The Hidden Needle
- "Their hides glisten with a light oil, hallucinogenic to humans."
- Thorn Breath
A stream of needle-like throns shoot forwards in a line, riddling the Briartove's foes with spiny death.
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When the Briartove is attacked, it reflexively casts a cloud of irritating thorns in all directions.
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Deep within the jungles that swathe the continent of Egirah in creeper and vine, lives a hidden community of wandering mystics, the Hwai'rah. Rarely seen and even less often studied or spoken to, these enigmatic people live amongst the trees and practice their spirit-walks in the humid depths of the limestone caverns beneath them.
Also within these damp hollows dwell the secretive briartove dragons. The Hwai'rah lifestyle has been intertwined with these great beasts since time immemorial. Slithering in the darkness, these beasts form the basis of an extensive mythology. To the Hwai'rah, the briartove represent the messengers of their many gods, and the protectors of their way of life.
From their wide, round heads to their sickly yellow flail-capped tails, briartoves bristle with sleek, needle-like spines. Their mouths yawn snake-wide, and corpse-pink forked tongues lash the air before them. Huge paw-like feet are capped with razor claws, each a meter long, tipped in ebony.
Their hides glisten with a light oil, hallucinogenic to humans. The Hwai'rah harvest this oil for their ceremonies, though how they do so is a closely guarded secret. In the caverns below, the Hwai'rah worship these great and spiny creatures, often building elaborate candle-lit shrines around the briartove's nests in the deepest caves. Though once the quiet objects of adoration and inspiration, in these days of strife, the briartove brood have become the Hwai'rah's greatest weapon.
Hwai'rah legend tells of a time when the neighboring Nuanta'al did not make war on them. In the dim ages of the before, the Hwai'rah had no enemies and wandered the jungle on their mystical journeys in peace. In that time, the Nuanta'al remained on their mountain of fire. But a day came when the tribe of the Nuanta'al upon the mountain overthrew the winged serpents that lorded over their lofty homes and took the beasts as their own pets. Soon, the shadow of oppression grew over the jungle beneath the fire mountain as the Nuanta'al grew powerful. The Hwai'rah found themselves hunted, persecuted, and driven into their sacred caves.
The war against the mountain tribe and their feathered serpents decimated the Hwai'rah, never had they faced war before this. How could they bring an offense against a tribe as powerful as the Nuanta'al? The wisest went to the sacred briartove nests and communed with the creatures. Soon, they had their answer.
They returned to their warriors with their ceremonial oils and armed them with blowguns. Anointed in hallucinogens and running swiftly and alone, the Hwai'rah warriors began to bring the fight back to the Nuanta'al. Their darts were whispers amongst the trees, riddling their enemies with swift death. The Hwai'rah then vanished into the trees or the hollows only to slip around and strike again. On the rare occasion that they were trapped, the poisons on their skin acted quickly upon their captors. The jungle people had learned well from their patron brood, and the tides of war slowly turned.
Outraged at the fangs that their prey had sprouted so suddenly, the Nuanta'al drove into the jungle with all of their strength. Warriors astride quetzalcoatl flew low over the tree tops, and the shadows of their spirit vessels darkened the jungle wherever they flew. The Hwai'rah despaired, and again retreated into their caverns. This time, they were followed. The fiercest of the Nuanta'al left behind their mounts to descend upon the last and the wisest of the Hwai'rah, in the deepest caverns beneath the jungle. But they did not know what else waited for them in the darkness below. They had never seen a briartove before, doubtless none outside of the Hwai'rah had. The brood that had been sheltering the Hwai'rah elders was perhaps the oldest in the jungle and when the Nuanta'al invaders burst into their shrine, upsetting the candles on their altars, they became enraged. The Hwai'rah watched in amazement as their quiet idols burst into fury, spitting meter long thorns that impaled their foes. The beasts rose from their repose and slew the Nuanta'al relentlessly. As the warriors fled, the beasts followed them, chasing them into the light. To the Nuanta'al, the jungles had suddenly come alive with briartoves mustered from their hidden caves.
All around them, briartoves were climbing out of rocky hollows and taking to the sky on impossible wings, more spine than feather or membrane. In the air, the briartoves were even more savage fighters. They filled the sky with bitter lengths of thorn. When an enemy ventured too close, the beasts flexed mightily and sent loose spines in all directions. Their foes upon their flying serpents fell in shreds, mortally pierced through. Many Nuanta'al fled, many more died. The briartoves drove them all to the very brink of their fiery caldera before they relented. To this day the feud between the tribes remains.
Now, at middle-age, Hwai'rah warriors are sent into the dripping recesses beneath the jungle to subdue and retrieve a Briartove adolescent. Their methods vary, though the dragons are not beaten by the Hwai'rah warrior, instead a complex and mysterious charm is worked. The dragon's baleful yellow eyes glow brightly, lamp-like in the darkness of the caves, guiding Hwai'rah warriors to their greatest test. If the warrior succeeds and brings the beast, blinking, into the sun for the first time, dragon and warrior will thereafter be as one. These chosen warriors then leave behind the wandering tribes to defend their jungles from the hated oppressors, and to fight for glory in the Battles Above.