Blackhides are giant, bipedal crocodilians physically similar to the much smaller snappers and gatormen. They are native to the Bloodsmeath Marsh and are most common in the Black River and larger bodies of water like Blindwater Lake. Blackhides are enormous swamp predators, and each controls a large territory where it hunts. Attracted by movement, blackhides will attack and devour just about anything.
Adult blackhides can reach a size upward of five metres long. Even juveniles are quite large, standing as tall as a man a few months after hatching. On land, the blackhide walks upright, its stooped posture balanced by its long, broad tail; in water, the creature swims swiftly, propelling itself with the tail’s lateral movements. The blackhide’s snout is long and broad, filled with long, interlocking teeth designed to grip and hold prey in place. Its body is covered with dark, brownish-green scales thick and tough enough to protect it from all but the strongest attacks.
Blackhides favour areas of deep water with isolated patches of dry land, where they make their nests out of cattails and marsh reeds. Ferocious, resilient, and territorial, blackhides will kill or drive off any predators, including other blackhides, that intrude on their hunting grounds. A blackhide emits a low, bellowing roar to warn off potential challengers, attract mates, and declare its territory, which can stretch for dozens of miles.
A blackhide's wounds regenerate rapidly. Smaller injuries close in a matter of moments, and even severe wounds heal in a few hours, but this regeneration forces blackhides to eat a substantial amount to recover.
Blackhides are generalist predators. Younger blackhides subsist primarily on aquatic prey, while adults attack anything that comes into their territory. An adult blackhide can eat hundreds of kilogrammes of meat each day. Blackhides know to attack snappers from below, striking at their unprotected bellies to bypass their dorsal armour.
A blackhide is drawn to the sound of movement in its territory and can smell blood from exceptional distances. It will glide just beneath the surface toward prey, emerging from below to snatch it in its enormous jaws. Once it bites, the blackhide will wrap its strong tail around its prey, grasp the victim in its claws, and proceed to use its exceptional weight to drown its prey, or, on dry land, to crush and suffocate it.
Due to their great ferocity and resilience, blackhides are favoured as warbeasts by gatorman warlocks. The blackhide wrastler is the most commonly encountered, and its strength and ferocity are well documented. Tribes with blackhides within their territory can command a great price for trained blackhide wrastlers. The blind walker is something altogether different, a subtle and more precise weapon compared to the wrastler’s overt brutality.
The primary purpose of the blind walker is to serve as a conduit for a bokor’s magic, usually its creator. Secondarily, the blind walker is imbued with an enhanced ability to protect its master, even if this means its own death.
The process of creating a blind walker is lengthy and arduous, and only the most skilled bokors would dare attempt it. The first part of the process is choosing an appropriate subject. The choice of vessel makes little difference, and the resulting blind walker is arguably the same regardless of its physical condition before its transformation.
Once the vessel is chosen, the first step of its transformation into a blind walker is the application of the venom of Kossk. This poison, taken from the skin secretions of certain swamp frogs, holds the blackhide in a deathlike sleep for days. The poison’s primary use is to destroy portions of its brain that control will and cognition, hollowing the beast’s mind to serve as a more receptive vessel for the bokor’s magic. The venom of Kossk has an additional benefit: it holds the blackhide immobile. A powerful bokor could simply dominate the blackhide and force it to remain still, but the rituals involved invoke powerful spirits that could seize control of the blackhide to disastrous effect.
Once the blackhide is immobile, the bokor petitions Kossk through a complex set of rituals. The purpose of these rituals is to remove a portion of the blackhide’s spiritual essence so that the void may be filled with the bokor’s will. Kossk “devours” this piece of the blackhide, a sacrifice to ensure the mighty spirit is appeased and will facilitate the transformation.
When the ritual is complete, bone fetishes are bound to the blackhide’s body, and its muzzle is secured with ropes that have been soaked in the bokor’s blood. The blood is a sacrifice, as the bokor offers his own vital essence to replace the vitality stripped from the blind walker and appease Kossk. The ropes that bind its muzzle rob it of the blackhide’s powerful bite, but this is a necessity, as without the muzzle the hollowing of the creature’s mind and soul makes it susceptible to inhabitation by powerful spirits of the swamp. Then a grave is dug, which can be the most difficult part of the process. Finding an area of firm earth in the swamp large enough to bury a blackhide is not an easy task. In some swamps there are islands dedicated to this purpose, and this valuable resource is often a source of conflict between gatorman tribes.
The blackhide is buried for at least two days, sometimes more. How it survives this process is unknown, though some scholars believe the venom of Kossk may slow the beast’s respiration to a point that it requires little oxygen. This alone would cause severe brain damage, but since the venom of Kossk has already stripped away the great majority of the blind walker’s mind, reduced cognition is hardly a concern. The necromantic ritual process employed by the gatormen during the burial manages to mystically preserve the creature’s life, though outsiders know little about the mechanisms of this ritual.
When the blackhide is unearthed, there is nothing left of the creature’s mind beyond that which controls gross bodily functions. At this point, its eyes are removed and replaced with gemstones - bloodstones are the most common, as they are sacred to Kossk. Gemstones are rare in the swamps, and some bokors may use the more common large freshwater pearls instead. The bokor then eats the blackhide’s eyes in a ceremony, so that part of its flesh becomes part of the bokor. This ritual binds the blind walker to its master, imbues the beast with a type of limited precognition directly related to threats in its master’s location, and drives it to interpose itself between the bokor and anything that might harm him. Many an enemy has rushed to deliver a killing blow to a gatorman bokor only to hit a blind walker that suddenly appeared between him and his intended target.
The final step in the creation of the blind walker is making the crown of candles that adorn its head and back and the rune-inscribed brazier attached to its spine. The candles are commonly red and white. The tallow of the white candles is combined with dirt from the blind walker’s grave, the site where it began its transformation, while the red candles incorporate the blood of powerful predators. The brazier is made of copper or bronze and is inscribed with runes of life and death. The candles and brazier amplify necromantic magic, and allow the bokor to use the blind walker as a conduit for his magic, extending the his range and efficacy with charms and curses. Many bokors prefer to use the blind walker’s channeling powers to surprise foes and may submerge the creature in the swamp to launch magical attacks at enemies before they are even aware of the danger.
Once the candles and brazier are lit, they melt into the blind walker’s scales, fusing them to its body. The flames are drawn from the its life force, and can only be snuffed by killing the blind walker.
Using the blind walker as a vessel for magic drains away some of its life force, and the brazier and candles can be seen to gutter slightly when a spell is unleashed from the creature. Careless bokors can even kill their blind walkers if they are too reckless with their channeling ability.
The creation and ownership of a blind walker imparts some measure of prestige, as it demonstrates an advanced ability with the necromantic arts. Other gatormen may tread warily around a bokor with a blind walker at his side. While more specialised than other gatorman warbeasts, it is no less deadly when paired with a powerful bokor.
The ritual destruction of a portion of a blind walker’s soul and mind dampens its natural fury. This allows a bokor to transfer his injuries to a blind walker even if it is fully enraged, an impossible feat for other warbeasts.