It’s a bird! It’s a cat! It’s a… sheep? It’s a… sphinx but instead of a human head it’s got a… ram’s head? Was somebody drunk when they made up this monster?
These are the many thoughts that might go through an adventurer’s mind while they also attempt to flee a pack of these monsters running down the adventuring party across the badlands.
The apex predator of the arid regions of western Ipieros, the criosphinx is a horned and winged cat. Its muzzle is remarkably long for a cat; this and its curled horns has led some eastern scholars to incorrectly identify it as a ram. An adult criosphinx is roughly the same size as an ox, which also happens to be the beasts’ favorite meal.
Criosphinxes are pack hunters, stalking herds of large herbivores such as cattle, aurochs, and mountain sheep. Unlike most pack hunters, criosphinxes do not collaborate to bring down a single animal at a time. Instead, the pack cuts off six to eight animals from the rest of the herd, runs them all down together, and then settles in to feast. Criosphinxes living in the caves overlooking the Rushing Sea apply these tactics to dolphins, seals, and small whales in coastal shallows. Although they are wary of civilization, criosphinxes will happily hunt and eat people, especially small groups outside the protection of city or town walls.
Criosphinxes are magical creatures, although they do not harness arcane forces for any natural spellcasting ability. Instead they appear to consume magical power sources around them to sustain their large and improbable anatomy. Their wings are simply not large enough to lift their bodies without magical assistance. Their supernatural diet does make them a danger to magic-wielding adventurers, who may find the power of their spells sapped by the predators they are trying to fight off. As difficult as they are to hunt, slaughtered criosphinxes can power wizardries with the spiritual power they stored throughout life, much like glimmerfish. Criosphinx feathers are particularly potent and are widely traded.
These beasts’ place at the top of the food chain is uncontested in dry regions, but when their range overlaps wet areas, they may be hunted by nymphs. Both criosphinxes and nymphs are attracted to the ambient magical auras around the ley lines that follow rivers, which rarely ends well for the big cats. This has given rise to the renardi aphorism “safe as a horned cat out for a swim,” referring to any circumstances which are both tempting and dangerous.
The origin of the criosphinx is a mystery. The Gennishar Archive confirms that the beasts are artificial but has no further information beyond the fact that they not the product of bodysculpting. The oldest traditions of Wildermarch associate criosphinxes with ancient troll and gnoll royalty, but trollsong from the period explicitly states that the beasts were imaginary symbols of power. By cross-referencing these sources, scholars of the Bardic College suggest that the criosphinx was created approximately 1500 to 2000 years ago. This does place their creation at the same rough time and place as Julianna and her curse, but there is a frustrating lack of evidence positively connecting the two.
I do enjoy pulling out the more obscure corners of mythology, dusting them off, and slotting them into fantasy worlds. I hope you enjoy reading them!
For next week, we’ve got a bunch of options. Which one do you want to check out?