Shrikes, the Thought-Eaters

What did I see? It could not just have been fantasy, but it wasn't real.  
— Aldara, Kaia
  Nightmares made manifest, Shrikes are moth-like monsters that feast on fear and gorge on thoughts. They haunt the minds of those they prey upon, making lair within the shadows and gaps of conscious thoughts, appearing as glimpses in the corner of their eye and a rising sense of dread in their heart. At the end of their haunt, the Shrikes reveal themselves fully in resplendent terror, emerging from their victim's worst fears to devour them. Only husk remains behind, stripped of memory and mind, a reminder to fear the chittering, singing darkness.    

Description

The whole tunnel seemed to shift and sway as if the stone had become water. Out of the dark, at the edge of the light, something opened its eyes until every shadow was crowded by them.
  Shrikes are moth-like creatures, with four sets of delicate wings that shimmer like a rainbow when it comes and a long, bloated body that bristles with long, sharp hairs that jut from their flesh like quills. Save for the wings, they are black as the night, but their outlines gleam in the light, like an edge of metal. Although they seem too heavy for flight, they stay aloft with a lazy, dreamlike beat of their wings, dragging long, segmented arms beneath them that terminate in hooked claws.  
by Pixabay
  Shrouded in a haze of shimmering dust and hallucination, Shrikes change and warp in appearance to all who observe them. Most see only hints and fleeting shadows, or perhaps an endless vista of blinking eyes and gnashing maws. As the victim's fear grows, so does the Shrike's hold on their reality, turning into a nightmarish vision of the primal sort.   Not only does a Shrike's power swell in the presence of fear, but so too do their bodies. Shrikes have been reported as small as a human or large enough to fill an entire cavern with their bulk. The crushed and mangled corpses left behind attest that it is no trick or mirage. In the rare cases where Shrikes have been encountered in flocks, they never seem to grow to the same extent, sharing from the same pool of suffering.
The only true measure of the Shrike's form has come from the few corpses recovered - the mummified remains of one still nailed to the bar of a tavern called The Nest.
  To most, the Shrike is ephemeral - a sense of foreboding that grows, the beat of their own heart gone too fast, a spiral of thoughts they can't escape. Once the vision clears, it's usually too late.    

Behavior

They know what you fear and aren't shy to remind you.  
— Aldara, Kaia
  The Shrike feed on thoughts and memories, nesting in the holes they leave within the mind and in the shadow between thoughts. Those so afflicted are haunted, seeing glimpses of the Shrike in every reflection or out of the corner of their eyes. They become forgetful and distracted when the Shrike has dined, unable to hold a thought for long before it is consumed. Shrikes cause terror in their prey to make them think about the Shrike.  
Others sometimes see hints of the haunting - a glimpse of the Shrike in the reflection of their eyes or lurking deep inside their shadows.
 
Without prey to hide within, the Shrike is forced to exist wholly. They lurk in the highest perches of Patala's many cavernous halls and flit on the winds that emerge from the abyssal descent into the Far Deep. Such wild specimens always seem smaller and less menacing, as if greatly reduced when there is no one around to fear them.   Once there is, the Shrikes are persistent haunts. They grow and morph with the thought invested in them, becoming more as people think and worry and fear. When they have tasted an anxious worry or loop of thought, they never let go unless driven out or slain, or when their prey is exhausted.
by Midjourney
To the Shrikes, there's no greater feast than obsession.
  Shrikes show little regard for each other. They never fight, neither for territory or prey, but never cooperate either, with each Shrike almost oblivious to the others. Although the Shrikes are diminished as individuals when together, they barely seem to notice. Instead, each Shrike continues as they usually would - an experience no more pleasant for the victim, at the center of a maelstrom of conflicting terrors.    

Life-Cycle

It itches, inside my head, and I can't get it to stop.
  Little is known of the Shrike's life, beyond the whispered rumors of their gruesome birth. Each one seems to emerge into the world fully formed and hungry, growing and shrinking not by age but only by the thoughts and fears consumed. It is not for lack of trying, with a standing bounty in Vicitra some of its most prominent member for a live specimen - a feat yet performed.  
And many wonder - what, exactly, are their plans once they have it?   Nothing good, they conclude.
 
    When Shrikes decide to spawn another, their habits change. Instead of feasting until their host-victim is a dead-eyed husk, they nest deep inside their thoughts, and guide them into thinking about nothing but the Shrikes.   At every opportunity, the victim is reminded of their presence, from the flutter of their wings whenever there is a moment of quiet, to a glimpse of their hideous maws in every reflection. Not even their sleep is a refugee, with dreams filled by the nightmarish moth. As time goes on, the victim begins to suffer from headaches, and a scratching, crawling itch from the inside of their head.
Only once has such a case been witnessed, and it is from that poor fate most of what is known has been pieced together. Everything else is guesswork and myth, something the Shrikes only grow stronger from.
  When enough time has passed, and enough nightmares have been suffered, the Shrike emerges into the world from the victim's dream - and his skull. Parent and child both burst through nightmare and bone, vast and terrible from the fear invested in them. They make their escape into the darkness, leaving the dead nest behind.    

A Plague of Nightmares

They know we're here now, and they are hungry.
  Only recently have humanity encountered the Shrikes, with the caverns of Patala breached once more. Though they were once little more than a whispered fear, the spectacle of a Shrike being born on a busy street left little doubt about their existence. Though hauntings are still rare, some fear that they have found the reason for the ancient ruins and pits of bones within Patala.   But where some see danger, others see opportunity. The dust left behind by the Shrike's shimmering wings has proven a potent narcotic, sending users deep into the most vivid and fantastical dreams. Others still have found a brisk, profitable trade in selling false charms and wards they say will keep the Shrikes at bay, render the wearer invisible or immune, or even allow them to control the horrors they meet. Counterfeit 'Shrike Dust' has begun to spring up on the markets of Vicitra or on the caravans leaving it, mixing together whatever they can to loosely mimic the effect.  
Hearing of the Shrike's supposed ability to devour memories, a few desperate souls have traveled to Patala to seek them out. Some carry memories they can no longer bear, or afflictions they can suffer no longer. None are more desperate than those stricken with Desolation, hoping beyond hope that the Shrikes might consume the darkness in their mind.
Patala   Shrikes are native to Patala, or possibly to the Far Deep realm that lies beneath it, but with humanity's intrusion into their home, that might change. Festering within the fears of those who trek through Patala's maddening darkness, the Shrikes may well be carried far and wide across Araea.   As fear spreads, the Shrikes will follow.   Read More About Patala

The Shrike

Far from Patala, another Shrike spreads terror and vengeance upon the wings of the night. The Shrike is an seemingly immortal vigilante that began in the festering scum of hive and villainy that is Mharaji, but has since been sighted across Araea. They've reached mythical status and, like the thought-eaters, appear different with every new appearance.   Even in Patala, the vigilante is a popular figure. She is frequently depicted in theater plays, puppet shows, and even in the form of toys and dolls. With the way things are going in Vicitra, some believe it is only a matter of time before the Shrike appears here too.  
The Shrike
Character | Jun 18, 2020

A seemingly immortal vigilante who shows that even the darkest tunnel holds light and hope for those willing to fight for it.

 
Who was named first? The vigilante for the beast, or the beast for the vigilante?  
— Aldara, Kaia

Shrike's Song

Like a faded echo of the toneless music that sometimes erupts from the Far Deep beneath Patala, Shrikes sometimes sing. It is a buzzing, electric noise that sometimes lasts for minutes, sometimes seconds. When they hunt, it takes on a hard edge that raises the pulse of all who hear it to ragged, panicked palpitation.  

Cognivores

Shrikes depend on their victim to think about them. It anchors them into the world and to their prey. Once they are anchored, the Shrike begins to feast. The victim finds thoughts slip away, entire memories becoming muddled and difficult to remember. In the gaps left behind, the Shrike makes nests from broken dreams and half-forgotten worries.   It is believed that the consumed thoughts can be regained by devouring the Shrike in turn - a proposition no one has yet had the opportunity to test.  
by Unsplash (Jaroslav Devia)

In-between

Haunting Shrikes exist somewhere between thought and reality. They aren't just invisible when hiding in the shadows of a mind, but somewhere else. They are not entirely outside the grasp of reality and can sometimes be goaded or forced to manifest.   Most such methods are difficult and involve breaking the victim out of their dread, or encouraging them to imagine the Shrike as something they can strike - a plan that inevitably leads to the Shrike being able to strike them, too.  
by Midjourney
 
Desolation
Condition | Aug 9, 2021

A disease and possession, the self dissolves and dark spirits fill the void.



Cover image: by HKLovecraft

Comments

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Sage eccbooks
E. Christopher Clark
5 Jul, 2022 10:49

You had me at "the chittering, singing darkness," kept me with "sharing from the same pool of suffering," and slayed me with that description of how shrikes reproduce. Well done!

Check out the Bekiskpan — originators of the chain mail bikini and my entry for “On the Shoulders of Giants.”
5 Jul, 2022 11:22

Thank you! :D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
5 Jul, 2022 16:29

Well this is just terrifying and fantastic :D   I think my favourite part is how they reproduce. It's so wonderfully horrific, and you did just the best job of describing the entire awful process. Well done, I love this :D


Cathedris, the world of God-husks and New Magic, welcomes you.
5 Jul, 2022 17:35

Thank you very much!! :D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
Eternal Sage AmélieIS
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
7 Jul, 2022 14:11

I hate moths -_- terrifying insects already without making them enormous XD I love the alien-like reproduction and the hint about them having destroyed the ancient civilisation. I'm guessing with all the noise made by the new city, they're starting to awaken from hibernation...   Would using someone as a bait for a shrike and get them infected then bring them back to get the bounty count as capturing one? XD

To see what I am up to, here is my civilisation challenge article.
7 Jul, 2022 15:04

You are very much reading the storyline of this one with that final observation... >:D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
Grandmaster nnie
Annie Stein
7 Jul, 2022 20:52

This was definitely not the best article to read right before bed! The shrikes are terrifying! Amazingly done. I think my favourite touch is the term cognivore. And, I'm *definitely* opening up The Shrike to compare and contrast.

Creator of Solaris & The Morning Realm -— On the Shoulders of Giants entry: Refugees of Mercury
8 Jul, 2022 07:12

Thank you! Can't claim credit for that one; just some semi-latin :D Ethnis has a cognivore critter too, well worth checking out.   Hope you enjoy the Shrike too! :D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
Grandmaster nnie
Annie Stein
8 Jul, 2022 08:26

I definitely did!

Creator of Solaris & The Morning Realm -— On the Shoulders of Giants entry: Refugees of Mercury
8 Jul, 2022 02:31

Araea: horrors beyond imagination

Humanity: How can we make a profit of this?

8 Jul, 2022 02:33

Joke aside, this article is awesome. the description of how they reproduce will fuel my nightmares!

8 Jul, 2022 07:10

Hahaha, thank you! :D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
Sage Timepool
Garrett Grace Lewis
11 Jul, 2022 00:46

But do they make good pets?

21 Jul, 2022 17:50

How delightfully creepy. I particularly like the way they reproduce and the eerie detail that some people seek them out to get the shrikes to consume unwanted memories.

Reading Circle Temple Because magic isn't just fiction
21 Jul, 2022 20:11

Thank you! :D   And yeah - it seemed like something someone desperate enough could do. Life is rough, sometimes.


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
23 Aug, 2022 23:43

This is an absolutely terrifying article, but also so good. The way the Shrikes feed on fear and are somehow both nightmare and reality was interesting and horrifying. You did an amazing job creating and writing this.

Lilliana Casper   I don't comment much, but I love reading your articles! Come check out my world, Jerde.
24 Aug, 2022 07:31

Thank you very much! :D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.