The Starwell Phaert is one of the more dangerous creatures of the Drifting Woods in northwestern Nybelmar. Named after the so-called "starwells", large sinkholes in the Drifting Woods that are home to many luminescent creatures and plants, this reptile is a formidable hunter, comparable to the big cats of Sarvonia, and the largest underwater predator in the area. Armed with sharp claws and teeth, and a tough, leathery skin this Phaert surely is a creature to be reckoned with.
Picture description. A young male Phaert caught outside the waters. Image drawn by Sheil.
The Starwell Phaert is, like the other Phaert, a reptilian creature that spends
nearly all its time in and under water. It
can measure up to seven peds
in length when fully grown, of which a third is composed of its tail. They are
sleek creatures, their build perfect for wandering the cavernous depths of the
starwells they live and hunt in.
The head is almost dragon-like like in appearance, although the Phaert are not related to these beasts, and set with bright blue eyes that betray a cunning intelligence.
The Starwell Phaert has a long, flexible neck, and equally slender limbs. Each three-digit paw is adorned with curved, needle-sharp claws, and has a ridged patch underneath to keep a firm grasp of slippery roots and more importantly, prey. Their leathery skin is blue or grey-hued, the subtle blue undertones becoming clearer as the Ohaert grows older. Although both sexes are completely scaled, the male usually has much larger, rough-textured scales than the female. These provide better protection, but make the male Phaert also slightly less elegant in its movements.
The most obvious and best characteristic of this beast however, are the long, flexible spikes that are found in many places on the Starwell Phaert's body. In all it bears four of these spikes on the head, which are often a bit longer than the others, as well as long line of spines following the back of the neck, spine, and tail, and a set of three to five of these odd appendages can be found on the rear side of the upper leg, and at the base of the throat. These spikes emit a soft, blue-white glow save for the 'crown spikes' on adult animal's heads which glow a fairly obvious red. Apart from indicating a Phaert's ability to reproduce by turning red on the head, these spikes are thoguht to be used to accent the beast's bodylangage, both to it's partner and any threats. Because the Stallwell are pitch-black, especially in the deeper zones, the position of the glowing spikes may serve as an 'outline' to indicate a Phaert's disposition.
One of the key features of the Starwell Phaert is its agility. Its spine has
extra chambers between each vertebrae, filled with elastic tissue that allows
the Phaert to twist and wind its way through the maze of roots, tunnels and
holes that line the walls of the starwells. It can curve its neck and body into
a full circle easily and change direction while swimming faster than any other
hunter in the Drifting Woods.
A second special ability is the way they can breathe underwater. Although these Phaert have no gills, they can remain submerged indefinitely, yet are also fully capable of breathing air. The way these beasts have solved the problem of living underwater is not quite certain, although it is suggested that their odd lung texture is related to this ability. These lungs are not, in the way of most animals, more or less hollow sacks of tissue, but are filled instead with a honeycomb-like weave of thin layers of tissue completely. However, in what way this precisely aids the Starwell Phaert is unknown.
Territory. The Starwell Phaert, as its name implies, lives only in the starwells of the Drifting Woods in northwestern Nybelmar. These starwells are large, round holes in the tangle of roots and mud that makes up the forest floor, leading straight down into the dark waters below. Because of the abundance of glowing plants and animals in this strange underwater environment, the starwells seem to be holes into a clear night's sky, filled with moving constellations. The Starwell Phaert makes its burrows in the walls of these wells, and hunts both in the well itself as the connected tunnels and waters. With these large predators being quite territorial, there is never more than one pair of Starwell Phaert in any single well or tunnel. The pair might decide to move to a larger body of water if one becomes available, although they tend to select hunting grounds suitable for their size, instead of going for the largest available option.
In the case of the largest Phaert, secondary pairs may occupy the same well. With the Phaerts' preference for prey of a certain size, they will at first be too small for the older couple to eat, thus, the secondary pair will be able to safely hunt the lesser prey ignored by their neighbours. Until, of course, they grow enough to become prey themselves.
Habitat/Behaviour. Not particularly active during day or night, the Starwell Phaert seems to alternate between hunting and resting as it sees fit, with individuals often taking on a certain rhythm over the years. Knowing these rhythms is often essential for those who wish to hunt or harvest certain things in the starwell!
Picture description. A female Phaert escaping a hunting party by land. Image drawn by Sheil.
always done in the burrow, a hollowed-out space in the walls of the main well or
tunnel of the Phaert's territory. Although unusually tolerant to other small
animals taking up residence in the resting burrow, this changes as soon as eggs
are laid there. At these times, the Phaert vigorously root out every other
creature that dares to show itself in or near the nest.
The Starwell Phaert is not the most sociable of creatures. Other Phaert trying to enter its territory will be attacked on sight, and often eaten, and wandering young are simply ignored. Their mate though, is a different story. Merfolk hunters have reported adult couples to spend hours at a time merely grooming each other, removing parasites and algae growths, or swimming around each other, rubbing along their partner in what has been described as a 'deeply affectionate and respectful' way.
It may be noted that the Phaert makes little to no sounds at all. It is capable of producing a low hiss, both in and out of the water, but rarely does so. Alternatively, when one of a pair of Starwell Phaert is killed, the surviving one will display a mourning behaviour, calling out to their lost partner with wailing sounds that sound both sad as well as enraged. They sometimes rise above the water to call out, and their wails echo thoughout the wood. In times past, these were thought to be the sounds of Earth Spirits that tried to sneak into the woods at night and got trapped within its sacred confines, dying as they sank below the waters.
Diet. Starwell Phaert are voracious carnivores, and not picky about what they eat. They feed on all kinds of invertebrates, mollusks, fish, insects, mammals, and birds when given half a chance. Even their own kind, unlucky humans and, rarely, the Deep Mer that dwell in the same waters can be preyed upon by adult beasts. There seems to be a lower limit to the size of their prey, depending on the size of the Phaert itself, resulting in a fairly safe zone for animals under about a quarter of the beast's length. However, as the Phaert grows, the amount of prey large enough seems to become insufficient at times, such as when the mogo fish retreat into the deep ocean to mate, and they will live of 'lesser' prey when needed.
A curious fact is that the Starwell Phaert's hide is highly resistant to the poisons of the flesh-eating arefi plants. Not only does this safeguard small Phaert when they manage to find an arefi to hide in or under, but it also gives them the freedom to steal the plant's kills when needed. The Phaert will however have taken great care not to eat the tentacle that caught the meal, since its inner tissues are just as vulnerable to the toxins secreted by the plant as most other creatures.
Mating. The Starwell Phaert mate during the storm season. When the temperature drops, those Phaert that have reached their fifth year start wandering the tunnels, looking for empty starwells or sufficiently large surface-to-seabed tunnels. Additionally, wells and tunnels inhabited by fully grown Phaert are often an option, as the younger animals will usually be to small to be attacked for a few years. Once there, the first male and female will claim the territory, and fight any passing intruders of their own sex, to the death if needed. This way, only the strongest Starwell Phaert get to actually reproduce. Once the mating season has passed, most of the adolescents will be coupled, or dead.
Meanwhile, the older Phaert have mated, often several times a day during the female's five or six fertile days that occur more or less randomly during the appropriate season. The resulting clutch of about ten to fifteen fist-sized eggs is safely hidden in their underwater burrow, where the parents take turns in guarding their brood. Just over seven weeks after laying, the eggs will hatch into young Phaert, who will spend a few days in their birthplace, before venturing off into the depths of their parent's hunting grounds allone.
Usages. Although hunting adult Starwell Phaerts is a dangerous business, and one best left to the few Deep Mer hunters who dare to challenge this great beast, the rewards are equally great. Their hide can be fashioned into remarkably light leather armour and protective gear, and the sleek, triangular teeth are excellent arrowheads that remain sharp even when used many times. However, pitching Merfolk against a fully grown Starwell Phaert is such a risky business that most hunts fail, the hunters being driven off by the ferocious couple, or even killed and eaten. The best prey therefore is a lone elder Phaert, whose mate has already died. In this way, the hunters halve their risk by fighting only one of these giant animals at a time, instead of two.