There is something indescribably appealing to many in the sight of a Meandrel emerging from the inky depths, looking like the fat, waxy skinned ghost of an eel, but with six incongruously wriggling legs. That said, its strange, not-quite-insect, or fish, or amphibian appearance and the greedy, insipid way it burrows into rotting carcasses will just as often send a shudder down the spine. There are stories that they are the children of drowned women and others which say they are born from the tears of the moon. They have all the mystery and grim fascination of a mythical ghoul, but they are common enough to be a staple meat, and most who try it agree that, provided you don’t think about where it’s come from, it tastes pretty good. The Meandrel is also known as "Waifeel", "Manderfish" or - more poetically speaking - as "Child of the Dark Waters".
As its name suggests, the Meandrel is often mistaken for a fish, an easy mistake to make given its general shape. Though it is a newt, its body is smooth and elongated like that of an eel, with apparently little in the way of neck, waist or any other joint – it is as flexible and sinuous in its movements as a length of ribbon sinking slowly through the water. Secondly, they are not commonly seen enough for their appearance to be widely known, at least in any real detail. Most often the sightings are brief, and murky, as the creature sinks into the black depths of the starwells – unless it is seen more closely it is almost impossible to distinguish it from a strange white eel.
The colour of the Meandrel is the real diagnostic clue to its identity – they have no pigment in their skin, leaving them an eerily bright white which seems to glow within the darkness of the waters, though, unlike many aquatic creatures of the drifting woods, they do not in actual fact emit their own light. Nonetheless, the paleness of their skin at times seems so bright that it appears to suck the light from the surrounding water, colouring it an inkier black than seems natural.This effect is especially accentuated in strong moonlight, when Meandrel appear to be most active, and their skin seems unnaturally bright and translucent. If viewed closely under such light, the bones and larger organs of the Meandrel can be faintly seen through the skin.
They are not very big, for all their luminosity, growing to a maximum of a fore from head to tail-tip, with a body that, even at the thickest point (the area around the head and torso), can usually be enclosed within thumb and forefinger. Of course, to measure the creature in such a manner would suggest that one can maintain a hold on it – the skin of the Meandrel is notoriously slippery (see Special Abilities), and smooth in texture, so the only way you could possibly keep a hold of one is to grasp it by the thorax, from which its legs grow.
These legs, the obscurity of which led to the Meandrel being so often regarded as a fish, are ironically the most extraordinary aspect of it when observed closely. The main source of their strangeness is this: there are six. The reasons for the Meandrel having these extra appendages is not clear, though at a glance, they would appear to improve significantly the hold a Meandrel is able to exert on a given object, such as small prey items.
Each leg is very spindly, with the bones faintly visible if exposed to a strong light. They have three digits apiece, which are slightly flattened with rougher textured skin, to increase their grip. The middle digit is always longest, with the others more or less equal. The legs are of equal length and roughly identical appearance, though this is hard to gauge in reality, as they are constantly waved and waggled about, as if the Meandrel was holding an animated conversation with an invisible person.
In contrast to the constant movement of its body, the Meandrel has an expression of doll-like vacancy. The mouth is small and unremarkable, but the eyes are very large well suited to an animal which spends so much time in darkness. The eyes are pearly pink, pupil less, and protrude from the head bulbously, in a manner which suggests blindness, though they do appear to be able to detect changes in light. It is generally assumed that their eyes are not their main sensory organ, as they can have only limited use in the darkness of the Meandrel’s habitat. Some Vikh, however, maintain that the Meandrel prefer not to look at the world around them as they deem it ugly, and instead go through life dreaming the world around them, except at full moons, when they deign the moonlight’s beauty to be sufficient to draw them from their reveries.
Apart from the head and legs, which take up only around a fifth of the length of its body, the Meandrel is almost entirely made up of tail. This tail is muscular and extremely flexible, tapering and dorsally flattening slightly towards the tip. Along the length of the body, two parallel rows of small holes can be seen. These are the slime pores, and not, as has been speculated, breathing holes. This can be demonstrated by picking a Meandrel up and holding it in the air (not with bare hands!), where the mucus can be seen to ooze directly from the pores.
The Meandrel is a denizen of the darkest waters of the Drifting Woods. Its long, sinuous and highly flexible shape allow it to slide effortlessly through the narrowest gaps between tree roots, and the sensitive tips of its eighteen tiny fingers allow it to feel its way in complete darkness. It also appears to have an excellent sense of smell, as hundreds of Meandrel will congregate within an hour if a dead animal falls into the starwells. They can smell blood and decay, and it draws them from the cracks and crevices of who knows where (see
Despite their grim dietary preferences, there are creatures in the starwells that would prey on Meandrel, especially given that their pale skin shows up well when they come to the surface to feed. In order to deter predators, they secrete copious amounts of thick, transparent and sticky mucus, from rows of pores all along their sides. It has been observed that they can produce enough of this slime in ten minutes to fill a bucket. This, coupled with the fact that their bodies are flexible enough that they can tie themselves in knots, makes them almost impossible to keep a hold on.
If a predator should, by some fluke, catch a Meandrel, they have one last defence, which is also used in catching their prey (see diet). The tongue of a Meandrel is long, and at its tip divides into a bunch of tiny stinging tentacles, whose touch, however light, causes pain severe enough to deter any creature which feels it. Thus those few species which do specialise in hunting the Meandrel are always careful to quickly remove and discard the head.
Territory. The Meandrel is confined solely to the aquatic labyrinths of the Drifting Woods, or Sar’estvokar, in North-western Nybelmar. There are related amphibians in many cave systems, including those halfway across the disk. This still poses a conundrum to researchers, though the obscurity of such animals, given that they live largely in dark, unexplored and inaccessible places, offers hope that there is a simple solution, as yet undiscovered.
Habitat/Behaviour. The Meandrel, like other cave newts, confines itself to dark areas of subterranean habitats, in particular those afforded by the starwells of the Drifting Woods. Although it can survive out of the water for a short time, it very rarely ventures onto land, as its legs are too weak to support it.
Instead it lurks in the darkest reaches of the starwells, perpetually following its sensitive nose in search of food. If a large animal falls into the water, it will occasionally draw large numbers of Meandrel to feed, forming a writhing white mass of worm-like bodies, heads buried in decaying meat. Apart from these meetings, and when they breed (see Mating), Meandrel are apparently solitary, and little is known about their habits.
The exception to this solitary existence can be seen if you stand by a starwell on a clear, strongly moonlit night. On such nights, Meandrel are much more likely to come near the surface, sometimes in considerable numbers, and though the Vikh maintain that they come out merely to enjoy the beauty of the moonlight, more practical reasons for this behaviour have not been found.
Diet. The beautiful, if strange, appearance of the Meandrel often leads people to suspect a peaceful way of life. They tend to be disappointed. The Meandrel, like many other deep water creatures, lives on what it can find. Its excellent sense of smell allows it to seek out blood or decaying flesh from strals away, if the water is still, though if storms disturb their habitat they often go hungry, or end up lost at sea, confused into following scents that lead nowhere.
Meandrel also eat smaller live organisms, up to a couple of nailsbreadths long – they rarely try to tackle anything they can’t swallow whole. To catch live prey, they use their unusual tongues, which they can shoot out to their full length of around four seven nailsbreadths. The end of this tongue is covered in tiny tentacles, and stings painfully to touch, a sensation described by some travellers as like the bite of a fire myrmex, but more persistent. With the aid of this specialized tongue a Meandrel can catch and subdue anything it detects moving in front of it, provided it’s small enough.
Mating. Meandrel breed fairly irregularly, though anecdotal evidence from local merfolk suggests they usually time their egg-laying to coincide with the beginning of the stormy season.
When a female is ready to lay, she produces a substance which binds to her mucus, allowing a male to track her movements. In reality, it is usually several males that seek out individual females, and converge on her in a “breeding ball” – essentially a serpentine wrestling match with the female at the centre. The female, disregarding the turmoil surrounding her, looks for a narrow, secluded nook among the submerged tree roots in which to lay her eggs. On entering this chamber, she leaves the males to fight it out, as the narrow entrance will allow only one or two males to follow her – usually the quickest or fiercest of the pursuers.
The female lays hundreds of eggs, in a free floating mass that looks like a cloud of tiny, floating pink pearls, each connected to the others by a thick, milky mucus coating. The male(s) fertilise these eggs as they are released. The parents then disperse. It is unlikely that they will meet their offspring again, and if they happen to chance upon them when very young, they will almost certainly eat them.
The young don’t hatch until the first storm of the year has passed. The importance of this storm appears to be in scattering the eggs over a wide area, where they are less likely to attract congregations of predators, especially adult Meandrel, which would quickly decimate the numbers. When the eggs do hatch, the baby Meandrel are only three nailsbreadths long, but are nonetheless perfect replicas of the adults they will grow into. The vast majority will be eaten before reaching maturity, but the high numbers of eggs laid by each female, and the storm-aided dispersal, help ensure that some young from any batch will survive to breed.
Usages. As mentioned above, the Ter’ei’Vikh people of the Drifting Woods will occasionally hunt Meandrel, as they are an easy meal if the right approach is used, and make good bait for other kinds of hunting.
To catch some Meandrel, the Vikh first find some old, slightly decaying meat, usually mainly consisting of offal and blood, and often referred to as “ugly song” for the grisly attraction it holds for the intended quarry. This mixture is tipped into the water, preferably a decent distance from any habitation (as the smell tends to linger), and the fishermen settle down to wait for Meandrel to turn up. Of course, in the diverse waterways of the Drifting Woods, many other fish and aquatic creatures are liable to be drawn by the smell of blood and rancid flesh, and these are skilfully trapped with specialised barbed throwing nets. Meandrel, being so numerous and so keen on the smell of the ugly song, are usually the main catch, and they are therefore the intended quarry.
Despite their copious slime and stinging bite, the Meandrel has an extremely palatable flesh, and makes excellent pies, as the meat is very tender and rich, going well with nuts and spicy flavours. The main problem in eating them is that, initially, they are so difficult to handle. The Vikh get around this by wrapping their hands tightly in tough leaves or strangling vine, which offers a better grip, and prevents the Meandrel from stinging. They are then despatched whilst still caught in the nets (the barbs embedded in the mesh prevents the sinuous amphibians from simply slipping through). Once they stop wriggling they are much easier to handle, and they can be skinned and rinsed of any vestiges of slime.
Less popular is the practice of harvesting and eating the glutinous egg mass of Meandrel, either by opportunistically fishing for clumps that float to the surface after storms, or by keeping a couple of Meandrel in waterproof baskets, covered by thick cloth to exclude light. They are fairly easy to breed in captivity like this, and the jelly, though an acquired taste it is beloved of some. More valuable is its use as an emergency burn remedy – any form of scald or burn injury can be lessened and, to an extent, healed, by being smeared with fresh Meandrel egg-jelly, and then securely wrapped. Unfortunately, the jelly is highly perishable, as when the Meandrels start to develop they consume the jelly. Thus it is a common feature of a household to keep a few Meandrel, just in case. And excess babies will, of course, make an admirable meal.
Myth/Lore. The unsavoury dietary preferences of Meandrel, their slimy bodies and stinging tongue, have given the Meandrel a bad name among the merfolk they share their home with. They are regarded as bad luck, and as unclean animals, which is unsurprising, when you think about it; they are essentially giant stinging, slime making, underwater versions of maggots. Thus their opinion of the Ter’ei’Vikh practice of hunting and eating Meandrel is disparaging, to say the least.
There are a variety of interesting tales concerning the Meandrel, though the extent to which the teller truly believes what they say is debatable. The Nybelmer have been known to assert that Meandrel are born from the mouths of the largest fish as they take their dying gulps of water.
The Vikh, in contrast, say that they are the ghosts of stillborn children, and the children of drowned women. Apparently they don’t believe this too strongly though, as it doesn’t stop them eating Meandrel – it seems to be more of a scary story for children than deeply held mythology.
Researchers. The compiler of this entry would like to take this opportunity to thank the various Vikh fishermen who offered information regarding the habits and uses of the Meandrel, and to reiterate her gratitude for their hospitality.