|“||*harsh, crow-like cawing amidst the rustling of leaves*||”|
Rare but long-lived, the Blackhaw tree can be found throughout the Hedge. Records of them among the deep forests of the Keepers exist as well, leading to speculation that some Fae with a love of botany might have created them from a mundane hawthorn tree, which it resembles. Others believe that seeds from hawthorn trees were brought through the Hedge from the mortal world, most likely either in the gut of some bird or as lucky tokens by a lost mortal. Either way, the trees have slowly spread, and can be found in every demesne and climate. No one has ever seen an entire grove of Blackhaws. No more than one tree seems to grow in an area at a time.
Blackhaw trees have been considered bad luck amongst the denizens of the Hedge for a very long time. Whether the badge of ill omen comes from the flocks of ravens that are invariably found perching in the tree’s heights or from their black, twisted branches is unknown. Perhaps it is the fact that no one has ever reported seeing the tree in bloom. Whatever the cause, and because changelings know that things in the Hedge are more than they seem, the Blackhaw has, over time, developed a way to take prey that would be outside the normal reach of a tree’s branches.
The Blackhaw is not averse to eating the carrion cast-offs of other predator’s kills, but it prefers its prey alive, kicking, and screaming. Because the trees have no teeth per se, it tends to pass on changelings whose forms provide them with a modicum of natural armor, such as certain types of Beasts (rhino-based Broadbacks, Swimmerskins with an affinity for turtles, etc.), Earthbones, and Stonebones. Blackhaws dislike fae entities with a more “vegetable” taste. They do not attack Woodblood Elementals, Flowering Fairest, and Woodwalker Wizened, and they actively fear Fireheart Elementals. Like mundane animals, the Blackhaw uses the higher of its Wits or Dexterity scores for Defense, rather than its lowest.
Blackhaw trees look nearly identical to the normal hawthorn tree, at least as regards its thorns, bark, and the shape of its leaves. The sole apparent difference between the two is that the color of the tree’s berries is black, rather than red like those of the hawthorn. The berries, when ripe, are sweet to the point of intoxication, but have no special properties.
Those who think the color of the tree’s fruit is the only difference between the two, however, are sadly mistaken. The Blackhaw is both intelligent and predatory, and extremely dangerous to anyone passing within a hundred yards of it. A few travelers have noted that the Blackhaw tends to host flocks of ravens among its limbs, no doubt drawn by the delicious berries. The truth is that the black-winged birds that sit in the branches of the Blackhaw are not ravens at all, or even birds. Each is an appendage of the tree itself, attached to the branch on which it sits by thin tendrils like vines. The bark that grows on the outside of the tendrils is far more flexible than the bark on the trunk, but in all other respects it looks the same, helping to camouflage the members from casual view.
When an unsuspecting changeling, hobgoblin, or other creature passes near a Blackhaw tree, the “ravens” set up a harsh cawing. Since such behavior from mundane animals is usually a warning of danger, most who hear it instantly look around for a threat. Rarely do they look at the ravens or the tree itself, however. At that point, a number of ravens will fly forward on their tentacles, sinking beaks and claws into the oblivious changeling, and yank her closer to the tree — into the embrace of the ravens and tentacles itself. The tendrils that connect the ravens to the tree are long, extended gullets, covered with the same sharp thorns as the tree’s branches, and serve to further pinion the victim in place while the ravens’ heads bite off chunks of still-living meat and swallow them.
Because the Blackhaw tree eats only meat, anything nonorganic is discarded, and this debris is the only visible sign of danger. Metal armor, for example, is left to rust, while a leather pair of breeches would be eaten along with the one wearing them. Thus, any kind of token or treasure might be found on the ground under the branches, if an explorer were brave or stupid enough to get close to search. Like most trees, the Blackhaw is vulnerable to fire. While chopping a tree down would work, getting close enough to use an axe automatically puts the wielder within range of the tendrils. Because they draw their sustenance from living prey, they tend to be more resistant to drought than other vegetation.
The Blackhaw does not reproduce in the usual way. Rather than dropping seeds, or even casting out tendrils as a normal plant might, once every year and a day, three to five of the tree’s ravens soar into the air, flying to the end of their tendrils, and stretching against them until they snap. Then they fly out over the Hedge, searching for freshly-dead bodies or prey so wounded it cannot fight a single attacker off. Once it has found its prey, it lands on the body just as a normal carrion-crow would and begins to burrow into the dead or dying flesh. Once inside, the resemblance to a raven begins to fade, as the tree’s pod begins to send out roots in the nutrient-rich flesh, rooting deep into the ground. In the course of seven days, a new seedling is born. The tree grows incredibly fast, reaching its full size within three years. Until that time, they are less able to kill larger victims, and tend to attack only smaller animals for sustenance.
Average Blackhaw tree
Mental Attributes: Intelligence 2, Wits 3, Resolve 2
Physical Attributes: Strength 6, Dexterity 5, Stamina 3
Social Attributes: Presence 2, Manipulation 4, Composure 3
Mental Skills: Crafts 1, Investigation 1, Occult 2
Physical Skills: Brawl 4, Larceny 1, Stealth 4, Survival 3
Social Skills: Animal Ken 3, Empathy 2, Intimidation 3, Subterfuge 4
Merits: Disarm, Fast Reflexes 2, Iron Stomach, Strong Back
- Dancers in the Dusk, p. 102-103