The domesticated Riding Kuro, named for its purr-like call, is a medium sized beast used for fast travel over the harsh desert lands of southwestern Aeruillin. Their large feet, tough hide and low water consumption make them a highly valuable travel companion but are rarely used as work animals. The Kuro is exclusively bred and deeply coveted by the Rhulran people, particularly by the mysterious Rhulran Sand Shifters.
The Kuro, mistakenly identified by some foreigners as a gigantic bird, stands
just under two peds tall at
the head and struts about on a pair of hind legs. The Kuro’s haunch is heavily
muscled and the animal’s torso makes up the majority of its mass since the trunk
narrows into a long flexible neck on one end and a thick tail on the other. The
Kuro trunk is shaped roughly like that of a horse
though riding one unsaddled is virtually impossible due to the incline of one’s
spine when standing straight.
The Kuro does have a pair of forelegs, or arms, which aid in getting into and out of a laying position as well as grooming. Otherwise, the small limbs ending in stubbed, clawed paws are useless. The Kuro’s feet, on the other hand, have been known to range from one to two fores in length. While the Rhulran people sometimes refer to a person who cannot dance as being Kuro-footed, kuro are in fact as agile as they are fast. The pads of the kuro feet are a dark brown-black, extremely tough and cracked, and while they do have claws, the black nails often chip off in adulthood with no pain to the creature.
The Kuro is covered in a thick, coarse beige or light brown fur, though they have been known to have white, brown, black and even red markings on the ears, nose and back. The fur is relatively short though males often grow a sort of mane from the bottom of their chin down the length of their neck in the first years of adolescence, known as drapery. While all males do develop some form of drapery and it serves no practical purpose, keepers and females alike look kindly upon kuro with drapery that is lush, full and a well maintained as a sign of health and fecundity. A domesticated male with tangled drapery is sad sight and to braid or adorn it would be a disgrace.
The head of the Kuro is just smaller than that of a horse and takes a sharp, sleek shape like that of a fox or dog. The muzzle is long and narrow, used to burrow in the sand in search of food and water, tipped with a dark black nose. Kuro have teardrop upright ears about the size of a human hand and small black eyes sunken into the skull and protected by long lashes in defense of sand and wind. Kuro have sharp teeth and long tongues for pulling out rough desert grasses.
While standing, the Kuro is not quite upright like a person and will often dip its shoulders and neck when moving or interacting with another. In a run, the kuro will drop its head and raise its tail to become almost horizontal, the tail swaying sideways and the forearms slack for balance.
Kuro have several natural defenses that allow them to survive in the desert in
addition to their already primed physical traits. The saliva of the Kuro is a
thick mucus that they use to groom themselves and one another. As it dries, the
coarse fur interlocks together and acts as a shield against the hot
sun and piercing sand storm winds, as well
trapping water lost from perspiration. While some handlers have used saliva to
fortify their own cloaks on the worst days, most say that the smell is enough to
not bother trying. Kuro need very little food or
water to sustain themselves but still devote most of their time in the wild
to finding sustenance due to its general scarcity. Kuro are quite adept at
digging shallow holes very quickly with their powerful legs and huge feet, and
do so to find food or water as well as to make a temporary nest to sleep in.
Kuro have very poor eyesight but an excellent sense of smell which can detect
food and even water under the sand.
The most impressive ability of the kuro is its speed. Compared to a horse or some dogs, the kuro may win no races on firm land; it is on the shifting, sweeping sand dunes of the desert instead where most sink that the kuro can maintain a steady run for hours as easily as on paving. The long feet of the Kuro travel both back and outwards in a full run, pushing into the sand with the broadest pads and effectively keeping the animal and its rider ‘afloat’.
Territory. The Rhulran people, specifically Shifters, have been domesticating and breeding kuro for many generations in the area south of the Nashrhul Oasis and, due to their skittish nature in the wild, this is where they are most often spotted by travelers. Naturally, Kuro breed on the northern crest of the Desert of Ysthalinth though rarely approach the coast to the west. They travel in small family groups, anywhere from three to six adults, and migrate year round as needed in search of food, water and other groupings.
Habitat/Behaviour. Wild Kuro are skittish and are more likely to flee than challenge an active stranger in broad daylight; coupled with their excellent sense of smell and camouflaged colouring, wild Kuro are a rare sight for an untrained eye. Within their family groups, kuro are highly social and spend a lot of their time grooming and playing. Pups are groomed by their mothers and mates groom one another, licking, pawing and rubbing one another with their necks. Otherwise, kuro use their powerful hind legs to dig for water and food, or chase each other across the dunes.
Domesticated Kuro become very attached to their handler, so much so that they may only have one from childhood or risk becoming confused and unmanageable. Because of this strong bond, it is difficult for a handler to have more than two animals at any given time without permanent assistance. Young Kuro are playful and energetic, fond of rubbing their necks against people and then biting them. As they age, many become highly involved in whatever their work their handler has assigned to them, making adult Kuro somewhat aloof during down times. While Kuro will happily eat when fed from a trough or feeding muzzle, it is generally believed that this dulls the senses and weakens the spirit. Riders therefore prefer to allow their beasts to find food as they would naturally, raising and training young Kuro on the outskirts of civilization.
Diet. Kuro eat mostly vegetation, but also insects and small snakes or lizards. They find food not unlike a chicken, scratching at the sand with their large feet to reveal whatever morsel they may find. The Kuro’s sense of smell is strong enough to detect water and uses this to locate cacti or shallow water deposits in the sand.
Mating. Kuro live to be about fifteen years old and come into adolescence at three. Family groups are loosely defined by the females while males will switch up to five family groups in their lifetime. When one grouping comes into contact with another in the wild, they will mingle for several days and then part ways rearranged based on any new pairings. Should there be fewer females than males, the latter will fight by scratching one another with their feet and hitting necks. Females tend to choose males that show both physical health and social aptitude, the latter determined through grooming habits.
Kuro have only one pup at a time and it spends most of its first year within arm’s reach of its mother. Pups look much like smaller versions of their parents, though are covered in a softer, longer ‘down’ fur which sheds once the bottom coat has thickened out.
Because of the difficulty of raising kuro and the subsequent scarcity of breeders, most handlers are not overly picky about pairing for looks, but rather for health and general strength. Handlers make agreements with other riders they meet on their travels to arrange breeding dates in advance.
Usages. Kuro are used for their speed and endurance in the harsh desert, and rarely for any sort of heavy labor. A Kuro pulling a cart or a plow is considered an abused one and the handler risks scorn and even persecution from the community for doing so. Messengers, scouts, caravan escorts and even rescue efforts are the most common uses for kuro and their riders. Some social circles of riders will congregate during a communal Festival of Celebration and hold unofficial races, bringing both immense excitement and pride to the chosen village. These races, depending on the discretion of the riders participating, can vary from short sprints and challenge courses to grueling five day marathons.
A rider or handler must be utterly devoted to his trade to succeed, since Kuro require a lot of attention, training, patience and riding expertise to be put to good use. Due to the high demand of the job, handlers are few and far between, well respected and well paid by clients. Kuro breeding and riding is almost never a family business due to the constant movement and devotion required. It is said that a child gifted with handling kuro is both a treasure and a curse for they will become as scarce a person as they are great. Breeders and riders tend to socialize within their own groups, the most extreme example being the secretive and evasive Shifters. Riders therefore hold a double standard amongst the general community; they are respected and awed for their skill and devotion but equally distanced and even distrusted due to their vagrant nature. Kuro riders and many common Rhulrans consider horses to be an utterly inferior species to be used only for labor, often sparking tensions with the Azhorhrians. While there has been some limited communication between Rhulran riders and the aj’nuvic-riding Shendar of Sarvonia, each generally regard rumors of the other as odd and backward and the descriptions of their beasts to be outrageous and silly.
The Kuro saddle, made of either traditional wicker or leather, is raised at the rear to account for the sloped posture of the animal, allowing the rider to be upright when his Kuro is. When riding, the rider must tuck in his elbows and lean as the kuro does as well as curl his legs up to rest out of the way of the creature’s haunches. Reins are secured at the head and directed by pulling down either left or right.