Friday, April 29, 2016

City of Curses: Sphinxes (Maralda's Notes)

#Crux, City of Curses, is a dark fantasy setting of intrigues, early industry and more than a little horror.  Here's a piece from Maralda on her first meeting a Sphinx, and some material on what Sphinxes are like in the setting overall.

Adopted By A Sphinx

I never stopped fleeing my father's estates in the Blood Quarter as a teen.  Sometimes it ended in horrible fashion for me.  But other times, I learned things.  Things I think my father would've never approved of.  Sphinxes always teach some sort of insight.

Embarrassing myself in front of three of them, though, I hadn't plan for.

"Omph!"  I tripped as I continued my climb up Mount Eidda.  At its peak was Ith's statue.  Sixteen, I thought I could get up there on my own.

Why?  Because I was a stupid kid who thought she could do whatever she wanted.  Even after a Feyborn Horse kidnapped me being, I'd never bothered to learn my lesson.  I still fled home looking for something else.  Something new to define me.  They say there is writing on Ith's statue atop Mount Eidda.  I wanted to read what it was.

I clung to the edge of the rock face.  Somewhere, at some point, I'd managed to get off the beaten path.  "C'mon.  There has to be a trail here somewhere..."

I slipped.  I fell.  Not far, but enough for pain to wringe up my arms.  Skin and blood dripped onto my dress.

"Ow."  I laid there for about ten minutes.  Nothing broken, just my pride.

"So, you plan to do that again, or have you learned your lesson, little one?"  A voice said.

I looked around me.  No one else was on the trail.  Well, it wasn't a trail, more of a series of bushes and rock piles.  Piles, I started realize, weren't easily climbed.

The voice sounded like a woman's voice.  But bigger.

"Up here."  She said.

I looked up about me.  Lying in a massive tree above, a pair of blue feline eyes studied me.  A woman's face, with red and black hair.  She had the body of a black panther.  A pair of massive, raven-black wings folded at her sides.  She lounged in the crook of the tree, like a housecat studying a little mouse.  Like a mouse, I hadn't seen her.  Eek.

"Uh..." I stumbled back.  "Sorry, I'm... I'm trying to get up the mountain."

"Mount Eidda?  Really?"  The Sphinx adjusted a necklace around her dark, black furred neck.  A purple amethyst that glittered in the light.

"Yes!"  I told her.  "I'm sorry if I disturbed you, but I'm trying to make it up there before sundown."

"Sundown?"  The black sphinx looked around.  "It's going to rain, dear.  You are aware of that, aren't you?"

"Oh."  I looked up.  The sky was full of dark clouds.

She licked her lips.  "Honestly, child.  You're bleeding too."

"It's just a little cut."

"A little cut?"  The Sphinx sighed.  "You are climbing up a trail once nicknamed Death's Walk.  Ancient Tomasi used to send unwanted children up here to die.  Landslides kill one quick."

"Oh."  I paused.  "Is... is there a better path?"

The Sphinx chuckled.  Four times my size, she kept looking at me with a look I didn't quite like.  It reminded me of what my own cats at home used to do.  No, I didn't like that at all.

I felt foolish.  A Sphinx was going to eat me.  My father would just laugh his head off about it too.  Yuck.

"Determined aren't you."  The Sphinx observed.  "Let me guess, you want to read what it says at the statue?"

I blinked.  Then I nodded.

"Curious too."  The Sphinx continued.  "I think I won't eat you, not yet."


"Want a ride?"  She asked me.  "Ride?"

"My sisters and I were curious how long you'd keep at it."  The Sphinx said.  "And as much fun as watching a girl like you die would be, I can't.  Not if you want to learn something."

"Why would you... I mean... Yes!  Please?"

The Sphinx landed next to me.  She studied my wounds.  Then she sang a song, in a tongue I could never hope to repeat.  That was the day I met a Sphinx for the first time.  It also was the day I decided I loved stories more than anything else.

She and her sisters were Bards.  Storytellers.  Despite what people say about mysteries, Sphinxes don't protect them.  They find them.

The Sphinxes

It's misleading to think of Sphinxes as lonely creatures.  If anything, the creatures rely more on mystery and misdirection than most.  Prides of Sphinxes always work around civilization.  Often seen as being malevolent, treacherous and merciless.  In truth, Sphinxes have an addiction to mysteries and stories.

It isn't a metaphor.  Sphinxes enjoy a high while learning a mystery.  New stories can cause grown Sphinxes to become drunk, as though it were alcohol.

Sphinxes do eat humans.  Often, though, they are selective in who or what they devour.  Sphinxes believe that truly unique or intelligent beings should be protected.  Some Sphinxes think of nearby humans as a herd they are helping to improve.

But even then, Sphinxes do not devour a human or other intelligent creature.  Not without giving them a chance to defend themselves on intellectual grounds.  Some even are part of the judicial system in Ith.  Ith regards execution by Sphinx to be one of the most merciful punishments it has.

Sphinxes also have a important symbolism to the people of Ith.  Long regarded as representing mysteries and knowledge, Ith's Great Seal displays a Sphinx.  Ith himself, the Archmage, was a adopted by Sphinxes as one of their own.  The Sphinx Prides of Ith continue that practice.  They adopt "pet" humans and mages they identify with.

Sphinxes are long-lived as well.  But unlike other older beings, they practice an assumption of ignorance on their part.  Sphinxes will often find teenagers and other young beings.  They will talk with them, with  a reverence.  They speak with them, not just as mentors, but with a curiosity.

The Sphinx have a phrase that reflects on this.  "The young lack the ignorance of old age."

Key to know about Sphinxes is that they collect names.  They never give their actual names out, collecting them everyone else they interact with.  Even siblings among Sphinxes never know the names of their siblings.  Finding out what the names of their siblings is one of the earliest mysteries Sphinxes get high from.