Bestiary

Zmeyok: a creature that looks like a black snake with a crest of hair and small curled horns. They are borderline between being natural animals and magical ones; while their name means “little dragon,” they’re not real dragons. Opportunistic omnivores, they can be found just about anywhere there’s food that can fit into their mouths.horned20serpent02 Zmeyoks aren’t venomous, but like Komodo dragons, their saliva can result in horrible infections. The villagers of Zmeyreka consider them “luck creatures,” meaning that a zmeyok can curse someone with bad luck or bless them with good luck, depending upon the zmeyok’s mood and the treatment it receives. Unlike the other creatures on this list, the zmeyok doesn’t exist in actual Russian folklore; it’s an animal I created, inspired by the horned serpents of Native American, Celtic, and Mesopotamian legend.

Domovoi (plural: domovye): a pre-Christian Slavic house spirit, or hobgoblin. Similar to the Brownie of English and Scottish folklore. They are small, masculine, old men who are normally very hairy. Domovye can shapeshift into dogs or cats if the mood strikes them, as well as being able to assume the form of family members, both alive and dead. They are said to be born as old men and die as babies, a la Benjamin Button.

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Ivan Bilibin, 1934

The Kozlov domovoi is grouchy because Anya’s father, Grigoriy, is gone from the house. As Grigoriy is the master of the home, his absence gives the domovoi a lot of anxiety. In Grigoriy’s absence, Dyedushka Borya tries to be the domovoi’s master, but that only works some of the time. The domovoi is very protective of the family, but that doesn’t mean he has to listen to any of them. His favorite treat is bread with cream on it.

Rusalka (plural: Rusalki): a water spirit that inhabits rivers and lakes in Russia. The rusalka is similar to the siren of Greek myth, due to her unfortunate habit of luring men to a watery death. Sometimes they are described as being half-fish, but more often they’re simply beautiful women. In pre-Christian Slavic tradition, they were fertility spirits who came out of the rivers in the spring to bring water to the fields, and were benevolent. Later, their lore turned malevolent, associated with unclean spirits, suicide, or death by drowning. These malevolent rusalki can’t leave the water, and only come out at night, so men must be careful to avoid waterways at night. While they’re dangerous for men, rusalki can be helpful to women, especially young girls in physical danger.

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Zmeyreka is located on a river, so the villagers are very familiar with rusalki. During Green Week, a period in the summer, the rusalki are freed from the water and can roam the land at night, making them particularly dangerous. The villagers are careful to hang tributes for the rusalki during this time to keep the spirits appeased: a swatch of clean white linen hung on a tree beside the river. The rusalki around Zmeyreka are the spirits of women who died by drowning, and must haunt the water where they died until their body is put to rest. They look as they did in life, except they have no eyes.

Bukavac: a Serbian monster that makes tons of noise when it attacks (buka means noise). Descriptions of it are vague, but generally it’s a six-legged monster with horns and slimy skin.

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The swamp south of Zmeyreka holds many exotic creatures that normally wouldn’t frequent the area. The bukavac is one such creature, having migrated there to escape being hunted in its natural habitat. They’re large (6+ feet long) and solid black with six spindly legs. They use all six legs for running, but can use the front two as arms to grab prey. A bukavac has two mouths on its head, and it makes a different screech with each one. This screech can stun other creatures, causing such severe disorientation. Like other water creatures, it dislikes metal, especially iron.