By light of day, penanggalans are virtuous maidens whose clever charm is exceeded only by their incomparable beauty. But upon the witching hour, their maidenly heads tear free from their shoulders to hunt the dark for the sweet blood of innocents. Dripping entrails drag beneath the fanged flying heads, pulsing, writhing, and reaching of their own volition.
In today’s final excerpt from Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale, we look at another creature—like the hound of ill omen—originally appeared in the 1st Edition Fiend Folio.
She might be a common nursemaid or a lady of the royal court. Either way, the maiden’s gentle smile, blushing cheeks, lustrous hair, and voluptuous figure allow her to infiltrate society. By night, she reveals her true form as the monstrous head of the penanggalan hunts, streaming its entrails behind.
Cursed by Dark Magic: According to legend, the first penanggalan was a young baroness of Harkenwold, plain of face and scant of suitors. But what she lacked in beauty she made up for in wit, and the maiden discovered arcane texts of Bael Turath in the vaults of her father’s estate. She invoked the rituals therein and conjured a devil, which promised her matchless beauty and eternal life if only she would serve it forever.
The devil’s bargain was not so glorious as it had appeared, for such was the maiden’s beauty that armies clashed for her hand, and her father was forced to lock her away in a tower to protect her. Alone in her wretched beauty, the maiden begged the gods to forgive her vain folly, and she swore to do penance before them.
But the devil had other plans. It whispered the secret of the maiden’s unlikely beauty into the ear of the high priest, and before she could do her penance, the maiden was seized from her tower and hanged as a devil worshiper.
The maiden’s body dangled from the gallows until midnight, at which time it slid to the ground, leaving her head behind in the noose, gory intestines dangling beneath. Then the maiden opened her eyes and saw what her vanity had created.
Each penanggalan’s origin involves a female who bargains with devils for immortal beauty and tries to renege, but perishes before she can complete her penance. The penanggalan thirsts for the purity that once ran in its veins. Rare penanggalans continue to attempt penance, but none can purge the unholy thirst that arrives at the midnight hour.
Beautiful Infiltrators: Penanggalans live to feed and spend a portion of each day hunting for potential victims. They typically prey on young innocents that won’t be missed, such as youths from poor urban areas or isolated villages.
Penanggalans rarely stay in one place for long. During the daytime, they monitor the aftermath of their nocturnal kills to gauge when it is time to move on to new hunting grounds. They often work as midwives or nursemaids, taking care to note expecting mothers and young children beyond their employers’ walls. It hunts these victims first, all the while playing the caring maid to its employer, whose household it saves until last before moving on.
In maiden form, a penanggalan tempts and teases suitors, modestly guarding her chastity until she is alone with the suitor at night. When her amorous victim is most vulnerable, the penanggalan’s head separates from her body’s shoulders, and the monster strikes. Some penanggalans serve intelligent evil creatures as seductresses and spies.
Horrifying Monstrosities: Unless her maiden’s body has been destroyed (causing the creature to become a bodiless head permanently), a penanggalan’s monstrous form does not manifest by light of day. But at midnight, when her teeth lengthen into fangs and her head tears itself free from her body, the penanggalan hunts. Her bloated entrails serve as motile appendages, and a putrid ichor spews from the intestinal orifices, causing every living thing they touch to fester with boils and sores.
As aptly as it infiltrates society by day, the loathsome penanggalan penetrates physical structures by night, dragging its malleable, reeking bulk through small holes, shutters, shafts, chimneys, and floorboards toward the scent of blood. It especially seeks out those of pure heart, entangling them with its intestines while it drinks their blood. If it cannot locate its preferred quarry, the penanggalan preys on the weakest victim it can find.
A penanggalan can maintain its humanoid state without feeding for three days before it goes mad from hunger and devours the first victim it finds.