THE FISAH-ECK-SHANNO ("SNOWFLAKE INSECT")

APPEARANCE - SPECIAL ABILITIES - TERRITORY
HABITAT/BEHAVIOUR - DIET - MATING - USAGES - MYTH/LORE

Deep within the heart of the Gathorn Mountains, in the northern lands of the Icelands Coast, can be found a strange insect. Called the Fisah-eck-Shanno by the Remusians, which means "Snowflake", it causes terror in the hearts of those who are unlucky enough to come across it. Beautiful, yet repulsive at the same time, it may be the last thing one ever sees before a painful death.

Appearance. This insect is about two nailsbreadth across. By far, the majority of this measurement is taken up by its legs, as the body is often not much bigger than the head of a nail. In adulthood, it appears like a cross between a white fluffy spider and, when aloft, a large snowflake; hence its name. Two small pink to red eyes can be seen on its bulbous body, if one looks closely enough. This body is round and furry, and has six to eight legs protruding from it, apparently in every direction. It is unknown as to why individual insects have a different number of legs. It has been suggested that Snowflakes may occasionally lose a leg or two in the froth, the hard shelled protective ball that the larval insects mature. Other scholars surmise that maybe it is because some of the maggots complete their metamorphosis at different times, and that insects with eight legs simply changed earlier than those with six. On the Snowflake’s underside a hollow proboscis juts out; it is white, with a grayish black hard chitinous point, and is used for injecting into a host.

In the larvae stage, the Snowflake has a milky grey body, and resembles a maggot of a few grains in length. Tiny black feet can be seen, which it uses to move itself along. A large sucker-like mouth is at the one end, and if one looks close enough, a row of tiny sharp teeth can be observed.
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Special Abilities. In winter, when these creatures mature, they can fill their bodies up with air, like a balloon, and can be carried on the wind, searching for their prey, and a place to lay their eggs. If there is no wind, the snowflakes will simply crawl along the ground on their own legs. They can cover a distance of a ped in roughly 15-20 blinks, thus moving on the wind is usually much faster for them, and as such, makes them deadlier.

They are also quite resistant to the cold, and can survive the coldest of northern winters. It is true that fewer froths, the hardened shell that acts as a cocoon while the lavae transform to their adult form, are disturbed in winter, but it does happen. Scholars are unsure why they remain active in winter, and some have surmised that it is because of the antifreezing effects of the hrugchuk grass, that is eaten by many of the victims of the Fisah-eck-Shanno.
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Territory. These creatures can be found in the Gathorn Mountains, and as far south as the Heaths of Wilderon, the large area that is home to the Rhom-oc orcs and effectively seperates the Kanapan Peninsula from the Icelands Coast and Iol Peninsula in the north. There have been reports of them outside of this area, but these reports are rare, and largely unconfirmed. It is thought that the Snowflake's short lifespan, at most only a few days after emerging from the froth in adult form, prevents much migration of the species.
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Habitat/Behaviour. Larval snowflakes gather in what’s called a froth. Hundreds, if not thousands, of these small maggot-like insects gather in a ball, each producing a sticky substance that bubbles and covers the entire froth. This sickly light brown secretion then hardens, forming a protective shell around the maggots. This hardened shell protects the maggots until conditions are right for it to transform. Some think that this condition is based on weather, for spring is when most of these froths awaken. Still others surmise that it is the proximity of a host, as froths can break open at any time of the year.

Regardless of what brings on the awakening, the hard shell of the froth cracks, then the mature snowflakes emerge; hundreds of them. It is at this point that they become deadly. These adult snowflake crawl, or roll, along on their new long legs. As they do, their bodies swell, filling with air. If there is a breeze, many of them will be lifted into the air, where they float seemingly weightless in the winds. It is this sight that got them their name.

Any animal or, gods forbid, man that finds themselves in the path of these creatures is in dire straits at best. The Snowflakes legs are quite adept at grabbing onto hair, thread, fur, etc. Once attached to a host, the snowflake injects eggs into the skin. It takes only a moment of time for this to happen, as it seems the snowflake is released from the froth already carrying viable eggs. Many eggs can be injected into the skin from the snowflake at once, though they are too small to be seen clearly enough to know how many.

It takes only a few minutes before the area around the eggs becomes inflamed. Within an hour, the eggs begin to hatch into maggots of less than a grain in length. These maggots are voracious eaters and begin to burrow into the flesh deeper. Within a day, the host is usually dead. A couple days after that, a man sized host will be devoured completely, with nothing left but the bones.

The maggots will then travel together, looking for a suitable place to hide, usually under logs, boulders, hollows of trees, even in the crook of tree branches. They will begin then to gather in a tight ball, once more secreting the sticky fluid and forming a froth.
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Diet. Larval snowflakes feed on nearly anything, from the flesh of their host, to vegetable matter and carrion. They are voracious eaters, eating several times their own weight in a relatively short amount of time.

As adults, it does not appear that they eat. If these creatures do not find a host in which to lay their eggs, they appear to die within a day or two. It is this fact alone that keeps the snowflake population from growing completely out of control. If they do find a host, it seems that the energy expended in laying the eggs leaves the Fisah-eck-Shanno nearly dead. Within a few hours at most, the creature will die.
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Mating. There does not seem to be any mating ritual between individual snowflakes. In fact, there do not seem to be any sexes at all, within the snowflake species. All snowflakes seem capable of laying eggs, which do not need fertilization. The snowflakes emerge from the froth able to lay eggs immediately. Also, the maggots can lay eggs once they are implanted in a host. Within a day, as they devour the flesh, more maggots will be born.
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Usages. There is no known use for adult Snowflakes. However, a few of the more adventurous northern people have found use for the froth. In particular, some froths seemed to be infected with what has become known as "Froth Blight", where the froth turns a black-blue colour and secretes a milky brown liquid. This froth blight kills the froth, rendering it harmless. It is unknown how this blight is spread from one froth to another, or how the froth contracts it. The thick liquid that oozes from it can then be used as an unguent. If applied to the skin, it acts as a repellent. It is said that the Snowflakes will not land on a person who is suitably swathed in the liquid. Of course, this is so far unconfirmed, as direct evidence of this working has yet to be substantiated. It seems that there is a drought of willing participants when it comes to testing this salve.
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Myth/Lore. The mythical hero Uraghadze is a favourite subject of Ice Tribe mythology. There is a story related of how Uraghadze had an encounter with a snowflake froth. As with most Uraghadze myths, it does not seem to be a morality tale, nor an allagorical one. Instead, it simply illustrates the Ice Tribes’ belief that the strength of man can overcome the forces of nature. Many times this includes the help of one or more of the gods, and sometimes it is in spite of these deity's intervention. The tale of Uraghadze has been told for generations, and seems to be of Remusian origin, even though the hero himself seems to be of indeterminate origin.

The Trial of Uraghadze. In the before time, when gods walked the world with men, the hero Uraghadze Hanno-eck-Icsain, Uraghadze Ice-Hand, had many adventures. Now it happened that one spring, after a very long and cold winter, his clan was short on meat. Uraghadze decided to go off in search of game. He travelled to the Gathorn Mountains, where prey was more plentiful. Once there, it did not take long before he came across the track of a Tar’andus deer. Gripping his spear tighter in anticipation of a fruitful hunt, Uraghadze set off after the animal.

Now, as much as Uraghadze was loved and revered by his clan, he had garnerred the ire of a number of the gods. In particular, Necteref hated the hero for killing his animal companion, Caracal. Necteref too was in the mountains that day, and he did spy the hero on his hunt, and decided to make mischief on him.

Uraghadze trudged on through the mountains, further and further, lured by a great Tar'andus buck, with a rack greater than Uraghadze had ever seen before. His heart beat strongly in his chest, as he imagined the amount of meat this magnificent creature would bring. Onward he ventured, each time only catching a glimpse of the buck as it trotted over the next ridge.

The Tar'andus buck was no other than Necteref, leading the hero further and further away. The god had a plan, as dark and evil as there ever had been. Necteref knew that within the Gathorn Mountains, there existed a creature so foul, so dangerous, that the hero would not be able to save himself through strength alone, nor with cunning. The god was leading Uraghadze toward a froth of Fisah-eck-Shanno, the Snowflake insects.

For five days and five nights, Uraghadze chased the buck, always just out of range to throw his spear. On the sixth day, Uraghadze stopped, his body aching from the effort; his belly crying out for food; his hands and feet numb from the cold. He sank to his knees, and tilted back his head, letting forth a howl of rage that shook the very mountains themselves. He had failed his people, and now they would die without the food the buck would have brought.

As he knelt there, tears streaming down his face, forming a trail of ice along his cheek, he saw with wonder the buck approaching him. Uraghadze tried to heft his giant spear, but his strength was gone and he could not. Then, as he watched helplessly, the buck stood up on its hind legs. The great rack that Uraghadze had so wanted to take as a trophy, seemed to melt away, and the front legs became hands. The buck's face then transformed, and the true form of Necteref was revealed to the hero.

"Why? Why have you deceived me so my people shall die of hunger?"

"Your crime is arrogance, Uraghadze. Arrogance in thinking that you are equal to a god; arrogance in thinking that you could challenge and kill Caracal without incurring my wrath; and arrogance in thinking that Nechya, the mother of your kind, will always be there to help you. For this crime, the punishment is death."

To the hero's horror, he saw that Necteref was standing near a small alicott bush, of which a large froth had hardened around its base. Now it started to tremble, and soon it began to crack and split. First one, then another and another of small white insects emerged from the brown coloured froth. Some began to roll and crawl across the snowtop, heading toward Uraghadze, while others expanded and were picked up on the wind that came from Necteref as he blew them toward the mortal.

Uraghadze knew that these insects were Fisah-eck-Shanno - creatures as small as they were deadly, who would bite into his skin, burrow into his flesh, and infest it with maggots who would eat his living body from the inside until nothing but bones and hair would be left.

Uraghadze tried to run, but his legs would not obey him, and he could not move. As he knelt in the snow, he lifted his chin proudly and faced the vengeful god before him. "Then I die, but I die a man! I die a child of Nechya, having lived with her grace, and it is my honour to do so."

A smile crossed the face of the god, and he looked upon the mortal with contempt. "Yes, you will die, human. Alone, cold, and in much pain." The image of the god then transformed once more to the shape of the buck. It then turned and bounded easily through the snow and far away.

Uraghadze watched the buck disappear, then looked at the approaching terror; resigned to his fate. As the first insects neared him, so that he closed his eyes and awaited their painful burrowing into his flesh, he was surprised when it did not come. He opened his eyes again, and watched in wonder as the insects nearest him stopped their advance.

Like an eddy in a body of water, the snowflakes began to travel in a slow wide circle, slowly traveling inward, tighter and tighter, faster and faster. Not only the insects on the ground, but those in the air as well, as if blown by a strange wind. More and more snowflakes gathered, slowly taking shape; slowly getting larger. Insect against insect; one atop the next, it built upon itself, becoming a mysterious entity.

Thousands of Fisah-eck-Shanno came together, more than Uraghadze could count; more than there are stars in the night sky. Slowly they transformed from many small insects to one large creature; its flesh a trembling mass of snowflakes. This new creature took a shape, and that shape was a woman. Although its face had no eyes that were real, no mouth that was real, nor any other feature that a face should have, Uraghadze recognized that very face. It was the goddess Nechya.

Muted, silent, it stared at him with ethereal eyes, its head cocked to one side. How it was able to stare at him without real eyes, but simply a hole in the writhing mass on snowflakes, cannot be guessed at by mortal minds. But stare it did, and its mouthed seemed to move as if speaking, but no sound came forth.

Uraghadze could not help but feel a shiver course through him, for he knew he was witnessing the power of the gods; the power of Nechya herself! Using his spear as a support, he pulled himself to his feet, feeling strength return to him, as if he drew on the power of the goddess.

The creature, the entity, the goddess, for how does one describe such a being, then lifted an arm and pointed. Insects swarmed about the limb, causing it to form, dissolve, then reform again many times over and over. It was solid, and as smoke all at once. Real and nightmare.

Uraghadze understood. He was to leave; to get as far from there as he could. Leaning heavily on his spear, he hurried away, looking over his shoulder often to see if the creature would follow, but it did not. Rather, it stood motionless, yet constantly moving, its arm outstretched in its invocation. Then, all at once, the creature collapsed in a grand display of swarming Fisah-eck-Shanno. But Uraghadze was safe; far from the white terror.

The hero made his way back. Down from the mighty Gathorn Mountains, back to the empty flatness of the Frozen Wastes he walked. Though he lived, spared by the mercy of the goddess Nechya, his heart was heavy, for he returned with no meat. How many of his people would die without the food he was to bring? He had failed them.

Suddenly, as his clan came into view, there stood before him a majestic deer, its antlers twice the size of the rack he had seen on the buck that was Necteref. This meat would save his people, feeding them for a long time. Taking aim, Uraghadze threw his spear with all his strength. His aim was true, and the Tar'andus buck was felled.

As he picked up the carcass and threw it over his shoulders to carry home, he looked to the sky, and gave his thanks to the great mother, Nechya.
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 Date of last edit 31st Passing Clouds 1669 a.S.

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