Strangers

Do not trust what's behind the leaves
Huddled close, thick as thieves.
Deep inside, their hunger gnaws;
dim your light to avoid their jaws.
— -From a Kivan children's story
  No one knows where they came from or what they are. They are found in all the cold and dark corners of the world, creeping at the edge of light. Sometimes all you'll see of them are two large, pale eyes reflecting the moonlight back at you out of the night. A closer look reveals a roughly human shape, with limbs thin as bone and long, straggly hair. Don't get too much closer, though - they're hungry.  

The Hunter's Children

They're always hungry. The tale The Hunter's Children from the Valaran Empire describes a hunter whose children went into the woods to play but didn't come home that evening. The hunter went out looking for them, and wandered in the dark for the entire night. He dared not light a lamp for fear of the Strangers, but without a light, he had no chance of finding his children in the deep wood. The next morning, the awoke still in the forest. In the daylight, he started his search again, and this time he found something: a pile of gnawed bones, split in half with the marrow sucked dry.   Strangers, they say, are drawn to light like moths. They both crave it and detest it, and walking through the dark with a lantern is a sure way to draw them to you. They circle the light, growing increasingly irate. If your lantern stays lit for the rest of the night, you'll probably be safe. But if the light flickers after you've drawn a hungry horde to you and whipped them into a frenzy....  

The Girl Who Walked with the Dark

The story *The Girl Who Walked with the Dark* from Jausai tells of a young girl who lost her way on the path while travelling home from berry picking. She had not planned to stay out that late, and so didn't bring a lantern. As the shadows of the night grew deeper, she heard the low hoots of Strangers nearby and was very afraid. Because he walked as one with the night rather than fighting it with a lantern, and the Strangers let her pass.   Her story would not have ended as well if she had attempted to go to the Strangers, however. There are stories of them peeking out from around a tree trunk and beckoning with a gnarled hand (which, if true, hints that they possess intelligence beyond that of animals). Some say that when you've been lost in the woods long enough, you'll see Strangers beckoning you from illusory banquet tables.  

Strangers of the Tundra

Stories from the southern tundra don't include illusions at all. According to them, you sometimes see these hunched, ragged figures silhouetted against the moon out on the snowfields. If you do, turn away or close your eyes. If you stare, you may find yourself ensnared by their gaze and stumble, enchanted, straight to their waiting jaws.   Why do they have to beckon you to them? Why don't they just ambush travellers in the dark if they're so hungry? No one really knows. Those from brighter and warmer areas of the world, like the Kingdom of Tanish, believe Strangers are nothing but a myth so the stories don't have to make sense. Those who live in places where travellers disappearing into the forest overnight are just grateful that their strange neighbours seem to at least have an honour code.

Basic Information

Anatomy

The basic plan of their bodies is human. They appear like an emaciated human, a little too tall and a little too thin. There is hardly any muscle or fat on their frames; they are *starving* at all times. Their fingers usually end in sharp, curved fingernails. One of the main differences between them and humans is how large their eyes are. No one has ever seen their eyes up close to determine anything about colour or pupil shape, but they reflect light the way many nocturnal animal's eyes do.

Genetics and Reproduction

The story *The Boy and the Silver Duck* from the Jennai people of southwest Taalora depicts children snatched by the Strangers as becoming one of them, and only adults are at risk of being devoured. This is the only known depiction of humans becoming Strangers to replenish their numbers, however, Most stories don't touch on that, or assume they crawl out of the cracks in the dark places of the world, fully grown and already ravenous.

Ecology and Habitats

They live anywhere that is cold, dark, and preferably wet. They are found worldwide, but are more common in the southern hemisphere due to the longer winters. They prefer forests and caves, but during darkness in the far south they creep out onto the barren tundra.

Dietary Needs and Habits

They appear to eat meat. There are plenty of stories about babies being snatched from cradles when inattentive mothers didn't close the window at night. Some people say they prefer human flesh above all others, though it's entirely possibly they hunt for other animals when humans aren't around. One thing all the stories agree on, though, is that they are always hungry. No matter how much they eat, it never fills their stomachs.

Additional Information

Geographic Origin and Distribution

Anywhere that provides plenty of shelter from the sun. They are most common in thick forests and cave systems. The Forest of Stars is particularly crawling with them, likely because they are attracted to the bioluminescent Starflys that give live without heat. Because they are found in both the far north and the far south with only small numbers in the middle of the world, some researchers say this is evidence that they originated in the far north and then migrated south to the longer winters, leaving stragglers behind on the journey. This would have happened several thousand years ago.

Average Intelligence

Unknown. They could be wild animals that mimic human behaviour well, similar to a parrot, to they could be as sapient as us but be unable to - or unwilling to - communicate. This is reflected in the versions of the stories that claim they were human once before a terrible curse damned them to misery at the edges of light.
Lifespan
Unknown. Potentially immortal.
Average Height
6'5" - 7'
Average Weight
110 lbs - 150 lbs

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