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 Clawbeasts, aka Giants
KnifeSmile
 Posted: Mar 7 2018, 02:04 AM
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Many strange creatures live wild in the Southern Continent, never yet seen by humanoids because Landing was in the North in SN!Pern. However, as exploration into the Southern Continent expands beyond the coastal fringe and begins to reach deeper parts of the enormous continent, the unique biomes and their flora and fauna are slowly being discovered and cataloged by the Beast-, Farm-, and Healercrafts.

One of the most recent discoveries has been dubbed the clawbeast. Sometimes simply referred to as giants, clawbeasts are bizarre-looking native Pernese life forms, never before seen by humanoids and thus never exposed to Mentasynth. Like fire lizards, though, they have a semi-eusocial structure and have developed close bonds within their herds that, over the megayears, have become enhanced by the natural tele-empathy and telepathy often found in advanced Pernese life forms.

To a Terran eye, the clawbeast would look like a bizarre assemblage of spare parts from other animals - or, if they were paleontologists, they might recognize a resemblance to the chalicotheres. There are different subspecies/landraces found in different areas, with the most noticeable differences being between grassland/plains/open-land clawbeasts, forest/jungle clawbeasts, and swamp/marsh clawbeasts. The great beasts are very large, with the oldest of the open-land-type Queens reaching ten feet at the shoulder. At first glance, they seem like a heavyset cross between an elephant and a giraffe, with a long, meaty neck and a mighty, barrel-shaped torso. Their bodies are covered in thick hide with a layer of fur that ranges from sparse to a full long coat depending on their habitat. (Cold, rainy/snowy places encourage thicker, longer fur. Those from hot plains will have short, smooth fur like a horse's, while those from the far southern tundras will be downright mammoth-like in their shagginess.) Color depends more on habitat than caste. They tend to naturalistic colors, but may exhibit rather ornate markings. Once they begin to be bred in captivity, they will no doubt begin to exhibit more dramatic coloration as they are exposed to more ambient magic and people try to encourage them to mate for colorful offspring.

Their powerful hind legs are the stocky, muscular pillars you'd expect from such a body, though the feet are ungulate-type, with three hoofed toes; the central hoof is primary, with the other two reduced in size, though they are still large enough to reach the ground and are not vestigal in any sense. The hind legs are shorter than the forelimbs, which are long and surprisingly graceful. Like all native Pernese vertebrates discovered thus far, clawbeasts are hexapods. Their "arms" are actually the middle pair of limbs. The first pair is much reduced compared to the other two. The first two fingers have curved claws used for grooming in longer-haired landraces and for scratching itches in others, while the third finger is elongated and supports a flap of skin that connects to the body. Superficially, it looks rather like a pterosaur-type wing, yet far, far too small to be even remotely capable of slowing a fall, much less flight or gliding of any sort. Narrow triangular 'cutouts' mark the edge of the skin-sail where it tends to fold, exaggerated by mating selection. Kings use their "wings" to display to Queens when wooing them, and Queens have apparently found Kings with deeper wing 'cutouts' more attractive, leading to the trait spreading and becoming more pronounced.

In addition to mating displays, clawbeasts use their tiny "wings" for social signaling, fanning away pest insects, and regulating their body heat. Though endothermic, their huge bodies require assistance to heat up or cool off with any degree of speed; the skin-sails provide extra body surface which can be either turned toward the sun to absorb extra heat, or turned with their flat sides toward the sun to radiate off excess heat. Although most of the animal will be naturalistic in color, their sails can get rather colorful in some individuals (though still overall naturalistic, but that should be taken in context -for example, given that their flesh and ichor are green, shades of green, teal, and greenish blue would be perfectly realistic and normal for them. Not that you HAVE to use those colors, but my point is that when I say 'naturalistic', I don't mean 'black, white, gray, and shades of brown ONLY'. Tigers are real animals, and quite large, but also pretty colorful and dramatic-looking. I think you get the idea. This goes for the whole body, and the wings can be more colorful than the body! So feel free to look to the more ornate animals in RL for inspiration for sail colors/patterns.)

Though still muscular and strong, the arms are not as heavy as one would intuitively expect compared to the rest of the body. Anatomically the arms are somewhere between ape and giant anteater. Ground sloths also come to mind. Their arms have roughly the same ability to reach and flex as human arms, but their paws lack thumbs and are not capable of any sophisticated tool use. They are capable of folding their toes back to use only one claw at a time (say, to fish for the large native termite-like insectoids that form enormous mud-nests in some parts of the South), but they cannot grasp objects easily, partly because their paws are not very prehensible and partly because their claws are just so incredibly huge. Their knuckles are big and solid, and while they may rest their paws flat on the ground sometimes, their usual gait is a knuckle-walk somewhere between that of a gorilla and a giant anteater.

These huge claws are what people end up naming them for. They can be up to three feet long on the largest beasts (though 1-2 feet is more usual). The size of the claws is what obliges the clawbeasts to knuckle-walk, though they are well adapted to this mode of movement. Clawbeasts are slow and stately but strangely graceful and precise in their movements. The claws are sharp, though not as much as a predator's would be, and can be completely straight (plains/grassland clawbeasts) or slightly curved like a ground sloth's (forest/jungle and swamp/marsh clawbeasts).

As herbivores, they use these claws to forage for food, as appropriate to their environment. Marsh/swamp beasts have webbed toes to help them keep from sinking in, others have free toes.

Note that, like all herbivores, clawbeasts will sometimes eat non-plant foods, especially if in marginal environments or experiencing unusual nutritional needs. For example, IRL, deer sometimes eat old, weathered bones to gain calcium, horses sometimes eat meat or even hunt birds, and so on. Forest/jungle clawbeasts find life pretty easy and are most exclusively into plants and fungi, but even they sometimes eat old bones for the same reason deer do. Swamp/marsh clawbeasts are the most omnivorous of their kind due to their challenging, food-poor habitat. They will usually eat the eggs of other creatures if they find them, especially wherry eggs. They are skilled at raiding nests in trees. They will also eat carrion if it isn't too rotten. They will even hunt if they are truly desperate, but they do not digest fresh meat easily and it is not an ideal food for them. Open-lands clawbeasts are in between; they are generally herbivorous, but may opportunistically take eggs or reasonably fresh carrion if they're hungry and the chance comes along.

Most of the time, they eat soft, tender foliage, ripe and unripe fruits - big fleshy ones are their favorites (they prefer ripe but they are capable of digesting green fruit in a pinch), and those few fungi that grow mushrooms large enough or in great enough quantities to be useful food to them. Their faces are shaped rather like that of a runnerbeast, except the muzzle is a little shorter and the jaws are heavier. To a Terran, it would look like a blunt, brutish, alien version of a horse's head, in essence. They have low headknobs, and a carbuncle, which like dragonkin is usually on the forehead above and between the eyes (always rocky and crystalline or low and cabochon-like due to the relatively low amount of metals in their diet, and usually smallish because they don't consume minerals the way dragonkin do). They also have mammal-like ears, though, which vary in size and shape with subspecies and location. The open-land animals often have long donkey-like ears, or even Asian elephant-like flappy ears, due to the need to radiate heat from the sun, whereas forest/jungle animals will have small, horselike ears, and those of swamp/marsh clawbeasts may be reduced to tiny nubs like a seal's ears, or gone altogether, due to their constant ducking underwater. The teeth are rather like those of a horse, but adapted to their softer diet rather than chewing hard, gritty grasses. (Plains/grassland clawbeasts may take fresh, succulent new grass, but it's not an ideal food for them.)

Like all Pernese vertebrates known so far, clawbeasts have luminous, faceted eyes that change color with their mood. As with dragonkin, gray is both a color of mourning and can indicate illness. Also like dragonkin, their muscles are silvery-green, their fleshy bits are greenish, and they have green ichor rather than red blood. They have relatively short, thick tails compared to dragons or fire-lizards, more akin to a shortish wher tail proportionately. They eliminate via a tailfork, as do dragonkin. (Yes, this is messy. No, you don't want to be the one to have to muck these guys' pens. Try to train them to visit the midden, or dig their own latrines? In the wild, they are neat creatures who bury their waste, but you don't want them digging random holes in the Hold courtyard, so again, potty training will need to be a thing for Impressed clawbeasts.)

Being more intelligent than fire lizards, and very long-lived, they form correspondingly deep bonds, fully equal to those of dragons or worgs. All clawbeasts are telepathic and tele-empathic on the same level as dragons, though they do not naturally use language (dragons were specially designed to be born able to speak). They are quite smart, though, along the lines of elephants; they don't think like humans, exactly, but they are definitely sapient in their own way.

Like dragons, clawbeasts have a herd hivemind, though it is less overwhelming in some ways because clawbeast herds do not have nearly as many members as a Weyr can support. Most clawbeast herds have anywhere from 15-25 animals; the largest can mass up to 40 strong. They are capable of projecting telepathically to contact those they are not bonded to, but it is an effort for them and they will not make it unless they see a reason to do so. They communicate among each other with something that's... well. It's akin to fire lizard communication, but only in the sense that human language is akin to chimpanzee alarm calls and so forth. Although technically wordless, their tele-empathic communion within their herds is so deep, rich, and complex that it amounts to a true language of its own, albeit one conducted in feelings, sensations, and wordless concept-projections. This language will need to be learned by humanoids in order to communicate with adult clawbeasts in anything but the most basic gesture/mime-equivalent level.

Clawbeasts are not as long-lived as dragons - they do die of old age eventually. However, their lifespans are extremely long. In the wild, unless killed, they can survive up to around 300-ish Turns. A few of the most successful herds have elders who have lived through two Passes and the full Interval between them. These ancient creatures are wise and knowledgable, and their herds are lucky to have them.

These big animals are too slow-moving to outrun Thread like some Pernese creatures do. Their strategy varies with their habitat. Where caves large enough are available, they use them, hiding in the rocky fastness until the skies are clear again. Skybroom trees are found in the grasslands and prairies of the South, and the herds cluster beneath them when Thread falls, though some individuals may still be scored or killed if there isn't enough room beneath the tree's sheltering branches or if some Thread gets through. Forest/jungle clawbeasts use immense hollow tree trunks belonging to similarly resistant species if no caves are available, or may plunge into rivers and lakes (though this is again imperfect, their long necks do help them hide their body mass well below the surface and their heads are a smaller, if dangerously important, target.) Marsh/swamp beasts rely mostly on the water to protect them, though they too will use caves and hollow tree trunks where possible. Many adults bear the sad traceries of Threadscore as a result of these imperfect coping strategies.

Fire lizards are attracted to their herds, though, much as small birds are attracted to elephants, and this helps them survive. Many herds, especially those of the forest and jungle and those living near sandy areas suitable for lizard nesting, have a fair of fire lizards associated with them. These flits are not Impressed to them, per se, at least not most of the time (though it could happen.) It's more of a natural symbiosis. In return for allowing the flits to pick parasites from their thick, furry hides, and protecting the fire lizards from predators, the lizards help protect their chosen herd from Thread by flying over them and flaming. Some herds follow migratory routes which take them past "firestone chews" as well as natural salt licks, water sources, fruit tree stands, and other natural resources, allowing their lizard fairs to memorize the location for later use as new generations of lizard are born. This greatly helps the big, slow, lumbering clawbeasts to survive.

With their sheer size, not many creatures are willing to prey on clawbeasts, though they do have some natural enemies, such as barghest packs, which cannot defeat a healthy adult but will take the young, the elderly, and the sick. Other large, brave predators will sometimes take them on. But for the most part, they have impunity to wander, just as elephants do. They are not overly good fighters, as herbivores who are usually not required to defend themselves, but they are horribly strong and their claws, while not as sharp as a predator's, can do a lot of damage when that kind of force is behind a swing. They are slow, though, even though their blows are precise and well-aimed, so sometimes they do lose members of their herds to predation. On the whole, though, they are more threatened by Thread. Their evolution has been driven by their association with fire lizards, allowing them to grow larger, heavier, and slower than their long-extinct ancestors, who were fleet of foot and had much smaller foreclaws.

Clawbeasts have a semi-eusocial system not unlike that of dragons, though not influenced or altered by humanoids. They do not themselves have names for these things since they don't naturally use language (though they will no doubt learn it quickly once they begin being Impressed by humanoids).

QUEENS are the primary breeding females, the largest of their kind and the leaders of the herds. The oldest queen in a herd is the matriarch. Younger queens usually remain with their mother in her herd. Despite their mammalian look, they are indeed egg-layers, with queens producing one clutch of anywhere from 6-12 eggs every 3-5 Turns on average, with a chance for one of those to be a queen. Queens are not as rare as in dragons, but they aren't found in every clutch, either. Clawbeasts do not reproduce quickly, as their environment cannot support too many of them. Queens reach maturity around 3 Turns of age (this rapidity is driven by Thread - they cannot afford to take too long to be able to reproduce) though they will continue to grow at a glacially slow rate for the rest of their long lives. Like dragon queens, they can issue orders that lesser castes cannot refuse to obey, though this power is limited to the members of their own herd only; they cannot command members of other herds or other matriarchs. (A non-matriarch queen can command lesser castes, but not a matriarch, while a matriarch can indeed command her own queen-daughters.)

A herd is primarily made up of a matriarch Queen, her Queen-daughters, and her children of lesser castes.

KINGS are the primary breeding males. They are not quite as large as queens, but bigger than the nonbreeding castes. Rather like elephants, the Kings either roam alone or in groups of 2-3. Some Kings maintain a migratory route which crosses the migratory routes of multiple herds, allowing them to woo and potentially mate with multiple Queens. Others tend to loosely follow or even live on the edges of one specific herd, which gives them more of a chance to mate with the queens of that specific herd, but less opportunity to spread their genes far and wide. Being intelligent enough to make individual choices in response to their instinctive drives, Kings resolve this conflict in different ways, but those are the two basic options found in the wild for the most part.

ENFORCERS are not as large as queens or kings, but the size difference isn't that big. They are normally female and infertile, but they may rarely be born fertile or male. A fertile Enforcer will mate with Kings every 2-3 Turns and produce 3-5 eggs per clutch, though they cannot produce Queen eggs. Their role within the herd is similar to that of Officers among worgs. They keep an eye on the lower castes (and the Kings, if necessary), making sure they obey the matriarch and don't cause trouble. They also stand around the outside of the herd when it pulls into a defensive ring in response to a predator. The queens, any immature pups/juveniles, and the smaller castes go into the middle (queens and young in the center, smaller castes ringing them), while the big, strong, but ultimately expendable Enforcers put themselves in the risky position at the edges to confront the predator(s). They also tend to arrange themselves around the outer edges of the main body of the herd when it is on the move, keeping a lookout for trouble.

MAGI are medium-sized, Talented clawbeasts. Although other castes can sometimes, rarely, manifest Talents, all Magi do, like the equivalent caste among worgs. Their role within the herd varies depending on what their abilities are. Sometimes they receive powers they don't fully understand, like future sight, which can be difficult for them psychologically. Most of their Talents are practical things of direct use for survival in the wild, though. They tend to be smaller and more lightly built than Enforcers, Kings, and Queens, but are not as small as Foragers. They are normally sterile, and as apt to be male as female, but due to their innate magic, Magi are more prone to mutate (whether to become fertile or other forms of mutation) than the other castes.

FORAGERS are noticeably smaller than the higher ranks. They walk at the head of the herd when it moves, sometimes ranging dangerously far from its protection, as it is their job to spot resources (food, water, etc.) when the herd is moving, and to remember the location of past discoveries. When migrating, they are the ones who remember that the herd is near this or that resource and guide them to it as needed, while the queens control the overall migration in terms of its destination, speed, and so on. When the herd has stopped in one place so the queen may nest, the Enforcers remain at the nest site to defend the queen and her eggs, but the Foragers go out into the surrounding territory to find and bring back food. They are intelligent enough to use simple natural tools, like the empty shells of large nuts, to bring water. Foragers have rather smaller claws and more dexterous paws than the larger castes. They can go on three legs, carrying a nut-shell or something in the fourth, or even walk bipedally for short distances. This helps them serve the herd better. Like enforcers, foragers are normally infertile females, but are sometimes born male. They are almost never fertile regardless of sex. If they are, they come into heat only sporadically (sometimes often, sometimes very rarely) and lay only 1-3 eggs containing nothing but more Foragers.

SPORTS occur in clawbeasts just like in dragonkin, but they often find it difficult to survive in the wild, so they are quite rare. Those that survive will be protected by their herds as much as possible, but they are very vulnerable to predators due to their smaller size, and very rarely make it. Sports can be either sex, or totally sexless, but are invariably sterile and cannot reproduce under any circumstances.

If humanoids were to find a clawbeast clutch when it hatched, it would be much like being unexpectedly caught at the hatching of a dragon clutch, especially if no adult clawbeasts were around to guide the young. They would swarm to the humanoids, seeing no other creatures available to help them, and assail the humanoids with projected hunger and wistful, tiny baby cries. Just like a dragonet, they will want to be fed by their new bondmate after Impression, but do not require being fed to Impress; locking eyes with the baby seems to have a lot to do with it, again like with dragons, but it isn't a sure thing. They will choose the mind that 'feels' right for them, like dragons, but they will tend to be drawn to those who feel parental in some way, whether that means a nurturing personality or someone who is strong and clearly able to protect the baby - individual baby clawbeasts will have different ideas than this.

Although lacking a verbal language, they do name themselves with a spoken sound soon after birth. This is traditionally the first sound they make out loud after being born, but it doesn't absolutely have to be, especially if they fell out of their egg badly or something and their first sound was the equivalent of "ouch" http://files.b1.jcink.com/html/emoticons/tongue.gif

This name can be roughly transliterated into a Pernese name. They use prefixes to show their rank. Otherwise, the name is composed of rolling, burbling, or chirping sounds that are almost but not quite vocal - humanoids hearing them would find the sound eerie, like an animal speaking in a human language, but one they don't know. Their names tend to have a lot of hard sounds, Rs, breathy sounds like H, and vowels, but not many sibilants, Ls, Vs, or hissing sounds. Queens tend to have somewhat longer names, with names shortening as you go down the castes, but this is not a rule, just a tendency. Note that single Hs are not silent even if they would be in an English word spelled the same way - they represent a breathy exhaley sound. -cht is a hard sound like -kt but sort of gutturally stretched, almost German-sounding.

Queen Examples: Rho-Hecht, Rho-Rororrahnah, Rho-Corrikauhet
King Examples: Orh-Irrichech, Orh-Dahakah, Orh-Taktau
Enforcer Examples: Ahn-Ukaut, Ahn-Yirrah, Ahn-Arhmrek
Magi Examples: Arc-Nirrheh, Arc-Kiorr, Arc-Puerh
Forager Examples: Mir-Aira, Mir-Onh, Mir-Acht
Sport Examples: Py-Gon, Py-Orh, Py-Hie

Name limitations are due to the structure of their mouths/faces and what sounds they find easier to make. They are technically capable of producing a very wide range of sounds, but their jaws and tongues do not readily form certain shapes, limiting their use of sounds like F (their Fs, when used, sound half-H, breathy and exhaley but pushed through gently-closed lips), S, Z, V, and L. Easier shapes are vowels, B, C (similar to K but slightly softer and more sibilant; the difference will likely be subtle at first to humanoid ears), D, G (as hard G only; soft G is like J), H, K, M, N, P, R, and T.

Sounds like J/soft G and are in the middle - harder to form than the hard sounds or vowels, but not as hard as hissing sibilants like S and Z or sliding sounds like V and F. When they use J, S, and Z, they tend to add a breathy sound to them or cut the sound off with a harder sound (often by clicking their teeth) so S is usually found in the form of 'sh' 'st' and similar, and Z as 'zh' or 'zt' or 'zd'. A name is more likely to be Rarsh than Rars, Yahazd than Yahaz, Jheharr than Jeharr. Q as "kw"and W are very rare and tend to turn into 'k(vowel)wh' and 'wh'. If a clawbeast tried to say 'quote', it would sound kind of like 'kuwhote'. X is challenging, too - it tends to blur and degrade into some variant of the sound.

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