Tag Archives: ivokh

May I introduce…Kaati

I’m almost afraid to say this but…the concept graphic is finished. I know I’ll tinker at the fine details, but the ideas floating around in my head since 2004 have finally coalesced into something ‘real’. For the first time in 15 years, I can say ‘this is what the iVokh look like’.

Sorry to make the image so big, but I wanted you to be able to see the details. More importantly, I want you to be able to tell me where I’ve missed something, or got the perspective wrong or the lighting or the biology or any one of a million things that I literally can’t see any more.

In short, I’m asking you all to be my beta testers. Not my kind, caring fan club but my critics, because I need fresh eyes, and you’re it. 🙂

-hugs-

Meeks


Still plodding along…

Apologies for being a bit slack with posts this last week. I’ve been very focused on the iVokh model, plus work, plus sorting out my new email client, plus hardware issues, plus life….

Ahem, enough excuses! On the creative side, this is the most recent concept of the iVokh’s second, mostly hidden arm. First the skeleton:

As you can see, it’s very much like the arm of a bat:

One major difference, though, is that the iVokh hand has a ‘real’ thumb. This is what the hand looks like once it has some skin:

It doesn’t look like much, but it’s a lot better than my first attempt:

According to the Offspring, this one looked more like a duck’s foot than a wing…

When I looked at that first attempt without my rose coloured specs, I realised the Offspring was right. Don’t you hate that? lol I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow of how hard it was to create the illusion of ‘folds’. Moving on.

I mentioned some time ago that I was having email issues. Well, they all stem from the fact that I refused to give up my personal email address. That email dates back to the time when I hand coded my own website, using a graphical interface that looked great, imho, but wasn’t all that user friendly:

Okay, maybe it didn’t look that great, but it was back in 2002 and clicking on one of those images took you to a new page with info specific to that image – i.e. clicking on the guitar took you to ‘music’ while the newspaper took you to ‘news’. -sigh- The website was a failure, but I’m still proud of what I did.

Anyway, in order to have a website back then, you had to have a ‘domain’. Think of a domain as a digital anchor. Once you have one, you can attach it to a web hosting service. The hosting service provides the actual ‘real estate’ on which you build your website. Once you have a website, you can use it to create email addresses. Remember, this was long before Gmail etc.

Now we get to email clients. An email client is a program [app] that sits on your computer and ‘talks’ to the server where your email lives. Outlook is an email client, and so was Opera Mail. I used Opera Mail for years until it stopped being supported. Then I paid, in advance, for one, long year using Microsoft 365 via Outlook….

-cue happy music-

That year is over, and I am now using Fastmail. 😀 Fastmail is web-based, but when I have the energy, I’ll set it up with Thunderbird [the Firefox email client]. The beauty of using Thunderbird is that it will check Fastmail for me and download any new emails…without me having to log in and out all the time! I know that sounds lazy, but I used to check my emails multiple times a day. With 365 I’d only check once a day because of the hassle. I’m really looking forward to using my email properly again.

And finally, my hardware problems have been sorted too, thanks to the Offspring. I’ll be taking one of the Offspring’s old computers into work to use as my demonstration machine which will free up my laptop for one of the students to use [during class]. -dance-

All’s well that ends well, and I hope your week was as productive as mine. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 

 

 


How to build an alien

There’s been a lot going on in my life the last few weeks so I needed a creative outlet that I could pick up and put down as needed. For me, the natural fit was to work on the iVokh using Corel Draw 8. In this post, I’ll do a quick reveal of how I built an iVokh hand.

First I had to find some reference pictures. I was lucky enough to find a nice one showing the skeletal structure of a raptor ‘hand’ as compared to a human hand:

https://www.pinterest.com.au/remiwashere/animal-anatomy-forms/

Next, I vectored each bone of each finger…and tried to get the lighting more or less right using Corel’s gradient colour function:

The hand’s not perfect, but it is in a pose closer to what I wanted, plus the finished bones do give me a second layer of references. More importantly, each bone gives me an outline that can be used like a cookie cutter [the gradient fill is inside the outline]:

Now, I can use the vector outline to cut out textures for the ‘skin’. The following images are a kind of timeline of the process of skinning the bones:

Working from left to right we have:

  1. the vectored finger,
  2. the outline of each individual bone,
  3. the bones broken apart,
  4. the outline of the bones,
  5. the texture cut out by each outline,
  6. the finished finger

The finished ‘finger’ on the far right shows a simplistic view of the skin ‘tunnel’ in which the claws hide until they are protracted – i.e. pushed out. I took the reference from a picture I found showing a close-up of the skin around a cat’s claws.

https://www.softpaws.com/fascinating-facts-about-cat-claws/

Now, I suppose some of you are wondering why I didn’t just draw a whole finger, or better yet, a whole hand?

The reason is that I’m not that good at freehand drawing. I’m more draftsperson than artist. So while I might be able to fudge a hand once, I would not be able to redraw that hand in different poses. By creating the basic building blocks of the hand, however, I can use Corel to create different poses using more or less the same building blocks. [To get the perspective right, I’ll have to adjust the nodes on at least some of the ‘bones’, but that’s the easy part].

Is this the best way to build an alien?

Sadly, the answer is no. The vectoring isn’t that hard but finding the correct snippet of texture with just the right colour and light effect is very hard.

The best way to build an alien from scratch would be to create a 3D model using a super dooper graphics package like Maya. Unfortunately, Maya is also super dooper expensive and takes about 2 years of study to learn properly. So I’m making do with what I have, and what I know. I think I’ve done pretty well so far, for an amateur. 😉

Okay, no comments again, but as always, my thanks to all of you for being my sounding board[s].

-hugs-

Meeks


Unfinished…

I’ve been obsessing over this image for days now. Still a way to go, but for the first time this evening, it feels as if it’s finally coming together. 🙂

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Meeks


The Apprentice Returns

I don’t like posting great chunks of an unfinished story because once they’re out there, they tend to be ‘set in stone’, and I like to be able to change things, or even delete them entirely, if I think the story needs it. This time, however, I really need the feedback as I’ve completely re-written the first chapter in which I re-introduce Kaati. The basic intent is more or less the same, but all the nuances have changed, as has Kaati’s character arc. 

Anyway, this is going to be a long post so grab a coffee before you begin. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

Kohoh Mito

The Fourth Day of Kohoh

 

The rains of Kohoh were late, and nothing obscured the Arch of Heaven until a dark shape suddenly appeared in the sky above the Quarter. Powerful wings eclipsed the stars as it spiralled down to the flight ledge.

“It comes!”

On the rocky slope above the entrance to the Quarter, the spotter covered its face with a wing and disappeared into the shadows. In the tunnel below, its partner reached for the weighted net by its side. Once the Apprentice entered the tunnel it would be trapped, caught in a pincer movement with death the only escape.

***

Kaati landed on the soft pads of its feet, as silent as the great hunter for which it had been named. It did not expect to be challenged, but extreme caution had become a habit, and now it stared at the shadows shrouding the entrance as if they concealed the lair of a to’pakh…

“Fool!” it thought, a hint of embarrassment warming the dusty skin of its face; no to’pakh could climb the sheer cliffs leading to the flight ledge. “Starting at shadows like eyriebound.”

Yet despite the assurances of commonsense, it stayed rooted to the spot, ten wingspans from the entrance. It had dreamt of this moment every step of the way from Needlepoint, but now it felt neither triumph nor relief. It was back, but would it be allowed to stay? Traders rarely lied, at least to each other, but the Tellers were masters of subterfuge, and they had already branded it a traitor. Would the Clans listen? Or would they refuse to even let it speak?

As the Apprentice Quartermaster to the Clans, it would have been allowed to speak as a matter of course. But the na-Quartermaster had been disowned in that freezing cave on the Spine. Now it owned nothing but its life and its name. Kaati had become a Trader with less status than the lowliest drudge.

What would it do if the Clans disowned it a second time?

Only the strongest of the strong survived the season of rain. Once Kohoh began in earnest, the rivers would overflow their banks and devour the land. Mountains would turn into islands, and every fingerwidth of high ground would become a battlefield, a place of last resort where the great beasts fought to survive.

During Kohoh, only the swimmers prospered; lone iVokh stood no chance at all…

A hiss, half of anger, half of pain, leaked from Kaati’s cilia as it fought off the sudden despair. It had not survived the Wild for so long only to be defeated with victory in sight! Whatever the Clans decided, it had a purpose more sacred than life. It could not allow the slain to be forgotten. Each Trader who died, or was killed on the journey, had a right to be remembered.

They had done nothing wrong, yet one after the other, they had paid the final price. And for what? For placing loyalty and honour above tradition?

The Clans had strayed from the Trader Way and needed to be reminded-

The whisper of displaced air triggered instincts honed by a ti’makh of vigilance, and Kaati leapt to the side. The weighted net that should have wrapped around its head and upper body tangled only its right arm. It managed to free its arm, but not before the second Teller crashed into it from above.

The two of them fell to the ground and wrestled for dominance until Kaati managed a lucky swipe that drew blood. Keening in pain, its assailant withdrew, but the one who had thrown the net continued to advance, its expression cautious but determined.

“Why?” Kaati gasped as it backed away.

“Being traitor,” the wounded Teller spat.

“But life-debt not-”

“Deepwater,” the other Teller cut in, the loathing in its voice unmistakable.

Stunned, Kaati could only stare at the two Tellers in disbelief. How many more would die because of that one mistake? If it had known its mindspeech could disable every Trader in the caravan, it would have found another way to stop the fight. But it had not known, and the situation had turned deadly…

“Should not hurting Plodder!”

“Another traitor. Good riddance-”

That was more than the Kaati could bear. Launching itself at the Teller, it drove the heavier iVokh to the ground before tangling it in its own net.

“Killing!” the Teller cried as it struggled to free itself.

Blinded by anger, Kaati had not noticed the other Teller sneaking up on it from behind. It only just managed to avoid the rock aimed at its head. Staring at the two Tellers in dismay, it retreated until it could feel the cold air rising from the ravine at its back. It could go no further.

The arrival of two more Tellers, one armed with a staff, the other with a flensing knife, banished any hope Kaati still harboured. Staves and knives were weapons used to kill, not capture. It could fight and die, or it could jump and die.

Glancing over its shoulder at the ravine below its feet, the young Trader could not suppress a slight shudder. There was one other option…

A soft sigh leaked from its cilia as it rose to its full height and spread its arms wide, the empty sacks of its wings hanging limp in submission.

“Too late, Apprentice,” said the Teller with the staff. Raising its weapon, it lead the charge across the flight ledge.

now or never…

Closing the inner lids that protected its eyes, the young Trader turned towards the ravine and launched itself into the void. The Flyers said the trick to gliding on empty wings was to hold them taut…

Kaati was a strong flyer, but without the bracing effect of lift, the sudden pressure on its wings almost turned them inside out. It managed to keep its legs and outer arms spread properly, but its inner arms had evolved for maneuvering, not strength, and bringing them into a flat plane took every drop of strength it possessed. It succeeded, and its wings finally caught enough air to slow its descent, but the effort drew a wheeze of pain from its cilia. It would not be able to glide for long.

Sending a weak ping in the direction of the ground, Kaati was shocked at how quickly the echoes returned. Throwing back its head, it dropped its legs and cupped its wings. A moment later it hit, bent knees absorbing the initial impact. Instinct made it draw its wings tight before it tumbled end over end, like driftwood spun by the current.

The dry sand of the streambed abraded its skin, and every pebble dented its flesh, but miraculously, nothing broke. When it finally came to rest, every fingerwidth of its body hurt, but it knew it would live.

***

Up on the flight ledge, the Tellers skidded to a halt in a ragged line, all of them staring at the spot where the Apprentice had been.

“Must being dead,” the wounded one said as it peered over the edge.

“Thinking being dead on Spine too,” the one with the staff replied. “Why not waiting until Apprentice entering tunnel?”

“Because taking too long,” said the Teller with the net. “Fearing might escape if not attacking first.”

The Teller with the knife clicked its teeth but did not bother stating the obvious. Attacking the Apprentice outside the tunnel had failed miserably. If they had not arrived when they did, the young traitor would have escaped, again.

“Must finding body this time,” it said with finality.

“Down there?” the wounded Teller squeaked. “But to’pakh-”

“Rather facing hungry to’pakh than anger of Master.”

When no one else seemed inclined to argue, the Teller with the staff asked, “But how? Cannot flying in dark, and cliff being too steep for climbing.”

“Not if using rope from net.”

A sigh of resignation escaped from the owner of the net, but it began unpicking the strands of rope without protest.

“Being enough?” it asked a short time later as it held up the single length of knotted rope.

“Soon finding out.”

Matching action to words, the wielder of the staff grabbed the end of the rope and walked over to the far side of the flight ledge where a gnarled old salt bush grew out of the side of the cliff. The Traders often used it as an anchor to raise packs too heavy to fly up. Looping one end of the rope around the trunk of the salt bush, it braced its feet and nodded for the others to drop the rope over the edge.

When the rope was in place, its partner clamped the knife between its teeth and climbed down, pinging all the way.

“Safe,” it called as the rope went slack.

Motioning for the other Teller to take control of the rope, the wielder of the staff followed its partner down. When it reached the bottom, the two at the top lowered its staff. Fully armed, it joined its partner in the search for the Apprentice’s body.

***

Less than fifty wingspans further down the ravine, Kaati lay curled in a ball, too winded to move. It had survived the fall but had no idea what to do next. It could hide out in one of the many caves that dotted the Spine of the World, but that would provide only a temporary reprieve. Once its food ran out, it would have to hunt like all the other beasts…

The sound of the Tellers calling to each other as they climbing down into the ravine cut through Kaati’s thoughts with a jolt of pure terror. If they found it now, all of its worries for the future would be moot. It had to move! Pushing itself up onto all fours, the young Trader began crawling to the southwest. If it followed the streambed far enough, it would eventually leave the shelter of the ravine and arrive on the open plains…

Being dead before then, it thought as the sound of the Tellers drew ever closer. Think! If the Tellers did not get it, some hungry to’pakh would…

The thought of the powerful beasts that roamed the land cleared some of the fog from Kaati’s mind, and it struggled to its feet. To’pakh hunted at night, and while Fate had been extraordinarily kind so far, it could not expect its luck to hold for much longer. It had to get out of the streambed and find somewhere safe to hide.

Sending out a series of almost silent pings, it finally detected a fold in the rock wall of the ravine that might be the opening to a cave. It was seven or eight wingspans up, but a cluster of narrow ledges should help.

Kaati was just about to scramble from the bed of the stream when a whiff of its own scent made it stop in consternation. Even without the fear sweat that clung to it like a second skin, the grime of so many days in the Wild would make it ridiculously easy to track. Dropping to its belly, it clenched its teeth as it rolled over and over in the course sand.

The dirt bath reopened many of the small cuts and abrasions it had suffered as a result of the fall. It also hurt, a lot, but when the young Trader shook the sand from its skin, the worse of the filth remained behind, on the ground. A to’pakh would have no trouble tracking that scent, but even it could not track a scent through the air…

Quieting the incipient panic that urged it to run, no matter where, Kaati forced itself to stand still while the tiny sacs in its wings filtered every scrap of lift from the air it breathed. Only when its wings bobbed like over-filled bladders did it give in to the fear that drove it. Turning to face the bank of the streambed, it held its arms rigidly by its sides as it slowly opened the narrow sphincters located on the trailing edge of its wings.

The release of lift shot it straight up into the air, and a cloud of fine sand marked its passage as it rose out of the streambed and jetted towards the first ledge.

It was now in a race against time. If its luck held, it would reach the cave before the lift in its wings ran out. If not, it would become easy prey for the Tellers who were even now hurrying towards the sound of its jets.

***

Had Kaati been rested and not covered in a thousand small wounds, it might have made it all the way to the cave, but it simply did not have the strength. Three wingspans from the entrance, its jets sputtered out, and it had to hug the wall of the cliff to avoid falling all the way to the bottom.

Wings pumping like bellows, it was still trying to climb the rest of the way to the cave when a triumphant voice called out, “There!”

Peering down past the fringe of its cilia, the young Trader could just make out two dark shapes at the bottom of the ravine. One was crouched on the ground, but the other stood staring at the cliff face, one arm pointing straight at Kaati.

“Come down, come down,” it called in a cruel voice. “Being time to play.”

When Kaati refused to move, the second Teller lay its staff on the ground and said, “Race?”

A snort of amusement greeted its words as the other Teller accepted the challenge. Placing its knife next to the staff, it said. “Always enjoying a-”

The rest of its words were swallowed by the to’pakh that exploded out of the darkness. The creature’s massive jaws descended on the Teller’s head and left arm before closing with an audible crunch.

The surviving Teller snatched up its staff and aimed the point at the to’pakh’s eye. The blow did not connect.

Swinging its armoured tail like a battering ram, the to’pakh smashed the staff from the Teller’s hand and slammed it into the ground.

Injured, but not fatally, the Teller scrambled to its feet and took off at a limping run. Perhaps it hoped to reach the rope and climb to safety. Or perhaps it simply ran in a blind panic. Either way, it did not get far. Swallowing the last tasty morsel in its mouth, the to’pakh lumbered after it, six good legs quickly overtaking the Teller’s two. A truncated scream announced the winner of the race.

Still clinging to the cliff like an ipti, Kaati closed its eyes, but the image of the Teller’s head disappearing into the to’pakh’s maw remained imprinted on the backs of its lids. That was the fate that awaited it unless it reached the cave. Yet the thought of falling and giving the to’pakh another easy meal, kept it frozen in place. Not until it heard the great beast return did it find the strength to move once more. Sending out ping after ping, it climbed in desperate haste until the entrance to the cave finally appeared.

It was a very shallow cave and would not hide it from a determined search, but Kaati was too spent to care. If the remaining Tellers were brave enough to challenge a to’pakh, they deserved their victory.

Curling up as best it could in the confined space of the cave, the exhausted Trader closed its eyes and fell asleep.

 

I still don’t have a definitive image of the iVokh, but this is a concept drawing of the to’pakh:

 

 


How cold is cold blooded?

I’m in the middle of writing a scene where one of my iVokh characters is feeding on a rock lizard, and feeling disgruntled because it has to work so hard to drink ‘lukewarm blood’.

As I finished that sentence, I looked at what I had written and experienced a moment of doubt. I knew reptiles heated their bodies from external sources – i.e. the sun, a sun-warmed rock, warmth in the air etc – but I really didn’t know what the temperature range of their bodies truly was.

Would their blood really be cool enough to feel ‘lukewarm’?

When in doubt, Google! After a few dead ends, I finally found these amazing images  :

hot and cold blood

http://coolcosmos.ipac.caltech.edu/image_galleries/ir_zoo/coldwarm.html

If you click on the image you should see a larger image that clearly shows the difference in temperature between the human and lizard on the left and the lizard’s head and tail on the right.  Best of all, these infra-red images show that lizards do take on the ambient temperature around them. For me, this means a rock lizard in a cave would be significantly cooler than the iVokh eating it!

I love how fiction and reality can sometimes mesh so perfectly. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

p.s. I strongly recommend following that link to the page itself. You will find lots more interesting pictures as well as some fascinating facts about why mammals and lizards are different.


iVokh and the Poacher’s Knot

My father always secretly longed for a son, but he ended up with just one daughter [me]. However, being a very practical man, my Dad made the most of things by teaching me many of the ‘boy’ skills – such as gardening and carpentry – he would have taught to a son.

That quirk of fate left me with a life-long love of all things green, and mechanical. I’m not an expert at any of the weird and wonderful skills I have picked up over the years, but they have been very useful in my writing. Who would have thought that going up in a glider would one day help me visualize how the Vokh fly?

Unfortunately for me, sailing and hunting were never part of my skill-set, so today when I reached an important scene where one of my iVokh has to go hunting, I knew I was in trouble.  But as always, Papa Google came to my rescue!

In the last two hours I have found all sorts of information about the primitive snares and traps used by survivalists, complete with interesting pictures showing how they are supposed to work.

snare traps multiple

Sadly, when I looked at those pictures all I saw were some rough drawings that assumed I would already know about the knots that make those snares work.  Back to Papa Google…

Half an hour of frustration later I finally found the following video which gave me the key to the whole thing :

Now, if we compare the Poacher’s knot with a close up of a snare knot, it’s obvious the Poacher’s knot is the core of the double slip knot arrangement that allows the snare to snap tight around the prey!

snare poachers knot

The complete snare looks like this :

snare trap

And yes, being completely anal, I had to try out that knot-and-snare arrangement for myself.  It works.

snare hand

[NOTE: no small animals were harmed during the course of this experiment].

Apart from wanting to show off share my new found knowledge, I also wanted to make a point about the type of research I, and most writers carry out to make our fiction feel authentic.

Very little of what I’ve just shown you will make it into that hunting scene I mentioned – because  it is not necessary. Nonetheless, I have to know all about it so I can convince you the scene could be real.

Without all this research, I would have to fudge that scene, and sooner or later, someone would notice. My credibility as a writer would be shot, never a good thing.  The greater damage however, would be to the credibility of my story, and that can be fatal.

As a writer of fiction, I ask my readers to suspend their disbelief, and come on a journey with me to a weird, alien place, peopled by even stranger characters. To make that journey possible I have to create tiny bridges between the iVokh and humans, bridges built of small details that they, and we have in common. If I build those bridges with honesty, my readers will learn to trust me on the alien things as well.

The flip-side of this trust is that it can be lost so easily. Every time something in the story jerks a reader out of my fictional world, I risk losing them for good.

The same principle applies to other areas of writing as well, such as dialogue, spelling and grammar. But that is a rant for another day. 😉

cheers

Meeks


Vokhtan Bestiary – food animals

Technically the Tukti should be part of any list of food animals however as they are not common food animals – because they are only eaten by the Vokh and because there is a possibility that they may be sentient – I am not including them in this list.

Akhat

Akhat are small, flightless, bird-like creatures that resemble terran emus  with large eyes and long flexible necks. However instead of feathers akaht are covered in soft fur ranging in colour from mid purple to a soft, luminous lavender which allows them to blend in to the grassy plains where they live.

They have two very strong legs with powerful clawed toes that allow them to run very fast and change direction easily. As Akhat are herd animals they rely on safety in numbers and their running ability to get them away from predators.

Akaht are omnivores and their varied diet makes their blood taste salty and a little gamey. They are the favoured food of high ranking iVokh such as healers and seneschals.

The Vokh will feed on akaht as well but only if they are very hungry and tukti are not available, or if their eyries happen to be a long way from the great plains where the akaht herds live.

Most ordinary iVokh will feed off one or more of the following animals, depending on season and availability :

Rock lizards.   Rock lizards are six-legged, reptilian scavengers covered in scales which can change colour to match their surroundings. Similar to terran chameleons, they can go from being a drab grey when scurrying around the rocks to a brilliant purple when slinking through the rich vegetation of the ravines.

Rock lizards abound in the ravines and are always plentiful as they breed at a very fast rate. Their blood is nourishing but has a strong smell and a  slightly bitter taste.

Ahp. Ahp are fresh water snails which thrive in the small streams of the ravines and canyons. Although they have a shell they cannot retract their bodies completely like the Titi so the iVokh love eating them as snacks, sinking their sharp fangs into the body cavity and then popping the whole ahp into their mouths to suck out the rich, slightly nutty body fluids. When they are done they spit out the flesh.

Like most of the animals of vokhtah Ahp can change the colour of their shells but, as they spend most of their time in water the colour range is usually muddy brown to grey.

Titi. Titi are small barnacle-like crustaceans that spend the daylight hours clinging to rocks just below the waterline of Vokhtan lakes and streams. During the dark however they crawl across damp rocks, feeding on moss, lichen and any dead things they can find.

These scavengers are usually slow moving, creeping across the rocks by pulling themselves along with two tentacle like feet covered in suckers. When threatened they snatch their feet back inside their shells and seal themselves in.

The following short excerpt gives an insight into how the iVokh catch and eat titi when they are out in the wild.

‘By the time the Acolyte reached the shoreline the Second was already belly down on a large, flat rock that jutted out into the lake. The upper half of its body hung down into the water as it scraped at something below the surface. When it sat up a moment later it was brandishing a small slime-encrusted crustacean. Slime covered the Second’s arms as well but it looked quite pleased with itself.

“Watching for predators,” it said as it threw the titi at the young iVokh’s feet. “And keeping titi from crawling away!”

Nodding with a distinct lack of enthusiasm the Acolyte bent towards the slimy creature that was already extending two tentacled feet from within its shell and picked it up between finger and thumb. At the Acolyte’s touch the titi pulled its feet back inside and snapped its shell shut with a sharp snick.

Despite disliking titi intensely the young iVokh found that hunger could make even the most unappealing of food seem appetizing. Wasting no more time lamenting the delicacies it could not have, it stepped carefully over the slippery rocks until it found a nearby boulder that was already starting to steam in the warmth. Quickly building a corral of small stones on top of the boulder it dropped the titi inside and headed back towards the Second who already had another titi ready to be steamed.

Both suns were in the sky when the Second and the Acolyte finally sat down and began pulling the half cooked titi flesh from the shells. The meat was chewy and tough, with an unpleasant after-taste of slime but both iVokh  were so hungry they would not have noticed if it had been seasoned with mud.’

Ipti. Ipti are small, fast, rodent-like animals with six legs. It is possible they are distantly related to the tukti because they too are herbivores and have the same general body structure. Like the tukti they have four running legs and two ‘arms’ but unlike the tukti their eyes are small and they have longer snouts with large nostrils. They also lack the tukti whiskers as they do not burrow but instead nest in crevices and caves.

Because Ipti live in caves where the temperature remains fairly constant they lack the downy undercoat of the Tukti and so their bodies look smaller and sleeker – less rounded and fluffy. Another difference is that their fur is a dark grey with only the muzzle and under belly showing any colour – usually a washed out lavender or white.

Ipti teeth are generally larger than those of tukti and this may be because their diet includes the moss, lichen and fungi which must be scraped from the rocks in caves. This cave food makes them taste quite bland.


Vokhtan Bestiary – the Kaa

The Kaa are the second largest and most ferocious predators on Vokhtah, second only to the Vokh.

The iVokh call them the Red Daemons because their red-on-red colouring allows them to drop out of a clear orange sky with virtually no warning.

In build the Kaa come closest to resembling earth birds of prey with deep chests, very powerful flight muscles and  true feathers which give them exceptional flying power and maneuverability in the dense air and lighter gravity of Vokhtah .

Unlike terran birds however the Kaa have four limbs and their heads are not at all bird-like. Kaa have large, forward facing eyes topped by bony brow ridges that protect the eyes beneath from all but the most accurate attack.  Scales cover every fingerwidth of their faces right down to the tips of their narrow snouts and huge flaring nostrils. Below the snout the lower jaw juts out slightly beyond the upper jaw, both of which are equipped with rows of razor-sharp teeth. These teeth scissor backwards and forwards and can cut through flesh, bone and gristle with equal ease [much like to’pak].

When it comes to straight flight the Kaa are better flyers than most Vokh however they lack the jetting and hovering ability of the Vokh and this is why the average Vokh will always defeat the average Kaa. The Matriarchs amongst the Kaa are a different matter however. They are permanently female and are bigger and stronger than the males. When they have nestlings the Matriarchs become so protective and so ferocious that even the highest ranking Vokh think twice about attacking them. Only the Nine can defeat them with ease.

On the ground however even the Matriarchs are at a disadvantage as their short powerful legs are designed for lifting off the ground not running. Their long, powerful talons also become a liability on the ground, sinking deep into soft ground and providing little purchase on rock.

This vulnerability is why the Kaa usually scavenge in flights of two or more. Each flight is lead by a Matriarch and can include up to four of the smaller males. The size of the flight depends upon the age and strength of the Matriarch as she is the one who must keep her mates from fighting amongst each other.

Once a Matriarch has nestlings she hunts alone and relies on the camoflage of her colouring, speed and her great cunning to catch live prey for her offspring. Teaching her nestlings to kill and eat live prey is the first step in teaching them to hunt for themselves.

The cunning and ferocity of Matriarchs is legend amongst the Vokh and the iVokh however most still think of the Kaa as simple beasts. Only a very few of either race have ever considered the possibility that the Kaa might actually be more intelligent than ordinary predators.

This short extract provides an insight into the behaviour of these unusual beasts :

High above the two iVokh the Kaa Matriarch dropped down out of the orange disk of Takhti like a silent red shadow.

She had been searching for the killer of her nestlings ever since she had returned to the nest to find them both gone.

When she had finally found their bodies they had been covered in the stench of the creature that had killed them, yet the smell had not been that of the hated Black One and so she had followed the scent trail from the spot where her offspring had been killed to the shore of the big water and from there up almost as high as the place of killer winds where the trail had disappeared. 

Since then she had been criss-crossing the grasslands hoping to pick up the trace again and now she knew she was very close.’


Vokhtan Bestiary – the To’pak

My thanks to all of you who showed such interest in the Tukti last week. I feel a little guilty though because I may have given you a false impression of the beasts of Vokhtah. Vokhtah is not a gentle place and the Tukti are one of the very few creatures on the planet that are gentle. This week I have to start introducing you to some of the more normal denizens of this world – the predators.

 

There are many predators on Vokhtah but none more fearsome on the ground than the To’pak. These huge, lumbering beasts look as if they should be slow but they can move surprisingly quickly when they scent prey and their long, prehensile tongues give them an added reach that makes them truly formidable.

Once a To’pak catches its prey with that tongue the hapless creature is drawn into a mouth lined with two sets of razor sharp teeth which can grind flesh from bone in moments. And then grind the bones up as well.

To’pak are not fussy feeders. Their most common prey are the huge herds of akaht that roam the great plains but they welcome a bit of variety in their diets and will happily munch on any iVokh foolish enough to be caught outside during the dark when these nocturnal monsters hunt.

To’pak would gladly eat Vokh as well if they could but in the hierarchy of predators none stand higher than the Vokh.

The following short excerpt describes an encounter between a nester – the egg-layer amongst the To’pak – and a Vokh of rank seven. The highest rank any Vokh can achieve is nine but there is only ever one nine – The Nine. This is about the Seven of Five Rocks :

The Seven came in fast, dropping down out of the sky behind the sleeping to’pak before the great beast even knew that it was under attack. Grasping the predator’s long, armoured tail with both hands the Vokh flipped it onto its back with a quick heave and then stood back to admire the result.

The to’pak were formidable predators – when they were on their feet – but once they were on their backs they were helpless, anchored to the ground by the sheer weight of the massive bone plates that protected their heads and upper bodies. Given enough time this to’pak would eventually rock itself upright again but for now its six, stubby legs were just waving in the air and it was going nowhere.

Rising up into the air the Seven took aim and then dove again. At the very last moment it dropped its legs and allowed momentum to carry it across the to’pak’s broad, lightly scaled belly. Blood appeared wherever its feet made contact while the deadly scythes on its heels opened up deep gashes that exposed the entrails within.

Too stupid to know that it was already dead, the to’pak roared in rage and pain, redoubling its efforts to get back on its feet. As it thrashed, coil after coil of bluey purple intestine spilled from its belly.

Grabbing the dying To’pak by the tail once more the Seven dragged it off to one side so it could reach the egg filled hollow where the creature had been sleeping. Twelve large, round eggs lay in the hollow, their pale pink shells glistening wetly in the harsh light of Takh.

The Seven picked up one of the eggs and held it up to the light, grunting in satisfaction when it saw only a tiny spot of darkness floating in the yolk. The Small One loved fresh laid to’pak eggs. Perhaps it should take one or two back to the eyrie as a peace offering. Or perhaps not. A Voice was duty bound to serve its master whether it approved of its master’s choices or not. Let it sulk for a while. In time it would realise the value of Needlepoint.

Needless to say most encounters in a to’pak’s life end very differently to this one but that is the price they pay for being third best. Next week I will introduce you to the Kaa who are almost but not quite as deadly as the Vokh.

cheers

Meeks

 


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