much as a faint noise a slim silhouette slowly shifts along the horizon. The
brilliant sun shines onto the cracked
land of the Makadi Gadi saltpan. The salt panels that have formed over the day
emanate such intense heat the air blurs up
to 3 peds above the ground.
The Shen'Siuu ("Salt People") stay away from the saltpan, they know even their
strongest men will falter if they planned to go out there.
None the less, a small gathering of them sit a dash away from their nomad settlement, and stare out into Makadi Gadi, their eyes fixed on the slim shape out there. The figures is thin and stands out little from the bright colour of the salt flats, the nomad children squint their little grey-green eyes trying vigorously to keep track of the shape. As the silhouette continues moving, it is soon joined by another, and together the two blurred slim figures wander the horizon…
Just when the younglings are about to give up and head back to the temporary village, one of the elders jumps up and points out into the distance. The others look to where the man points and come to see it too: The before almost camouflaged shape now stands out from its flat surroundings with a bright sou’cald blue and teki red tops. The group of nomads stands up and once each one of them is equipped with a water bag and the necessary tools they head out towards the colourful outcrop… Thanks to the 'Saltswamp' Stalker the settlement will once again have water for the coming days…”
The Saltstalker (also
referred to as "Saltswamp Stalker" or "Saltmarsh Heron") derives from the bird
family. Although it has wings it is one of the birds which has never found good
use for its wings and so remains on the floor. It stands 1 and a half
peds tall from feet to
head. Its legs are long and thin, equipped with strong and efficient muscles,
covered only with a leathery skin. The main body is quite small and is covered
in small thin feathers varying in brownish colours, not too distant from the
colours found in the Makadi Gadi Plains.
The small torso is flanked with two proportionally small wings, that if used would only allow the Stalker to glide small distances close to the ground. Its rear is decorated with a small outcrop of 1 fore feathers. From this small heat resistant body sticks out a long slim neck. Once again this part is covered in thin feathers apt for reflecting heat and keeping the body underneath it as cool as possible. On this thin but sturdy neck we have the head of the Stalker.
The head is probably the most eccentric part of this bird: Its strong, short but wide beak is followed by two cavities which are often mistaken for nasal cavities. However these form the exterior part of a delicate but most effective moisture sensing organ. Furthermore there is the bird’s crest: Usually the creature’s long feathered crest is down and grows out like a mane along the Stalker’s neck varying little in colour from the creature's other feathers. However when triggered, this mane of feathers of about 2 fores erects upwards and forms an impressive crest of colour-rich feathers. Varying between from sou’cald blue to teki red. This action often occurs when the Stalker has sensed water in the ground below. Although this is meant to warn other pack members about the find, the Shen'Siuu have learnt to watch out for this event and use the birds’ ability to find water.
The Saltstalker's entire body is structured in such a way that it can resist the
extreme high temperatures that reign the days in Makadi Gadi. Firstly we have
the feather structure: The Stalker’s feathers are very thin, and cover the body
in such a way that there is nearly no insulation at all. On top of this the
Stalker’s feathers shimmer to a great extent, which both reflects a large amount
of the sun’s radiated heat but also lends
the feathers a unique beauty about them.
In the Makadi Gadi areas there is little that could provide shelter in the flat lands, so that if threatened the Saltstalker has to rely on its strong muscular legs, to carry it rapidly and swiftly away from danger. This strong but still light muscular build at its legs allows the Stalker to reach high speeds if necessary. Running at high speeds though is risky for the creatures themselves, since it takes a lot of energy and with the heat beating down on them, the situation can and has often ended up killing the bird itself from exhaustion.
The moisture sensing organ of the Saltstalker is probably its most important feature. Without it these birds would have little chance of surviving the harsh conditions of the Makadi Gadi salt plains. The organ itself is within the bird’s skull, protected by the encasing bone around it. The sensors are on the outside of the bird’s skull. Between the eyes and the nose cavities, are two depressions each of which forms a sensor to this magnificent organ.
The importance of the feather crest is debateable: To the birds themselves this is merely a colourful feature used to communicate visually with other pack members, or also used in the mating ritual. The importance here is small, however to the humans, the Shen'Siuu, this feature is essential to spot when the Stalker which is observed from a distance has found water. Only once the sign is spotted do the tribe’s people move out into the blistering heat.
Territory. The Stalkers are quite free when it comes to territory, similarly to the people who depend on them these birds are of nomadic nature. They move around in an area ranging from Cape Strata up to Bardavos, often avoiding the Ráhaz-Dáth Desert, for even these birds cant find water there. Similarly, these birds have been seen wandering around the Scattersand Shoals. How these non-flying birds arrived upon this archipelago is a problem to which many a theory has been created, ranging from ridiculous to possibly containing a grain of truth. Although these creatures do have some sense for territory, it is flexible and trespassing of territories is simply ignored. Having the ability to survive harsh climates and having reproduced rapidly, the Saltstalker has become an abundant creature in the South Sarvonian plains and has taken on the role of “the sheep of the desert”.
Habitat/Behaviour. The Saltswamp Stalker is a peaceful creature in its nature. Both calm and relaxed, it walks the plains in packs and lives its life having little effect on its surroundings. Packs range from about 7 up to 13 Stalkers. The group contains an equal amount of males and females and a leader is often just marked at random. One day one of the Stalkers might lead the pack, another day this might change. This passing on of control is done peacefully and only rarely do fights emerge. Being well natured, the Stalker has a somewhat peculiar way of showing anger or ‘fighting’ another of its kind: If two Stalkers fight each other, they simply ignore one another. This has often led to both candidates getting lost and separated from the pack, however being peaceful and somewhat simple minded, the Stalkers have kept this behaviour.
Diet. These birds are herbivores, and feed on any form of vegetation they come across in the dryness of the lands they stroll through. Some Stalkers which have come to find the coast developed a taste for fish and other maritime creatures which they could pick out from the water. Mainly though these creatures have maganged to develop their body so that they can store up water and live on this only. Since the Stalker can find water, it is easier for it to do so than to visually search for food. It takes in the water it finds and then goes through the desert feeding daily on the water it has stored and the rich minerals which it contains. This way the Stalker can go through arid areas without the need to have to wander around looking for food.
Mating. Similar to other birds the Saltswamp Stalker lays eggs. These are about one fore tall and due to their size and contents are often hunted after by the Shen'Siuu. The mating process is regular and needs little explanation. The process of breeding the egg though is rather peculiar. Due to the nomadic nature of these birds, the females do not have a chance to lay their eggs into nests. They lay the eggs and then the male Sstalker picks these up and uses the short wings for a nest like holding spot on the feathered back. There the egg is then held while the Saltstalker move on. Although this process of carrying the egg on the back may seem risky and dangerous for the egg, however due to the large number of Stalkers it is safe to conclude that the task of carrying the egg until it hatches is an important task for the male Stalker. The egg hatches after about 3 weeks, after which the hatchling has to immediately learn to search for food and water, and walk as much as possible to train the legs for the long journeys ahead of them.
Usages. Saltstaker can be of use due to their feathers and their eggs, but also because of their abilities, though a direct taming is not possible:
While the body feathers of the stalker are merely shimmering and a small item of value only to the poorer people, the colourful crest feathers are of great value both to the nomads as well as to noblemen and artists in the cities, especially for the amantry industry.
Providing a lot of nutrients, they are a special dish in the cities and a normal food resource for the nomadic tribes. None the less, these eggs are hard to attain.
Various attempts have been made to tame the Saltswamp Stalker, however, none have resulted in success. Keeping the Stalkers in captivity and trying to breed the animals resulted in catastrophical outcomes. The Stalkers fell to a sort of depression and finally died from self starvation. Most Shen'Siuu people, and other nomadic tribes though have learnt that these animals require space and freedom, and thus have learnt to live with them.