The Elder is the name given to the half-man, half-ape creature that is said to live in the Alpine Mountains. It is a mythological beast, one said to be a product of folklore, misinterpretation, and falsification. While no concrete evidence has been found, many believe that the creature is as real as any bear or elk that inhabits the same area. Most scientists and naturalists are skeptical about the beast’s existence and don’t feel evidence will ever be found. However there are some credible researchers who believe there is no reason a creature fitting its description couldn’t live in the area. Most believing naturalists suggest that if a creature fitting eyewitness descriptions did live in the area it would be a descendant of the Great Flatback Ape. The Flatback Ape was the largest bipedal ape to ever live and is said to have gone extinct 150,000 years ago.
A lack of physical evidence has not kept the people of Atla from spreading tales of the beast. Stories and tales of the Elder have been a part of native cultures for thousands of years. Going by many different names, indigenous people and ancient legends all mention some sort of hair man-beast that roams the mountains of Atla. The earliest officially documented sightings took place more than 1,000 years ago and have only become more common as the continent’s population increases. Though most sightings are centered just north of Alpine City in the Alpine Mountains, eyewitness accounts are common as far north as Tenos and as far south as Old Light Peak.
Almost all physical descriptions of the beast, even from the earliest records, are similar. It is said to stand between six and nine feet tall and weigh anywhere from 500 to 1,500 pounds. Like the ancient apes that once inhabited the area, it is covered in a thick, wiry fur that is dark brown with streaks of dark grey. It moves with surprising agility using its unusually long arms and thick legs to climb over and around any objects in its way. Its hands are said to be larger than a man’s head and capable of breaking branches and hurling stones while also possessing enough dexterity to manipulate small objects. It is especially at home climbing sheer rock faces or tall pines. The ease with which it is said to climb trees has led some to believe Elder sightings are actually brown bear sightings, as the two inhabit the same regions. A dome-shaped head sits atop broad shoulders and a muscular back that, like the ancient apes it is said to descend from, is nearly flat. Dense hair covers its face hiding everything but its yellow eyes and brown teeth. Some accounts state that the beast has a human-shaped nose and curved ears, though the density of its fur makes it difficult to discern details.
While the Elder’s physical appearance is frightening enough, its peculiar aroma and horrific voice have brought many witnesses to tears. A majority of witnesses say that you don’t hear or see the beast first, you smell it. An acrid, rotten, moldy aroma always precedes the beast, a smell that most describe as a moldy corpse that has been dunked in fetid water. The nearer one gets to the best the stronger the smell becomes to the point of being debilitating. Initially the smell will cause watery eyes and a sour stomach. As the beast approaches the smell becomes overwhelming and causes dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Those who claim to have stood within arm’s reach of the beast say the smell became so bad that they couldn’t move, that it overwhelmed them physically and emotionally.
The Elder’s cry is like no other both in diversity and volume. Some accounts say the beast produces a guttural gibberish that sounds vaguely like human speech while others have heard it make distinct and brief shouts (sounding similar to someone getting the air knocked out of their lungs). When frightened, startled, or provoked the beast is known to shriek and scream. The sound is both mournful and aggressive, loud enough to be heard more than a mile away, and so chilling as the raise the hair on the back of the listener’s arms. While many skeptics suggest the shriek is the misidentified call of a moose or elk, hunters and outdoorsman and women, individuals with a reputation for their skill and knowledge of the woods, have all reported a similar sound and one that did not belong to any known animal. The shriek is at once high pitched and deep, a piercing wail set over a guttural roar that can be both felt and heard. Some have said that it almost sounds like human speech shouted at tremendous volume. Perhaps the tendency for people to compare the Elder’s voice to a human voice is a result of its human-like appearance. Anthropomorphizing apes is not uncommon as they are likely the closest relatives to humans in the animal kingdom; mistaking an ape for a man or woman isn’t unheard of especially in countries throughout Feron where great apes are common. Whatever the cause, it is hard to deny the dozens of individual and unique accounts that all mention the human-like voice.
Science has yet to properly identify and classify the Elder. However, there are dozens of legends passed from generation to generation that explain the beast’s origins and purpose. Most small villages and cities throughout the Alpine Mountains and as far north as Bedrin all have their own unique tales and stories, those stories usually deal with the beast’s varied actions and behavior. While scientists and researchers claim the beast is a relative of the Flatback apes some Followers of the Five believe the beast has more sinister and spiritual origins. Prior to 197 PM origin stories were as diverse and unusual as the sightings themselves. At the time there was no single explanation that most people believed in. But in the summer of 197 that all changed when one man, a devout Follower of the Five named Ezra Chambers, was traveling from Alpine City to Ander’s Copse as part of his pilgrimage and had a chance encounter with the Elder itself. The rest of the report is taken from his personal account written shortly after his experience:
“It was the middle of Ayra and I was four months into my pilgrimage. Unlike most pilgrims I was not merely traveling to visit religious landmarks. I was a trained educator, a priest and instructor. It was my privilege to spend my time visiting churches and temples throughout Atla and instructing the local leaders on better methods of teaching from the Writ of the Five. I began in FreePort and spent the first month visiting shrines and chapels within the Valley of Gent. It took me all of Steyman to finish my journey and afterwards I took a boat north from Cliff’s End. Once north of the Cliffs of Gent I began a northeasterly tour of the region, visiting temples and chapels near the mountains. I have always had a particular affinity for the mountains and found myself more spiritually attune to God’s wishes there than in any other place. And so it was I stopped at every major and minor religious outpost, waypoint, shrine, temple, and chapel, including the ruins of Old Dames (though that was purely for selfish reasons as I had always wanted to see the ruins of the once bustling city).
After leaving the Valley of Gent my first major stop was in Alpine City. I spent two weeks in the great city, enjoying both the natural beauty and numerous temples. The people in the city are devout followers of Steyman but were overall fairly disorganized in their practices. There are many churches and all of them worship Steyman, however their means of doing so was both diverse and unusual. I was able to lecture almost every day and the work was very rewarding. As much as I would have liked to stay, my purpose was to tour facilities throughout the land and not spend all of my efforts in a single location. It was my intention to return to Alpine the following year when I had more free time to instruct. As it was, my time and energy were required elsewhere. After two weeks had passed I gathered my supplies and began my trek east.
I was three days into my journey from Alpine and had reached a high valley the locals called Aspen Valley. By late afternoon I crossed the valley and reached the trail leading deeper into the high mountains. There are numerous small lakes throughout the Aspen Valley and almost all of them are full of fish. Between the abundance of fish and the provisions I packed I was quite comfortable and ready to enjoy the evening lost in my studies. The following days were to be the most difficult I had experienced since leaving FreePort. From Aspen Valley a narrow and winding canyon would lead me upwards, high above Aspen Valley (which itself was nearly 8,000 feet in elevation) and on to the bald peaks that reached above 12,000 feet. Thin air, rocky terrain, and an absence of people made this the most dangerous portion of my travels as well. Nevertheless I was at peace and ready to begin my journey. After all, my role as traveling high priest in the church was a position that I did not take lightly and knew was divinely inspired; and with divine inspiration comes divine protection.
As I sat to begin my meal the sun was setting beyond peaks to my west and coloring the sky a great orange. It was beautiful and peaceful alone, but as I sat to eat a peculiar feeling came over me. I had never before been in the area and was altogether unfamiliar with it. I had studied the region extensively (and the locals were the ones responsible for telling me about the most abundant sources of fish) and knew what to expect, but the area itself was new. It was not particularly powerful or intense, but it was unusual. A shiver coursed through my body and the hair on the back of my arms stood for but a moment and then subsided. Figuring it the result of the newness of the region and the anxious anticipation for the difficult journey that lie ahead I dismissed the feeling and continued with my meal.
Later that evening I prepared for bed having forgotten about the darkness that momentarily plagued me. After turning out my lamp and closing my eyes the abstract feeling of dread once again found me. It was hard to describe, the feeling, and left me feeling both bereft of hope and in despair. It was impossible to discern the cause of the feelings, as they are both common to the human condition and had stricken me in times past, so I dismissed them and tried to sleep.
My dreams that night were peculiar and dark, though not so unusual as to warrant serious consideration. When I woke I was refreshed and ready for the days of hiking that lay ahead. As was my custom I prepared a bowl of oats for breakfast and prayed as the morning sun began to bath the sky in rich hues. Before long I was packed and ready to proceed.
The trail from my camp aimed southeast towards the mountains. Only half a mile of my path was flat; as soon as I reached the mouth of the canyon the path pitched upwards and began winding through the small ravine. The path was not the primary route from Alpine to the eastern plains (that path was farther north). As a result, there were no settlements or waypoints for at least 20 miles and the likelihood of passing another soul was almost zero. The solitude was a gift, a time when I could sing, pray, meditate, and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation without fear of harassment or interruption.
As midday passed and afternoon began I was feeling in good spirits and making wonderful progress. By this point the narrow canyon had curved northward just a bit, aiming now for Ander’s Copse. To my left was sharp incline covered in tall pines and rocks; to my east was a small but open field of grasses cut through the middle by a snaking river. Everything was lush and green despite the age of the year and the temperature was manageable.
Despite the perfection around me I began to feel ill at ease, troubled, almost upset. There was no cause for my sudden change in mood and I couldn’t articulate what I felt. It was, as best I could describe, a sense of dread not unlike that I felt the night before.
As I continued and the sense of dread deepened the hair on my arms stood upright and a chill coursed throughout my body. All day I had been surrounded by animals of all kinds, even spotting a moose with her yearling near the stream not long after I began. But I was suddenly aware of how alone I was, how completely isolated and vulnerable. There wasn’t so much as a single bird flying overhead or a squirrel clambering up a nearby tree. I have never been one to fear nature or the unknown (though that’s not to say I lack caution or care when traveling alone; any outdoorsman or woman worth their salt knows to be prepared and treat nature with respect) and frequently camped in areas where bears, cougars, and other wild animals were present. Yet for the first time in as many years as I could recall I felt fear, genuine and unmistakable fear.
My dilemma was thus: I was afraid but I knew not what I was afraid of. I had been stalked and hunted by wild cats on occasion and knew the feeling of being followed. This was similar, but it was certainly not the same. On this occasion there was a tangible sense of dread in me, and this dread was (at least partly) responsible for the fear. I did not know if I should hide, if I should hurry forward, if I should retreat to my former camp, or if some other action was required. The only thing I could think to do was to pray. And so when I found a suitable place to kneel I prayed to Father Velwin to release me from the sense of fear and dread, to be with me and guide me in my actions. No sooner had I begun when the sense of dread lifted and a soothing peace filled my body.
I spent some time on my knees praying and when I had finished I was aware of birds and small critters scurrying about the woods. The sense of dread was gone, the animals had returned, and from what I could tell all things were as they should be.
The remainder of the day passed without incident and by late evening I was ready to camp. Weary from the long hike and the mental fatigue I ate and fell asleep without reading.
Morning arrived and with it the song of the birds. The landscape was becoming more densely forested and the river was widening (it was clear the river had forked some distance below and the larger stream here fed what I had seen and another unknown river). Silence had given way to the dull roar of the river and the accompanying song of the birds. Though not loud, the combined sound had a way of making me feel isolated and alone again. It was impossible to hear anything going on just beyond my immediate vicinity which left me altogether more vulnerable than I had been. Yet, as I have commented already, in such situations I usually became more cautious as opposed to fearful.
As I began my hike I moved at a brisk pace. From what the locals in Alpine told me the path narrowed for perhaps 10 miles before climbing out of the ravine and wrapping around the base of the highest peaks. For another 10 miles I would be in the secluded portion of the trail where I was at the mercy of anything watching from beyond the rows of trees surrounding the trail.
Alert but optimistic I continued my hike. The morning passed without event or incident save for nearly stumbling over a rock that had fallen onto the trail. I rested around noon and had a quick meal. But as soon as I resumed my journey the sense of dread returned. At once I considered what could have caused the sudden darkness and ill mood and figured the food had something to do with it. Perhaps the supplies I purchased were tainted or spoiled, I reckoned. But after a moment’s consideration I realized I had eaten different meals for lunch the past two days. Unless everything was spoilt it could not have been my meals.
When the feeling became overwhelming I once again knelt to pray. While the feelings abated to a degree they did not leave me entirely. Depressed and anxious though I was I could not waste my hours in the same spot; eventually my supplies would run out and I had just enough to see me to Ander’s Copse. At length I continued on, more cautious of my surroundings than ever.
Once again the local wildlife seemed to vanish from sight. Even the insects seemed to retreat to their burrows, nests, and crevices. To say I was calm would be a lie; the hair on my arms stood upright as I hiked and I was beset by a case of nervous chills at regular intervals.
It was early afternoon when I noticed a peculiar smell lingering in the air. Initially I assumed the aroma was caused by a rotting carcass somewhere in the woods (as it was not unlike the smell of aged carrion). I might have thought the smell caused by a distant fire, but the smell was too sour and earthy to be caused by a fire (and there was no hint of smoke in the air). By the time I was ready to set up camp for the evening the smell was so strong as to make it difficult to eat. It felt as though I would vomit every time a took a bite. Were I not so exhausted from the trek and were there not many miles still to go I would have gladly missed a meal.
By the time I finished dinner it was all I could do to crawl into my bag and rest. I was sick to my stomach, the smell was as strong as ever, and my mood as foul as I had ever experienced. As much as I hoped sleep would release me from my troubles it had the opposite effect. My dreams were dark, depressing, and almost tangible. Every past pain, every past failure, every moment of weakness played out, constantly repeating throughout the entire night. When I awoke the next morning I was fatigued and unable to concentrate.
Despite the nausea I was too hungry and weak to miss a meal. After breakfast I packed my things and began the day’s journey. Every step required profound effort and concentration; it was as though I walked through a dense miasma that blurred reality just beyond my immediate focus. I hadn’t seen any signs of life since yesterday afternoon and the profound isolation was only adding to my ill temper.
It was, according to my best guess, just before noon when I was forced to stop. The path was still winding its way through the dense pines, but I was still able to see well ahead at any given point. Just before the next bend some 1,000 feet ahead I noticed a black shape moving through the trees to the right of the trail. Though it was hard to see from such a distance it was obviously a large animal. My first guess was that a moose was walking away from the trail, perhaps startled by my sudden approach. I stood and watched the figure for a few moments and realized that it wasn’t walking away, it was walking towards me. As much as I would have liked to run away I was too fatigued to sprint and there was nowhere to go. While I wasn’t about to allow some forest beast to attack me I decided to keep watching to see what it did.
I watched the beast travel through the trees for 10 minutes. As it approached it also took a route deeper into the trees so as to stay at the same relative distance throughout its journey. I wasn’t so much afraid as I was depressed. I can say that looking back now, my clear head allowing me to interpret my feelings at the time. But in a very real sense I had lost all hope for life. In that moment I didn’t care whether I lived or died. Whatever happened, whatever the creature wanted, I was resigned to my fate.
I was unable to get a clear view of the animal before it receded deeper into the woods. It was brown in color and quite large, but it was impossible to discern anything more.
It was late afternoon when I realized what I was doing and where I was. Some three or four hours passed after the beast vanished and I regained my normal faculties. For those hours I stood in the same spot, my mind almost inactive, my thoughts focusing on dread and fear.
After several minutes of rest I decided it was best to continue on for the day. I hadn’t made it very far and couldn’t afford to waste time or supplies, and I wanted nothing more than to put distance between myself and whatever the creature was.
I managed to walk until late evening before collapsing from fatigue. I opted to sleep under the stars as opposed to setting my tent. I didn’t light a fire and dined on dried meat and nuts. With my meal finished I crawled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep at once.
It was sometime during the middle of the night when I awoke to the most blood chilling noise I had ever heard. Having spent many seasons in the woods I was familiar with animal calls of all varieties and this matched nothing I knew. Above me the stars were still. There was no hint of a breeze. It was as though everything around me was frozen in time. For several moments I stayed where I was and listened for the sound again. Though the trail had diverged from the river by some distance (it was to the left and down some 50 feet), the dissonant rush of water and crash of small rocks was still too loud for me to hear anything subtle (not that the scream was subtle). Unless the source of the noise was right upon me it was likely I wouldn’t hear it approach.
A few moments later I heard the mournful wail yet again. The sound rushed through the trees like a microburst and assaulted my senses. I didn’t just hear the sound, I felt it. And when I felt the sound I became both sick and depressed. Whatever was causing the sound had the ability to tamper with my emotions and body in a way I had never known.
I sat up and crawled out of my pack, searching the area for either the source of the noise or an escape route. The only thing I could imagine would be to hide in the stream; the unknown creature would likely see, smell, or hear me anywhere else. But just as I was about to climb down the embankment to my left snapping twigs and rustling undergrowth sent a paralyzing chill throughout my body.
Having spent my life devoted to the church and being what many consider a man of God I was familiar with both spiritual highs and lows. As the howling creature approached I was stricken with fear, despair, and hate. These were all feelings associated with wrong choices, evil, and the angels of perdition. Why was it here, in a place far removed from human civilization and evil influences, and when I had been praying and studying the Writ of the Five was I beset by such grief? The answer soon revealed itself. From just beyond the edge of the trees a black figure appeared, walking slowly towards me. In the dim light it was hard to discern details but even so it was clear the beast was at some level a person.
“Who are you and what do you want with me?” Though I could have attempted to flee I knew it would have been futile; the beast had seen me and likely been following me for several days. The beast approached the edge of the trees and stopped, showing all but the most subtle details. It stood over eight feet tall and was as broad as a bear. It was covered in dark and wiry hair with streaks of grey like shafts of moonlight. Everything about it was proportioned like a human, though human is the last thing I would have called it. As I looked into its eyes, which were soulless and black, I felt the most terrifying sense of evil a mortal could experience. It was as far removed from the light of Velwin as anything I had ever experienced. “Who are you?” To my surprise the beast not only approached but answered.
“I am the Son of Dramon, I am perdition.” It spoke with a demonic voice low enough to shake the ground and powerful enough to rip the marrow from my bones. But for all its power the creature’s voice was almost quiet.
“What do you want with me?” Though it had announced itself I still had no idea who or what I was speaking to or why it had followed me.
“You are Ezra Chambers.” The creature stated the fact with no inflection or emotion but when it spoke I felt as though it were physically reaching into my mind and siphoning thoughts.
“Who are you?” I asked again though was barely able to open my mouth for fear of dropping dead.
“Ezra Chambers, high priest. You are on pilgrimage.” Though its voice was low and powerful it was easy to understand. I replied in the affirmative finding no reason to state otherwise.
“What do you want from me?” I asked.
“I am born of the great sin, I am the original demigod, I am magik,” the beast replied. The creature went on to tell me that it, or he, was the first man to use magik, the original mage and demigod. His years were as many as the stars and his works as great. I knew all too well the power of demigods and angels of perdition, but I knew them only as disembodied spirits and only from rarely spoken tales. An evil soul is separated from its body after death never to be reunited and forever bereft of true godlike power. But this man stood before me in a physical body, though one that was human only in general proportions. “I was cursed for my transgressions,” the beast continued. “But there is power in the curse.”
The creature took a step forward to within an arm’s length. I was able to see his face clearly now. It was covered in wiry hair like the rest of his body. Both his mouth and his lips were far less pronounced and almost nonexistent. Two rows of sharp teeth, darkened and gnarled from who could guess what horrors, sat beyond his thin lips. All about him was a dark aura, the absolute opposite of spiritual light.
“But what do you want from me?” I asked. My voice was as weak as it had ever been.
“You seek knowledge and power,” he continued.
“I seek enlightenment and truth,” I answered. All at once I was removed from the mountainside and the trail. Around me the world seemed to swirl and bend like a reflection on water broken by a falling stone. A moment later I stood at the back of a large church hovering above the pulpit. It was a large church, one unfamiliar to me, and was stuffed with more than 150 people. All of them were kneeling on the ground and bowing. They chanted something but I couldn’t hear what it was.
“I know in your heart that you want what they offer.” The beast, now looking more like a human figure without definition or light, spread his arms. “I can feel that you want glory. You enjoy the praise that comes from your position as a wise teacher. Why settle for accolades when you can be worshipped as a god?”
“I don’t need that power. I only wish to bring others to the truth.” As soon as I had finished the scene was closed up and the world began to swirl again. Not moments later we stopped in what looked to be a library. It was dark in the library but through some means of supernatural power I was able to see everything clearly.
“You desire wisdom. Your life is devoted to acquiring knowledge and the more you gain the stronger you feel.” Though we didn’t use our feet the beast managed to lead me through the aisles of the library. Unlike a traditional library the books were not organized according to any coherent fashion. Instead, they were all tucked away on individual tables, covered in glass or other protective shields, and kept locked. There were no places to sit or study in the room and there were no furnishings beyond the tables for individual books. There were no windows, no doors, and no people.
“The pursuit of wisdom is a righteous goal,” I answered, though not with strong conviction.
“All of this can be yours; your mind can be opened beyond anything you can comprehend.”
Before I could reply the world closed yet again, swirling like a whirlpool in a stream. A moment later I beheld an area I was familiar with, though it looked altogether different from what I knew. It was Alpine City, the very place I had left not a week before. But now it was full of huge buildings towering like mountains. There were many roads and many people hurrying through them. Above the sidewalks and streets were great trails of metal on which strange carts without wheels traveled back and forth.
“You want a legacy; you want to live beyond your years. I feel it; you fear your life is not long enough for you to achieve your greatest desires. But you can live beyond your years and see what the future holds.” I stood there for a moment, watching the strange devices and horseless carriages in the streets. It was a familiar place but must have been a time yet to come.
“Yes, I want these things,” I managed to reply. “But they are beyond my grasp.”
“You need only ask and the power of magik can be yours,” the beast responded.
“What does it mean to ask for power? I pray to Velwin for a clear mind during my studies, the energy to teach properly, and health to continue my journey. What more is there?” For the first time on the beast’s face I could discern a smile.
“The gods believe they are the only ones with power but they refuse to give what is rightfully ours. You do not ask them for power, you ask those who control this world.” At once the world dissolved, only this time we did not appear in any familiar location. Instead, I found myself in what can only be described as nothing. There were no shapes, colors, or focal points. There was no light and no sound beyond the sound we made. “Power is free to all men who ask. We require no fee of faith, we ask no payment of tithes, we demand no life of austere living and sacrifice. We offer true power.” The beast reached out his hand; a thick miasma swirled around it. I stared at the hand for what seemed an eternity (and even now I have no way of knowing if time even existed in such a place). At length I took a step back.
“I don’t know what you are asking me to do; I do not wish what you have. Leave me be.” As soon as I spoke the darkness swallowed us both.
I awoke the following morning on the trail some 10 feet from my sleeping bag. My clothes were dusty and caked with dried mud, my hair was disheveled, and my skin pale. I was aware of birds singing overhead and some small critter scurrying about in the woods nearby. The sense of dread and darkness I had felt for the past two days was gone as was the rancid smell. To my great relief there was no sign of the beast, either.
What happened the days prior were not a dream, and I knew that. My very soul still ached from the experience. Like a sunburn, the internal wound was the result of my close proximity to what I can only call pure evil and was to last longer than I imagined. Despite my exhaustion and spiritual wounds I wanted nothing more than to leave that place at once. And so I continued my journey eventually reaching Ander’s Copse.”
Ezra Chambers made it to Ander’s Copse and eventually finished the remainder of his journey. He did not speak of his ordeal for five years, during which time he remained reclusive, rarely venturing out of the chapel in FreePort. Five years later and a full decade after the encounter he died in his sleep after suffering from severe paranoia, depression, and muscle spasms. It wasn’t until volunteers from the chapel began cleaning his private quarters that anyone found the copy of his records. His journal entry was scribbled hastily and on a variety of notepads and parchment and was dated 197 PM.
After news of Chambers’ experience was released the story spread quickly throughout the entire continent. It was then that many Followers of the Five began to believe the Elder was in fact a single creature sent by Dramon to enact some sort of revenge.
Whether or not Chambers’ account was true interest in the Elder spiked after his account went public. Dozens of people came forward sharing their stories about seeing or encountering a half-man half-ape beast in the mountains and before long they created groups dedicated to capturing, spotting, killing, or discussing the creature. And with the population of Atla currently on the rise, the number of sightings continues to grow. The biggest change in hunting for clue about the Elder came when portable capture boxes were created a couple decades ago. Though none have proven definitive yet, thousands of people have taken captures of what they claim is the Elder.