|Common Nicknames||Blight Bugs|
The Zhirakh are a trio of horrifying, Human-sized bugs whose true origin in Asha mythology is lost. Thought to be the children of Demons, the creatures are said to seek out and singularly consume entire fields of crops by themselves, brutally defeating those who might try to protect their harvests from the hungering beasts. Stories also tell of their ability to fly across vast distances in search of food, and their utter hatred of the sun, so much so that their consumption is told to always occur in the night.
Tales told of the Zhirakh have echoed across the centuries well beyond the initial enslavement of the Asha, much to the annoyance and even vague discomfort of the Altalar. There is much in the tales of the Zhirakh to be disturbed by, from the creature’s appearance, to their role in Asha society. Ancient Asha mythology claimed that the Zhirakh were birthed by two Demons engaging in matrimony in the physical world. From their heinous union came a trio of beings, the Zhirakh. From then on, these alien creatures would wander the wastes of the world, and where they sensed plenty, they would hastily consume it. They only operated at night, supposedly eating whole fields of crops within hours, leaving by the time the sun rose. Several tales also speak of their confrontations with Asha seeking to stop them, or who stumbled into them by accident; many of these end with the Asha or other unfortunate souls meeting the same fate as their harvest- in the bellies of the three beasts. Stories of these creatures remained part of the Asha collective consciousness throughout their long enslavement in the Allorn Empire, though some scholars today believe the creatures were but a cover for Asha slaves purposely destroying crops anonymously at night, and then blaming it on the bestial bug men. By the time of The Great Journey, the insects had largely been forgotten by the freed Asha fleeing the Allorn Empire, their communal folklore gradually regenerating as communities of travelling Asha reassembled the old tales from mere fragments retained by slaves across Daen.
After leaving the future Queendom of Bestaal for the Ashal Islands, the harsh early years of the Asha States were made only harsher by a state of paranoia brought on by tall tales of the Zhirakh hiding among the rolling and all-encompassing dunes that smothered the reclaimed home of the Asha and a growing discomfort regarding insects; some Asha storytellers claimed that the Zhirakh travelled with great hordes of smaller locust and flies, which they used to utterly strip of the Islands of greenery and life. However, when the Living Metal machines were reactivated and the deserts of the Ashal Islands shrunk, these fears largely dissipated. Some still feared tales of the monstrous insect, but an increasing mythology spoke of how Baskarr had hunted, and swatted the three Zhirakh back into the dark void they had emerged from, sparing her children from their presence in their new lush surroundings. Today, stories of the Zhirakh are told to Asha children, mainly as a way to keep them inside and out of the fields of harvest during the night. Yet, tales still exist of modern encounters with the creatures, and some truly do wonder if this myth might hold any kernels of truth after all.
Zhirakh all share the same basic form, though their tales often embellish and describe these forms to possess features that vary from teller to teller; nonetheless, the Zhirakh are consistently described as monstrous and terrifying. The beasts supposedly stand at a height of six feet, though they are said to rarely ever fully reach this height, always crouched or leaning in their confrontations during reported sightings. Their heads are entirely insectoid, with large, lidless black compound eyes set on either side; accordingly, the mouths of the Zhirakh are similarly insectoid, described as “grinders” of pointed, shining mandibles, as well as two thin appendages that flick over these mandibles to clean them. They also possess a pair of long, thin and stiff antennae which extend from the tops of their heads that jerk around the air as if tasting it. The rest of their bodies are messes of chitinous plates and physical structures more reminiscent of a traditional Human. Their necks are short and thick, covered in these plates, while their slender, plated upper limbs reach some two feet when fully extended. These limbs end in small grasping claws, with two larger, dominant claws and a smaller, more dextrous claw that sits at an angle. There are two pairs of these limbs, making a total of four arms. The torso of the Zhirakh terminates in a structure more similar to an insect’s abdomen, long and rounded, extending backward out from the rest of the body. The Zhirakh possess digitigrade legs, with thick, chitin-plated thighs that taper into considerably thinner calves and feet, which are described in stories either as four-toed or possessing only a single, clawed toe; some stories purport that these are one and the same, and that the four toes are simply only separated when necessary. The last major feature of the monster is their backs. Encased in plating like their neck and upper torso, they also feature four huge, opaque membraned wings. They are often over six feet each, but due to Zhirakhs’ leaning posture, are saved from wear and tear. The front two are oblong and narrow, sticking straight out, while the rear pair are more triangular in shape, still pointing outward but with a broader base.
There were supposedly only three Zhirakh in existence, though tales told of the creature rarely specify which specific Zhirakh was involved in the encounter. However, the characteristics of each Zhirakh are distinct, and known to the Asha today. The firstborn was Exada, with a dark blue chitin shell alongside wings with a white opaqueness and black dots along their surface. The second was Syrask, with a dark brown chitin shell with yellowed opaque wings and brown stripes along their surface. The last to emerge was Ma’das, with a deep green coloration, and no coloration on their opaque white wings. All three are genderless, and have never produced any offspring.
The mentality of the Zhirakh is easily described as “mindless” but Asha stories also discuss the dark, twisted cleverness of the bugs. While often battled physically, they usually trick or dupe those they encounter into becoming part of their meal, and are viewed by some as metaphors for internal, dark and wild instincts; all the same, it is true that in all stories they have only a single want: to feed. Their consumption of food is largely relegated to crops, from varieties of grain to the leaves and tops of subterranean plants, however, they are also explicitly mentioned as eating anything within the vegetation, be that birds, mammals, or Asha. In spite of this, they never eat processed grains or the products of slaughtered animals, seeking only raw produce to sate their hunger, though anything within that produce is fair game. They also have a hatred for the sun, and will always flee it, which is how a few, less grotesque Asha stories tell of their defeat at the hands of smart Asha children or heroes.
Territory and Groupings
The three Zhirakh each live in a “pit to darkness” within the deserts of the Ashal Islands. However, the details of these pits is very vague, with most believing them to represent either sinkholes or cavern entrances, instead of a uniform “tunneled’ nest for the insect beings. The Zhirakh have never grouped together, though some Asha stories tell of the disaster that will come should the Zhirakh ever do so.
- Some believe that the Zhirakh represent a Race of insect-people rendered extinct by the Allorn Empire centuries ago, being demonized by the Asha by their alien appearance. However, Ailor stories of ancient times make no reference to such beasts.
- The last report of a Zhirakh was in 293 AC, by Asha Hemat Clade farmers of Therasu. When they heard the approaching beats of insect wings, the entire family dove and then hid in the nearby river for nearly an hour, emerging to find half of their field gone. What was odd is that it was the middle of the day, leading them to claim that the Zhirakh must have sent their insect swarm after their crops instead of coming itself.
- Some Ailor scholars arrogantly view the Zhirakh as a purely fictional creature, both to keep Asha children inside and out of trouble at night, as well as warming farmers to harvest quickly once their crop was bountiful. Still, many believe the creature to exist despite never having been seen by Ailor, Nelfin, or any Humans at all in centuries.