, like Tinker Bell in Peter Pan). The fairy dust will also “translate” the speech of any other creature, such as unicorns or the merfolk. If you’re daring (or desperate) you can also put a little bit on your tongue to help you speak to the creatures who don’t understand human-speech (or even other humans who don’t speak English). Be careful though: fairy dust tastes like a tongue-scorching combination of hot mustard and red pepper!

Some other varieties of Little Folk are: Biitals, small, furry, eyeless creatures that live among the grass in the Meadow, and “see” through extremely sensitive tentacles; gnomes, three-inch tall grey creatures with small hands and big yellow eyes; and dryads, small pixies around four inches tall, whose duty it is to release the blossoms and leaves from the trees to make room for the new ones to grow. (This is so because the sun is in a fixed place in the outer membrane, and therefore no seasons in Phantasm.)

High up in the trees of the Glades (and in caves around the Sayhoun Mountains) live the gryphons. They have the head of a golden eagle, gigantic wings, and the strong, sinewy body of a lion. Their paws are shaped like lion’s paws, but since they are both eagle and lion, the claws are large and long like an eagle’s talons. Gryphons are carnivores, feasting on the wild lamb-like creature, the resia, who do not bother anyone, but graze constantly on the grass in the Meadow and around the trees. Resia look very much like fat lambs, only their “wool” is actually very short, curly white hair on their hide. Gryphons aren’t the only ones who eat them; resia are the chief (if not the only) meat source in Phantasm.

The last creature worth describing (because all the rest look relatively like we expect them to: trolls are squat, pig-like creatures with triangular ears, dwarves are short and hairy, and giants look like normal people, only they average from fifty-five to seventy feet tall) is the mermaid.

For starters, the Mer-folk of Phantasm are not half-fish-half-human, but rather a combination of human and fish. The only thing relating to humans is the general shape of the body (head, neck, torso, two arms, two legs), and the arrangement of the face (mer-person ears are sort of like frogs’ “ears”: hollow, drum-like organs called tympani; in lieu of ear-lobes they have small fins on the sides of their heads; two eyes on the front of the head, below them the gill-slits instead of a human nose, and a fish-like mouth below that). Adult Merfolk can be anywhere from ten feet to twenty feet tall. Skin tone ranges from bright blue to dark grey. Eyes are bulbous and fish-like, but their color ranges between merpeople as much as human eye color does: brown, blue, green, hazel, violet, aqua, or amber. Hair color, also, can be any color (such as bright green or purple), and it does not change with age, as a human’s does. Both mermen and mermaids have long hair that does not stop growing throughout their lives; mermaids generally tend to tie their hair back as it grows, or pile it on their heads and tie it securely with seaweed. The more impatient mermen generally cut their hair short with bone-knives when it gets in the way of swimming.

Having separate legs instead of a single fishtail, the merfolk’s method of swimming is similar to the “butterfly stroke” used by humans. Their feet, instead of toes, have long fins, sort of like natural flippers in that a slow, easy kicking motion propels the merperson forward. Spanning the underarms from the wrist to the hip are wide, flexible, iridescent fins. To swim, a merperson extends its arms out to the side and sweeps forward with webbed hands, in the motion of the butterfly stroke mentioned before. Water gets caught in the fins and is released with the backward sweep of the hands, thrusting the merperson through the water at twice the speed of the fastest human swimmer over the water. Also contributing to the fluidity of a mer-person’s movements is the fact that their bodies are streamlined, in the manner of a fish. The front of their torsos are very flat compared to a human’s, and their backs are smooth like a dolphin’s, from the neck to the heel. They glide through the water much like manta rays.