Section I: Sapient Races
Section II: Beastly Races
The Elfadil Desert has produced some of the most unique species ever to be
found in the world. Most people believe the desert to be a dead wasteland,
but this does not apply to the Elfadil. Rather this desert is teeming with
life, although it might escape notice at first sight. All a traveller
might notice are the strange purple dunes, streaked with red. If he is an
unlucky traveller he might encounter a crustmaw or a sandtrap – and
should he survive, he will wonder how creatures this large can subsist in
the desert. They need to consume much food each day to grow this big. Our
normal experience teaches us to expect beasts of such size only in an
environment that has plantlife – i.e. water – and supports a large
number of herbivores, natural prey of large predators.
will attempt to explain in the following articles how this is possible.
Forgive me that I could not employ any reports from travellers
knowledgeable in the Elfadil in this regard.
Lestrovar the Wise
The sandpurple is a tiny organism, so small that the human eye cannot detect it. It takes a magnifying lens to discover that what appears to be purple-colored sand is in fact a multitude of living beings. Nobody has as yet been able to decide whether these creatures are plants, animals, fungi or some other, unknown kind of organism.
What generations of tireless research have revealed is that the sandpurple manages to break down the grains of sand around it, clearly with the aid of the ever plentiful sunlight (which is similar to plants), and draw nutrients from what is essentially stone. In addition they manage to generate minuscule amounts of water – also from the sand.
Experiments have proven that the sandpurple’s effectiveness is not limited to the Elfadil; in a similar, artificially created environment in Chazevo (at the Sacred Darawk Academy) the sandpurple has thrived in the same fashion as it does in its desert home.
Originally some researchers believed that there had to be a magical field in the Elfadil which has made the development of the sandpurple possible. Obviously that thought has been discarded by now. Yet it appears that the sandpurple indeed is of a magical nature – how else could one explain the wondrous mechanism of its existence?
Note: The description “Desert Krill” is one that I very much dislike. It implies that these creatures are related to the krill of the ocean, but no such relation could ever be proven. Unfortunately the term has become so widely used that it seems a moot point for me to protest. Let it just be noted that I prefer the name that the sandpeople use: “Crimson Diver”. (Which is a very rough but apt translation.)
A dune covered with sandpurple is rarely a uniform color. Now and there you can see the gold of the sand beneath, bright and shiny. And the purple carpet is streaked with traces of red that might look like the crests of waves, in a slow and steady motion.
The traces of red are the desert krill, crab-like creatures that are just big enough to be visible to the human eye. Dear reader, do not let yourself be led to believe that there are only a few krill in such a dune because I spoke only of traces of red. The truth is that the krill are nearly translucent, faintly shaded red. To produce the red streaks that are commonplace it takes hundreds of thousands of these creatures!
Desert krill consume the sandpurple, at an intriguingly high rate. Let us return to the example of the dune: One morning you see a dune that is completely purple, except for a smattering of red, and you decide to follow it. The next morning you will find that a third of the dune is golden sand, while the red streaks have multiplied enormously. The morning after that, the sandpurple is completely gone.
And so are the desert krill, as you will find. This is why I find the sandpeople name so apt: Once a swath of sandpurple is consumed, the krill would obviously die in the burning sunlight, with no more food. So the creatures dive into the sand, deep into the dune, where they form a sort of cocoon that keeps them alive during a sort of hibernation. As soon as the krill senses the proximity of sandpurple, the cocoon is dissolved, providing the krill with enough nutrients to journey to the swath of sandpurple.
Now if you wonder just how many krill there are in the Elfadil, consider these two facts: One, a very few – such as one or two hundred – hibernating krill entering a sandpurple dune will consume it in a matter of days, while the number of krill will grow to thousands of thousands.
Two, you will see sandpurple dunes everywhere in the Elfadil.
Which means that the sandpurple multiplies faster than the krill, but it provides plenty of food for them in the meantime. So there must be hundreds of tons of desert krill in the Elfadil, probably more, and at their growth rate they should have covered the Elfadil with a faintly red carpet more than a foot thick by now.
But the krill are hunted themselves, which very much closes the circle of my little argument here. It is the krill that are the equivalent of grass in our more familiar environments, that which feeds the peaceable herbivores. (Although in this case, herbivore is a very misleading term.)
There are many species of clouders living under the surface of the Elfadil; every couple of months another is discovered. (Although I have to admit that many of these discoveries are in fact re-discoveries of species that had already been found and listed but then forgotten.) They vary in size from the small sieveclouder which measures a little over a foot in length to the gargantuan tusk clouder, a majestic creature of over thirty feet in length.
They all share several basic features which is why I list them together. Since they prey on the desert krill, their maws have developed into sieves, a wide net that stretches across all their frontal body. The sieve is probably formed from teeth – it is hard to tell from the carcasses that have been found thus far.
Along with the krill they naturally inhale large amounts of sand which are filtered by a series of further sieves inside their maw, until the krill are fed to the stomach and the sand is fed into a pipelike organ that contracts with incredible force, compacts the sand and squirts it out the end of the clouder’s tubular body (along with the natural refuse, one might add). As a result of this, the clouder is propelled forward at immense speed, thrust into more sand – which provides more, shall we say, fuel for motion. Since these creatures live within the sand, an ordinary human observer can only see a ripple in the sand, like a wake following the motion of a clouder.
The closer a creature comes to the surface, the ripple will grow or even become a cloud – hence the name. They are airbreathers, of course, and as such they have to surface every now and then to take fresh breaths of air for the next dive. At this time they are assailable by predators such as a desert dragon, for instance. (In their natural habitat within the sand, only the daggerray poses a threat.)
As mentioned before, clouders have a tubular form, with very tough, fin-like appendages around the torso that allow it to guide its motion. The shape and construction of the appendages vary from species to species; the smaller ones have paddles – which is enough since they are also very fast.
Large clouders have bony structures which sometimes resemble claws. In fact they are used for defense as well as motion guidance. Big clouders are much slower than their smaller cousins, and therefore they make better prey. Some, like the shudderclouder, possess venomous stings in their clawpaddles. (To explain the name, the venom appears specifically aimed at daggerrays; if a human is hit, he will begin to shudder and shiver continuously for over two hours. Otherwise a human is not harmed – unless some other creature or foe exploits the fact that he cannot defend himself.)
The already mentioned tusk clouder is the largest and slowest of its kind. Its body has flattened, compared to its brethren, so that its frontal sieve is oval rather than circular. In addition, three bony, gnarled tusks spear out from the body, about two feet ahead of the maw, giving the creature both its name and a dangerous means of defense. Unlike the smaller ones, the tusk clouder can rear up to deliver a deadly attack, assisted by its fin appendages that seem almost like paws. Believe me when I say that seeing a tusk clouder fight a crustmaw, raised high on its paws, is an incredible – and terrifying – sight.
One report I have found that I would like to include hereafter; my good
friend Anan is too splendid a writer to overlook his contributions.
“A traveller of the Elfadil Desert should refrain from any jokes when he sees a tent built on a wooden base. Oftentimes I have heard foreign journeymen do so and ask whether my people are afraid to sleep on the sand. The idea is preposterous, since we live amidst sand. And such a traveller should first ask himself why my people make the effort to build this wooden base in the first place. After all trees are not plentiful in our homeland.
“Then the traveller would see there has to be a reason. That reason has a name: daggerray. It is a predator of the deep which hunts the various kinds of clouders that live within the sand. But it hunts not only in the sand. Every half an hour it has to surface to breathe air, and if it sees potential prey, it will strike above ground as readily as below. As powerful as a daggerray is, it cannot break through wood – and it is for that reason that we sandpeople like to have a solid base below us when we sleep.
“Daggerrays can grow to more than sixteen feet in length, but those are the oldest of their kind and very rare. Most that one can find measure some eight feet. Their torso is flat, spreading out into tough, fleshy wings that stretch out to half the daggerray’s length on each side. The wings are triangular, their frontal edge leading at a right angle off from the body.
“Each of the wings sports a three-foot-long bony lance, a deadly weapon with which the predator kills its quarry. The lances never stop growing, not unlike the creature itself, but the travel through sand shears off the top, honing it to a very sharp point. (My people fashion spears from the daggerray’s lances. Not only are they magnificent weapons, but they are also a sign of honor since only that hunter may carry a spear who has killed the daggerray.)
“A daggerray moves usually much in the same way as clouders, by inhaling sand and projecting a compacted stream out its back. At that time, the wings are folded close to the body, the lances protruding by about a foot. Its tail, a long and flat appendage help steer the course.
“When a daggerray is on the prowl, it will switch to using its wings, and move them in soft ripples, like the waves rolling over dunes, to approach its target. During that time, a full load of sand is waiting in its bowels to be shot out the back – which happens when the daggerray is close enough to strike. In a quick burst, the sand is dispelled, the daggerray shoots forward and rams its lances into the prey’s body.
“Hunting a daggerray is not only dangerous, it is near impossible for us who live on the surface of the sand. We cannot dive into it like the clouders. Our senses aren’t sharp enough to see when a daggerray is lying still close to the surface, such as a desert dragon can who swoops down and picks up the creature straight out of its resting place. Following the beast’s trail of sand clouds is difficult for at any moment, the daggerray – or a clouder – might decide to dive deeper; at their speed, which requires horses, the ripples in the sand are impossible to follow.
“The best method is the same as for hunting clouders. Look for a dune covered with crimson divers – or desert krill as our esteemed visitors call them – and prepare to attack any large animal that comes to the surface. Most of the time you’ll strike a clouder, but sometimes, you just might get a daggerray. In that case, hope that your assault killed the beast right away, otherwise you will find out what it means to fight a daggerray.”
In addition to Anan’s words, I would like to offer my own observations. I believe that the daggerray is actually a clouder itself; after all, it propels itself through the sand by a similar method and its shape reminds one of a tusk clouder – plus wings and the bonedaggers.
Its maw is shaped like that of a tusk clouder as well, only that it has grown even flatter and the sieve has turned into a series of fangs. But upon close inspection of such a maw (of a dead creature, or I would not be alive to write these words) I have found that they are sequenced in the same way as the internal sieves of a clouder.
An interesting fact is that daggerrays have eyes, housed in bony bulges right behind their maw. Clouders have these bulges as well, but no eyes; rather they rely on their sense of smell, it appears. The mere presence of the bulges in clouders leads me to wonder whether it wasn’t the (comparatively) harmless creatures that developed from the daggerrays rather than the other way around.