One of the greatest fears of travelers in the dry desert sands of Aeruillin, Living Sand is a swarm creature that preys on everything that lives. Hard to detect, and even harder to get rid off, many encounters with Living Sand end in the death of the unlucky person in question.
Not much is known about
the nature of these creatures. In fact, it is only assumed they are creatures in
the first place. It is certain however, that they measure among the very
smallest living beings on Caelereth, and,
to the naked eye, bear a striking resemblance with ordinary desert sand in both
size, shape, and colour, but are heavier, with sand containing Living Sand
gaining about a tenth in weigth when compared to clean sands from the same
location. Theories have been constructed that this increase in weigth might
prevent the, often fierce, desert winds from
scattering a swarm completely before it manages to submerge and wait for the
storm to pass.
Living exclusively in large groups of several hundreds to many millions of "sand grains", the Living Sand forms swarms that scour the desert. They are at most half a grain long, and half as wide. They are bean-shaped, but where the common bean would have the "eye" in the middle of the dent, the Living Sand has a tiny opening that serves as the mouth. although too small to be seen, it has been found that they will attach themselves to anything edible at this point only, leading to the conclusion they must feed with this part of their body, where a small, dark patch can be seen on dead grains.
The Living Sand has varying colors, based on the sands surrounding the place it has been living. When white-sand coloured Living Sand is placed on yellow sand, the colour will fade over the next few days, and the creature will adapt the colour of its surroundings again. The only way to distinguish living sand from common sand from a distance is therefore to look for patches of sand that appear to reflect the light of the sun better than other places. This is then most likely a swarm of Living Sand, whose smooth exteriors are a bit more shiny than that of the surrounding sands. Ignorant folk who have never actually seen Living Sand will sometimes state that the stench of the murder that gave rise to the Sand still clouds around the swarm, but thorough investigations of both living as dead Living Sand has dismissed this as a fable.
Nothing is known about the way Living Sand moves, yet it does, and a swarm is capable of moving at a fairly high speed, certainly fast enough to outrace a human by foot, although a mounted traveler stands a good chance of escape, if it notices the Living Sand before it starts moving towards the unlucky traveler. Scolars agree there must be some kind of appendage that is used for movement, but that it is probably to small to be seen by human eyes.
The Living Sand's most remarkable feature is the ability to eat anything of
organic origin. Swarms have been reported to feed on animals, plants, leather,
dried fish, eggshells, cut-off hair, and even fertile ground, which is turned
into sand once the creatures are done with it.
A second ability that is considered noteworthy is their movement, for they seem to be completely mobile without having any visible appendages at all, and are capable of moving in dense swarms quite easily.
Also, Living Sand has demonstrated an immense resistance to high temperatures. capable of living in sand hot enough to bake taenish eggs on, they are nigh impossible to burn with normal flames, and even magically created fire has little effect on the swarm as a whole.
Also noteworthy is their sensitivity to sound and vibrations of the soil. This is their main way of finding prey, and compensates for their blindness.
Territory. Living Sand is found only in deserts with reasonable to large amounts of sand, on the continent of Aeruillin. It is unable to move in anything but dry sand, and seems to have a strong preference to the lands closer to the Void, for reasons yet unknown. This does not mean they are completely absent in the northern deserts, but they are very infrequent, and the swarms are generally smaller than the swarms in the southern half of the desert.
Habitat/Behaviour. Living Sand is a rather boring species, as long as it is not trying to eat you. A swarm typically remains stationary for a few hours or days, during which it is actively "hunting" by moving into the direction of each vibration that passes through the sand, such as footsteps, and returns to the same spot after each attempted hunt. After a certain period, that might last a few hours to several days, the swarm becomes more active, and will start moving at high speed into one direction, only turning to pass around obstacles, or when its attention is drawn by some kind of heavy prey. When stationary, the swarm continues to swirl and churn slowly, creating a faint rustling sound that can, especially at night, carry a long way throughout the desert.
When chasing prey, the Living Sand will simply try to occupy the sand directly below the creature, after which it will become stuck in the loose, moving sand, sink down much like it would in quicksand, and be eaten alive. Depending upon the size of the prey and the swarm, the actual feeding can take anything from a few minutes to several hours, during most of which the victim might stay alive, and suffer a feeling to be slowly torn into pieces on all sides, a truely gruesome death.
A rare phenomenon of the desert, where the winds make the dunes whisper and sing, and which is called the Music of the Desert is known to attract swarms from as much as several strals away. Although beautiful to hear, the Music of the Desert is therefore considered an ill omen in Living Sand territory, and feared by its inhabitants.
On the matter of defense against Living Sands there are a few things the traveler must be aware of. Would one encounter a swarm, and notice it before entering, there are only a few things one might do to safe their life. Firstly, running will alert the swarm to your presence much faster than walking, so slowly walking into the other direction is much more advisable as long as the swarm has not yet noticed you.
Secondly, would there be any kinds of rocky ground, or moist earth nearby, it could serve as a safe haven until the swarm moves away again, as they cannot enter such areas. Thirdly, one might consider pouring water onto the swarm. Drowning easily, this will kill a portion of the grains, and make the bits of sand that were sprayed impossible to access until they have dried up again. However, this is not advisable unless a reliable source of water can be found relatively nearby, as traveling without water through the dry desert is a dangerous matter in general.
The Aeruillin tribe of the Azhorhria have devised special flutes, which are crafted from a horse's rib bones. About two spans long, these delicate bones are capable of producing a high-pitched tone, that slowly rises until the human ear can no longer hear it, and the flute itself can be felt trembling in ones hand. This tone is appearently too much for the Living Sand, and even swarms only a few spans away from a prey will abandon everything in order to get away from it as fast as possible.
Of course, magi will have an easier time dealing with Living Sand. Though fire mages are relatively helpless against it due to the Living Sands' natural resistance to great heat, water magi can create impassable barriers of wet sand, and earth magi may turn loose sand to stone, both of which will make one invulnerable to Living Sand attacks.
Diet. As mentioned under Special Abilities, Living Sand is able to eat, and live off, just about everything remotely organic in nature. Though individual grains of Living Sand are, naturally, not big eaters, the swarm, which has been estimated to consist of millions of grains (but typically of only about ten to twenty thousand individuals) can be a major danger for everyone getting to close. The Living Sand swarm, with swirling movements, allows each member of the group to eat their fill, and effectively grinding the flesh off the hapless victim's bones, after which they will devour the bones as well. A swarm is known to be able to do severe damage to the moonmouth worms that share parts of their territory, and in which it meets its only living enemy, for the moonmouth is equally able to devour the Living Sand, as they can gulp it up together with the common sand in an attempt to rid themselves from the ceaseless gnawing, after which the Living Sand usually meets its demise before it is able to eat its way out again. The damaged moonmouths however, can often be found dead within the next few days, due to the damage inflicted on their inner organs by swallowing the swarm - this is often lethal.
Smaller swarms are therefore often ignored, and left behind as the moonmouth retreats to its tunnels of hardened sand, which the Living Sand finds quite difficult to penetrate.
Mating. Mating habits of Living Sand are practically completely unknown, though it can be noted (with some difficulties) that Living Sand can grow and diminish in size. Whether such Sand has increased in size due to eating or due to reproduction however can hardly be determined with the current means of the few researchers who dare to deal with Living Sand.
Myth/Lore. There are various myths and legends about the Living Sand and its origins. It is, for instance, a widespread theory amongst scholars that it is the result of a strange Void phenomenon, that has animated the desert sands. Another theory is that the Living Sand is the result of a Brownie Life-Magic experiment gone wrong, imbuing common sand with life, and a malicious attitude by accident.
A more fantastic tale is the belief that Living Sand comes into existence on the site of murder in the desert, and that the Sand will not rest until it has devoured the murderer, a tale particularly common amongst the settlements on the eastern shores.