As you step into the entrance chamber of a long-forgotten place of power, a guardian with a humanoid head, a cat’s body, and glorious feathery wings stands before you.
Your fate is almost certainly death.
The above was taken from Abrax Copernicus’s work The Dreadful Guardians and is a very fitting description of a sphinx. His work is dated, but I still list it as required reading for my students. After all, he was above all an explorer and the fact he actually met with so many of these creatures in person gives his work an authority that lesser scholars, namely those who won’t put in the legwork, sorely lack.
But, I digress. Sphinxes come in many varieties, but all share the above traits. A humanoid head, a cat’s body, and wings. The head can be male or female and designates the sex of the sphinx itself. The head can resemble any sentient creature from dwarves and elves to orcs and humans and everything in between. The same applies to its body ranging from jaguar, lion, tiger, and far more exotic creatures. Even its wings can be like that of an eagle, an angel, a demon, a bat or an endless variety of others. But, no matter their form, sphinxes are profoundly dangerous.
There are few records of their strength as sphinxes are guardians of places, and those places are usually secluded and avoided already. They don’t attack populated cities for no reason. Nor do they seek to lure the unwary to their demise.
But, though we have limited contact with them some things are known. First off, sphinxes are magical creatures. They are immortal, have no need for food or drink, and are skilled in the art of magic itself.
Not to mention that their speed, agility, and physical strength far exceeds the cats their bodies resemble. They may not even look particularly threatening, but know that they are.
They are renown for being beautiful creatures, regardless of their form. But, though they have no need to do so, they won’t hesitate to devour your flesh while you scream.
Sphinxes seem to have some kind of need to guard things though nobody really knows why. Wizards are able to summon the creatures, and it is well documented in the wizarding community that the greater the location you would have guarded, the more likely the summoning spell is to work.
Sphinxes also seem to have no qualms about what they guard exactly, as long as it is powerful, dangerous and filled with magic.
It’s often been tried to have sphinxes guard a town or city, but the only validated record of it succeeding was an unmitigated disaster.
The sphinx prevented anyone from entering or leaving. Anyone and everyone. Trade died in an instant, and the city was left to fend for itself. A few were able to come or go, but only those who succeeded in getting through its trials.
Yes, the trial the sphinx sets before people is well known indeed despite the rarity of these creatures. You likely know what it is already.
Riddles. But, contrary to what some believe, they do not simply ask the same riddle of everyone. Nor, do they allow someone to pass on successfully solving their puzzle.
No. It is a game. A deadly game. The sphinx will ask a riddle, and should you solve it, you will need to ask the sphinx a riddle, and so the game goes on until either the sphinx cannot solve the riddle or you fail to do so.
Should the sphinx fail, it will allow you to pass. Should you fail… your death is all but guaranteed.
Attempting to attack the sphinx, cheat, or take any action that does not fit with the sphinx’s game will result either in it subduing you and forcing you to play… or it killing you. A sphinx will generally allow you to leave, however. Provided you do so before beginning the game or trying to get past.
There are, however, exceptions to this rule.
Children and non-sentient creatures are generally safe from a sphinx unless they threaten it or what it guards in some way. Although, what a sphinx considers to be children may not match what we do, and seems more dependent on the individual than anything else.
Should your child be wise for their years… there is a good chance the sphinx will not spare them. It’s also important to note that this safety doesn’t extend to any the non-sentient creature or child has with them.
They are quite capable of killing a mother and leaving her child alone. Just as they will butcher a shepherd, but not harm his sheep.
This doesn’t mean to say that a sphinx will allow a child to enter or leave, however. It just won’t offer the chance at the game. The same goes for non-sentient creatures. Instead, they will prevent entry often by using magic and leaving those who do not play the game unharmed. This is usually for the best though as sphinxes often guard dangerous areas no child should enter anyway.
Powerful wizards and other beings of great magical ability often summon sphinxes to serve as guardians. Sometimes to their home if it is sufficiently magical, but more often to other, darker places.
Some places contain dense magical energy along with danger and lands corrupted by the foul acts committed there. Sphinxes are particularly wont to guard these places.
The Lestrian government had a number of sphinxes summoned to guard dangerous magical ruins believed to house powerful artifacts that could threaten the world.
So, though sphinxes can be violent and dangerous, it is important to recognize their uses, and the fact they adhere to a strict code. They play by rules, which makes them easier to deal with.
Sphinxes are also thought not to lie. This isn’t something that’s been verified, but some believe they either cannot lie or simply prefer to tell the truth.
Again, it isn’t verified. But, should a sphinx offer you a bargain or tell you something… the evidence would suggest that they are telling the truth. Or at least part of it.
Remember, the truth can be just as misleading as a lie. Remain cautious.
As for dealing with sphinxes, I’d honestly recommend just not participating in the game. If you encounter a sphinx, leave as respectfully as you can. They are proud, beautiful creatures and aren’t likely to suffer insults. And, with their code… they are unlikely to harm you should you not play their game and just get away from them and never return. It is your best chance at survival. Their games are not easy things to win.
It is likely that what they guard would only spell disaster for you and others anyway. It’s not worth it. Not worth it at all.
- Nicholas Wolfram, Professor of Monsterology at Lestria University