snakes are usually akin to lizards one wouldn't recognize this when viewing the
gigantic Ráhaz'Estár, the living horror of Southern
Sarvonian Continent. It resembles much more
a nightmare of a snake combined with the strength and size of a
So the Ráhaz'Estár or Giant Rock Snake is one of the great dangers a traveller can encounter while crossing the desert of the Ráhaz'Dáth. With its length of up to seven peds it is one of the biggest predators of the desert and its ability to melt with its surroundings while lying unmovingly and waiting for its prey not seldom cause the death of incautious travellers. Though being big and strong this snake nevertheless kills the prey with its lethal venom.
The Shendar however, the nomadic living tribe of the Ráhaz'Dáth, know how to find the snake, kill it and use its valuable skin and bones for constructing their domes and making the finest, light weight, but hardest armours known.
Image description: The horror of the southern Sarvonian region around the Desert of Ráhaz'Dáth: The terrible Ráhaz'Estár. Picture drawn by Mikael.
If you are so unfortunate to meet a Ráhaz'Estár, you might see first: A dark
rock, a pit of sand with a slight pattern, an old fallen trunk of a tree, a
white structured irregularity of the rim of the salt pans or any other landscape
detail, but soon you will discover your error and hopefully the lethal venom of
the snake will work fast, so that you don't encounter the experience of being
eaten and devoured alive. In these few seconds before your death you will see
one of the most impressive beasts the Ráhaz'Dáth has to offer:
A mouth heavily armed with sharp long fangs will be the first thing to attract your attention. Especially the long tubular fangs at the edges of the jaw which act as injector teeth of the venom. The head is big and looks somewhat square and seems heavy. - Or maybe you are staring at the yellow, lidless eyes with round pupils which seem to hypnotise you? Probably you won't have an eye for the strong and muscular body. Though this snake has an elongated body, tail and no limbs like all of its relatives, it is not as elegant as others of its kind and more heavily bodied due to its more sedentary life. It is said that there was a Rock Snake which was eleven peds long, but the biggest skins found after they are shed from the snake are not longer than seven peds.
The entire body and tail is covered with scales. These scales are arranged in longitudinal rows, mostly large and shield shaped. The ones on the ventral surface of the body are modified into broad plates and are used in locomotion.
The colouration of the snake varies, depending in which surrounding it lives. There are dark, shiny ones found near the volcano Norong'Sorno, matching the black volcanic stones there, but the snakes living near the salt pans show nearly white skins with a pattern resembling the salty, cracking crust of the nearby dried lakes. Several other varieties are found, depending on the environment and rumours say that once an innocent traveller tried to rest on a trunk which turned out to be his death. It is still not clear how much the snakes have adapted to their living area over some time or are able to a kind of camouflage to hide themselves in the terrain. Most are blotched and spotted in a way that they melt with the surrounding.
The elongated, limbless body of the rock snake permits it to be soundless in
motion, invisible at rest and almost unlimited in its access to hiding places -
if they are big enough for this enormous snake.
Being very heavy the Rock Snake uses mostly a rectilinear way of locomotion: the body moves in a straight line using a flow of muscle contractions along the sides. The body musculature is used for sequential lifting, anchoring and pushing against individual ventral scales. A smaller kind of the Ráhaz'Estár however, which lives in desert regions where the sandy underground doesn't provide sufficient resistance, have developed another way of moving. They do not go forward, but sideways by lifting up their body and lowering it in a certain way which allows them to progress forward. This leaves certain marks in the sand which can be found and can be the only hint that a Rock Snake is somewhere around. In these places it hides sometimes totally, being able to vanish in the sand within a few moments. Only part of the head with the eyes and the nostrils are not covered.
As said above, it is not clear if there are various kinds of Rock Snakes which have adapted to their special environment or if they are able to change their colour. Some theories say that the snake is able to exchange the pigments which give the scales its colours very rapidly. Others claim that there are hints that the sunlight is reflected by the scales of the snake in a way so that it resembles its surrounding. Unfortunately the Ráhaz'Estár is not an animal which allows easy research. The skin is molted in unregular time spans, depending on how fast the snake is growing, but this dead skin doesn't allow to draw conclusions how the hiding works.
Regardless of the colour the skin is one of the miracles of the desert. It is so strong and impenetrable that a Rock Snake is nearly not to kill, though it has some enemies. So a Rock Snake might come to death through internal bleedings when a herd of furious karas are trying to kill it and break all bones. But the skin will be unharmed. No oracau or other big predator will be successful if the snake is not caught by surprise and be bitten just behind the neck. But the victor won't be able to feast of its prey, it can't penetrate the skin.
The head is, as with any other snake, the most remarkable feature. Between the nostrils and the eyes is a zone which is receptive for heat and allows the snake to recognize a prey due to changes in the radiation of heat despite the hot environment it lives in.
The snake has no external ears, the reception of sound is entirely by bone conduction within the skull, allowing to hear some earthborn sound waves. Its skull is characterised by mobility. It is light with only a few bones which are connected in a way that allow slight rotation or movement of one segment upon another. The lower jaws can be detached from the upper ones. The only compact unit is the central braincase.
The teeth are long, needle sharp and slightly recurved. This facilitates swallowing and prevents loss of food, because the only direction a food item, which may be alive when swallowed, can go to escape the teeth, is down the throat.
The rock snake has, like other snakes, an organ in the roof of the mouth which enables it to smell very little amounts of specific substances when they are picked up on the double tipped tongue and brought into the mouth to analyse. While it is not as important for the Rock Snake for trailing and finding prey, it tells it however which kind of prey is near or if it is one of the rare enemies.
The venom of the Rock Snake is very lethal. It is not only the huge quantity, but the quickness it works. This is important because despite the speed the snake can act while biting, it is not very mobil in tracking the prey, so the venom has to work quickly. It affects mostly the motoric functions and respiration and causes death through suffocation.
Territory. Unfortunately the Ráhaz'Estár does not belong to a rare species. So in fact Ráhaz'Dath, being an elvish word (Ráhaz'Dath), means "Snake Place" and Ráhaz'Estár (Ráhaz'Estár) "Giant Snake". It is quite common overall the Ráhaz'Dath, where the underground isn't too wet. An exception being the salty springs near the Norong'Sorno where the salt snake lives in parts of the springs. Some places are however more to its liking than others. So it is very common in the Yar'Dangs, where such a snake sometimes resembles one of the rocks, but as often it is covered from the sands between the rocks and can't be seen until it is too late. The Volcano and the close Lands of Pain are to their liking as the plain sand desert in the east. The open woodlands are a favourite place as well, not so however the Nirmenith mountains, though some are found in the southern part of the Aj'nuvics Grounds. The only real safe place is the Oka'Seri Swamp.
Habitat/Behaviour. One can discern between Hunting Habits and Social Habits:
Rock Snakes don't hunt by tracking down a prey, they stay in one place and wait for it to approach, rather than engaging in a search for food. Lying for hours in the heat of the day, they don't move until a prey is near. They live up to their name by lurking silently and unmovingly which is also the main reason why they are often mistaken for a rock or part of the landscape. Even the extremely slow movement of the snake often doesn't allow the beast to be discerned from the background. But upon sensing its prey the Ráhaz'Estár comes to life very suddenly and can ambush an unsuspecting victim within seconds with its lethal venom. Most times it aims for a vulnerable part of the body like the throat, but even if it catches only a leg or another part of the body the venom will work, it takes just some more time. The prey will have problems with respiration and not be able to run too far.
When threatened the Rock Snake rises the first third of its body , parts of the head and the body behind the head are filled very quickly with body liquid and therefore the snake looks far bigger and extremely dangerous, especially when the mouth is open to take the information about scent in, the fangs can be seen, some venom already dropping from the biggest ones...
The Rock Snake lives as its closest relatives solitary. Hiding places and basking sites may be shared but only if there are not enough places available. In the driest time of the year some Rock Snakes enter a period of dormancy and several are found in one cave. There is no establishment of a hierarchy, no territoriality, no dominance.
As a carnivorous creature the Ráhaz'Estár feasts mostly on smaller animals which
it devours completely. But bigger prey like wild aka'pis, the big variety of the
kara or one of the sentient races are no problem either to swallow as a whole by
the bigger individuals of this kind due to the ability to detach the lower from
the upper jaw. But whenever the younger and smaller individuals are killing
bigger prey or humans they can not swallow as
a whole they are able to separate head and limbs from the body and to devour
them too - a quite horrifying act as survivors of a direct encounter describe
Mating. Shortly before or after the dormancy mating takes place. In this situation a partner is available, concentrated and receptive. The male winds himself around the female, using a rubbing technique to stimulate the female. Fertilisation can take place immediately, but the female is able to store the sperms for several years as well. This helps especially in places where dormancy does not happen because there is no need for it and an aggregation is not so common, contact of a pair is not necessary.
Growth. Eggs are forming after the fertilisation which have a firm, yet pliable, leathery shell, permeable to gases and liquids, but able to retain much of its liquid contents. The female then deposits the entirely clutch of eggs in a protected, damp, warm and dark place, often along with other females. They remain with the eggs until the young snakes hatch to protect them.
The young snake, only about half a ped long, is able to look after itself from the first hour on. Its first act is to extent its tongue and taste the surroundings. Young Giant Rock Snakes begin to feed immediately after hatching, displaying considerable ability in the capture and consumption of prey. They hatch with functional venom glands and fangs and are capable of using them immediately. All are born with a bright green tail tip which contrasts strongly with the rest of the body colouration. They are capable of waving and shaking it in a way which attracts the attention of a possible prey. Within a very short time after birth the first sloughing of the skin takes place.
The rate of growth is dependent of the availability of food and temperatures high enough to allow the body functions to work at full speed. If the circumstances are optimal, they grow very fast and after one year the snake can already have a length of five peds.
A regular event during the active times is the molting of the skin. Dormant snakes do not shed their skin. It happens several times in a year.
The Dance. Though some think the following description of the dance of the Ráhaz'Estár is a mere myth and nobody would survive the encounter of two snakes, other swear that they have observed it. It is not known if this dance is a mating ritual or has any other purpose, but it was discovered that the two snakes are often male and not of different gender. So there is another mystery to be solved. The dance is described as follows:
It must be an extraordinary sight: At the beginning two snakes are lying unmoving in the sand, not far apart from each other, only the heads with rapidly moving tongues slightly higher than the rest of the body. Nearly simultaneously both heads rise, the snakes move towards each other and finally they are nearly touching each other, the first third of their bodies upright in the air, the rest wound up tightly under the respective head. After a seemingly endless time the heads begin to move, slightly swinging from side to side, then towards each other. This may go on for hours till finally the two bodies are wound around each other, up to half the body length. After some time in this position they suddenly unwind, lower their heads slowly, rest for a while and move then away in different directions.
History. It is known that the Ráhaz'Estár represented the figure of God for the Dark Hammer's Guild, an association of criminals and murderers terrorizing the peoples of southern Sarvonia during the late Age of Awakening. The members of the guild with headquarters in the filthy town of Thalambath sacrificed hundreds of maidens and many other lives to satisfy the needs of their declared God. The horrible dungeons of the Dark Hammer's Guild still exist under Thalambath nowadays and serve as the local prison.
Myth/Lore. In the night when the Shendar are sitting around the burning fires one of the favourite tales told are the one about the origin of the Ráhaz'Estar:
"Once, so goes the story, there was a big golden red dragon who served Foiros, the God of Fire. Foiros loved this dragon which resembled him so much in his golden brightness that people often mistook the dragon for him. But that didn't bother Foiros. Indeed, he was so fond of the golden beauty of the dragon that he promised him to infinite power if he would look for an equal golden red mate to produce a clutch of golden eggs and little golden descendants. These golden dragons then should serve as his representations whereever Foiros was worshipped.
But the golden dragon had already found its soul mate, but didn't dare to say so to Foiros. And so his descendants weren't only golden red, but of the colours of the mother as well, that was a shiny bronze and a mossy golden green. When Foiros learned that his favourite dragon hadn't obeyed him, he was very furious and in his rage he banned the two parent dragons into the sky where they still can be seen in the constellation of the Flame.
The children of the two however where banned to live on the ground forever and shouldn't be able to fly again. And so he took away from them not only the wings, but the limbs as well. And because the little dragons had different colours, the Rock Snakes have different colours as well."
-- "Legends of Religions" by Talia Sturmwind, p. 70 f.
This tale may be the cause that the Shendar respect and fear the Ráhaz'Estár, but never hate it or find it disgusting as other people do. They believe that the two not so bright stars in the lower part of the cross the Flame forms are representing the two dragons. When the constellation disappears completely in the north at the end of the Month of the Passing Clouds astronomers can often observe that the stars following the guiding star move closer to their guide, and sometimes even seem to crash into it. The Shendar interpret this - unlike the elven astronomer Kará'kái - as the attempt of the two banished dragons to persuade Foiros to forgive them and give back their descendants the ability to fly. The Shendar however are not interested in flying Rahaz'Estars, so the first little prayer the children are told is:
Foiros, golden flame!
Praised be your name.
Your grace is reaching far
beware the Rahaz' Estár!"
Shendar and the Ráhaz'Estár. Every
sentient being hates and fears the Ráhaz'Estar, not so the
Rock Snake plays an important role
in their lives. It provides them with the "building
material" for their housings, the domes, where the
the skin and the bones from the snake in a very special way. The bones
of the Rock Snakes are the carrying structure, the skin
the cover for the domes. For the most part of the domes, the sheded skin of the
snakes which the Shendar
gather is used, for more critical parts like the entrances or the lower
part up to two peds the skin from the killed snake, being nearly impenetrable,
is preferred. The same is true for the
Shendar armour, only the skin of old, killed snakes
are used for them.
But this is not the only reason why the Shendar honour the Ráhaz'Estár: It plays an important part in a ceremony where selected Shendar youths try to become one of the feared Shendar warriors. This requires to kill a snake alone without help. While this is a true challenge, the killing to gain the skin of the living snake is no problem for the Shendar as long as they hunt it in a group.