THE NETHERSWIMMER ("OTORM'"FYR", "BURNING NEWT")

APPEARANCE - SPECIAL ABILITIES - TERRITORY
HABITAT/BEHAVIOUR - DIET - MATING - MYTH/LORE - RESEARCHERS

Entering the Celeste Mountains, you take refuge from the night in one of the caves that dot the foothills. As you set camp and gather water from an underground stream you see what appears to be flames under the surface. Softly glowing forms in the shadows defy the natural reaction of fire and water creating a marvel to behold. Before your eyes, one of the shimmering oddities reaches the surface and crawl on land. Named "Otorm’Fyr" by the Kuglimz men, its name translates to "Fire Snake". Other names include the "Burning Newt" or the "Netherswimmer."

While named "snake" by the Kuglimz men this description is inaccurate as the creature looks more like a lizard. Resembling a frog that has been flattened, stretched and with the addition of a keeled tail, the legs are short and easily hidden under the body causing the misconception that it is part of the snake family. The larvae of the Netherswimmer starts off at just a few nailsbreadths while a full grown specimen can grow up to sizes of two fores and can weigh over a heb. Its thick skin is brightly coloured, this colouring along with a thin sheen of a vitriceed like substance has caused a myth about the creature being made of fire.

Appearance. Life for a Netherswimmer begins as a tiny egg, one of over a hundred on a string. A soft pink to red these eggs are only three grains in size to begin with but will swell to a nailsbreadth before hatching. After hatching the Netherswimmer's appearance starts off looking like a tadpole with a small rounded body and long tail. At this early stage its colouring is a light brown with small dark spots that cover the length of the body. It takes nearly a year before it grows legs and its tail shortens. At this point in time it is only seven nailsbreadth in length. This is also when it begins to develop its distinctive colouring and produce the mild aceed along its back. It takes nearly twenty years before an adult fully matures and it seems to keep growing for the entirety of its life.

At roughly thirty years the Netherswimmer reaches two fores in length and up to one heb one hafeb in weight. A mature adult has a broad rounded head with no neck to speak of, and wide mouth containing short stubby teeth. Set just above the mouth on either side of the head are beady nearly sightless black eyes. Just below the head are its front legs, which despite its large size only reach about a palmspan in length. The legs end in webbed feet that have four toes. The rear legs that begin just before the tail are the same in detail except for having an extra toe. All four legs while short are muscular helping it to swim.

Growing along the length of its belly are thick fleshy ridges. It is unknown what the purpose of these ridges is, but it is speculated that they are used to help the animal swim. Its belly is typically lean but at times it will swell giving the animal a squat rounded appearance. This was originally attributed to the female of the species being pregnant, but that was soon discarded after noting the feature in what was obviously a dominant male. After a brave soul cut open a large specimen it was found that the swelling was caused by two small sacs on either side of the abdomen that swelled with the gaseous air of its habitat. Also helping it swim is its tail which measures about half as long as the rest of its body, roughly two palmspans. This tail starts directly behind the rear legs, thickly muscled it starts off rounded and gradually flattens as it reaches the slightly pointed tip.

The entire body is mottled with bright shades of yellow orange and red, with a faintly luminescent quality. It is unknown what causes this soft glow, but it has been noted that it will fade over time if the Netherswimmer is removed from its natural habitat in the Celeste Mountains. So too will the thin layer of the aceedic substance which covers its back. Return to the top

Special Abilities. Most notable of this animals abilities is the fact that it can breathe under water. Researchers are still arguing over how this is done as a mature specimen does have lungs, but no signs of gills. Whether its nostrils contain gills or some other esoteric function of its bodily processes it can remain under water for days on end. Less noticeable but just as important is the film of aceed that covers the top of the Netherswimmer from head to tail. It is not completely known how the Netherswimmer produces this aceed but it is believed that the air sacs on either side of the abdomen play an integral role in its creation, possibly by concentrating the brimstone gas that causes them to expand. This thin film of aceed is oily in nature, allowing it to cling to the creature, even under water. Another feature of note are its keen senses, it is believed that the eyes of this creature are nearly sightless so the acuteness with which it reacts with its surroundings is remarkable. The final fascinating feature of this animal is not quite an ability but rather a byproduct of the aceed creating process. The Netherswimmer will, when squeezed, belch out a small cloud of brimstone gas. Evidence does not show that this is a defense system, as the Netherswimmer does not appear to be able to control the process. Return to the top

Territory. The Netherswimmer is found exclusively in underground streams and caves in the Celeste Mountains. The majority of specimens found have been relatively low in the foot hills though some have been seen further up the mountain. These however have been smaller in size; the presumed reason for this is a diminished food source and proximity to the hot springs as the amount of sulfur in the air seems to have no effect on them. It is believed that this animal prefers the cooler water in these underground streams to the warmer water closer to the streams source.
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Habitat/Behaviour. Typically found in small packs of up to ten, these “families” can be found in shallow underwater caves or crevices. The typical “family” consists of a single dominant male and his group of females, though in times of mating the dominant male may allow another male in to propagate the eggs laid by the females. After the hatching the young will swim into their stream and if they survive into maturity will begin families of their own. During the daytime hours it is rare to see a Netherswimmer out of its den or out from under its rock. These animals are normally nocturnal though it is not understood how they can distinguish the day and night hours. Some researchers argue that they can sense the miniscule drop in temperature in the caves, while others claim that it has to do with an internal clock. Whatever the reason may be once the sun sets you can begin to see them crawl out of the water or as a shimmering blur under the stream surface as they begin to hunt. Reasons for this nocturnal life style vary upon who you would ask but the most common theme revolves around food. It is believed that the small drop in temperature is enough to make the insects and shelled fish of the region active, thereby inciting the Netherswimmer into pursuit. The Netherswimmer is not an aggressive animal, it will not engage in conflict, even at its own expense. It relies on its bright colouring to warn off would be predators instead of any overt acts.
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Diet. The Netherswimmer seems not to be discerning in what it eats. Fish and molluscs seem to be the staple of the Netherswimmer diet but not the only victims of its hunger. Small mammals have fallen prey to this creature as well as insects and indeed others of its kind. Newly hatched larvae appear not to eat but instead live off of ample fat reserves in their own bodies until roughly three months. After this point small insects and bits of algae become the main nourishment until they grow in size. A fully matured Netherswimmer will eat just about anything that they can catch including their young. The male may even, while incubating its brood, feast upon the eggs which it is protecting. Once sated the Netherswimmer will not need to eat for at least one day, and may even wait as long as three days before it once again begins to hunt.
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Mating. Mating season for the Netherswimmer typically begins at the end of Molten Ice and lasts through Awakening Earth each year. During mating season the dominant and larger male will be the aggressor of reproduction. After using his large size to barricade the female in his den he will then wait for her to lay her eggs. The females will then lay strings containing anywhere from one to two hundred eggs. After all females in the family have laid their eggs the male will chase them out of the den and spray his seed evenly over each strand, externally fertilizing them. Over the next two months the male will seldom leave the den spending all his time floating from one egg strand to the next. It is unclear what he may be doing as the eggs do not seem to need warmth in order to hatch rather it is believed that the male is stirring the currents in order to spread the aer in the water to all eggs. During this two month period many of these eggs will be consumed by the male or even other Netherswimmers, so while over a thousand eggs may be laid only a hundred or so will survive to hatch. After hatching even, rarely do more than twenty of the young survive to maturity. This astonishing mortality rate coupled with the fact that Netherswimmers do not become sexually mature until age five results in a fairly small population.
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Myth/Lore. There are two myths that arose from early sightings of the Netherswimmer. The first is due to its appearance, the bright colours and soft glow lend itself to the illusion that it is mad from fire. The fact that the aceed coating its back causes fairly severe burn to naked flesh also went a long way in supporting this myth. This led to the belief that the Demon Lord of Fire, Faerhorál had created the Netherswimmer from the very fabric of the Netherworld. This myth is the cause of the common name Netherswimmer, it was believed that they had swum out of the Netherworld to the world above after their creation.

The second myth ties in with the first, that they were created as harbingers of doom. This belief arises from the fact that all mass sightings of the Netherswimmer have been followed by a volcanic eruption. Though not all eruptions have been preceded by a sighting, all such sightings have been followed by an eruption. It is said that Faerhorál sent them out to pave the way for the destruction at hand. Researchers now believe that the depth with which the Netherswimmers react to their surroundings is the cause for this. It is thought that the Netherswimmer feels the early tremors of the volcano and the swarm out of the caves in an attempt to flee.

One such sighting was related secondhand to renowned Netherswimmer expert Bobhei Nlan. He writes, that he met today with Treg Frealin one of the inhabitants of this small village. The following is the story how he told it to me, regarding his sighting of the Netherswimmer nearly fifty years ago.

“We were out hunting along the lower slopes when we felt the first stirrings of the earth. Nothing was thought of it at first, as we all know that the Vir’tog Gormz was mining deep beneath the mountain, this causes frequent shakes and tremors. Not more than a few moments later though, Burlan, my wives brother gave a loud cry. “Look!’ He said. “Faerhorál sends his minions!” And it was true from one of the lowland caves we could see a glow. It was soon followed by a swarm of Netherswimmers. It was a beautiful thing to behold. Like a tide of molten rock spewing from the cave mouth, yet leaving little sign of it’s passing. The bodies twisted in a strange dance. They crawled over each other making it impossible to tell the creatures apart.

We could not keep our selves from watching the event even though we new the danger that was close at hand. The sight was entrancing to watch in all its horrible glory. When we finally managed to tear ourselves away we made all haste to the village to warn our kin. Burlan was lost that day trying to let the livestock loose so that they could find their own safety.”

He went on to talk in detail of the rebuilding of the village after the horrible event. It pains me to say that I recall little of what he told me though, my mind was so fixed on the image of the Netherswimmers fleeing that I paid little attention to that part of the tale. Return to the top

Researchers. Though the Netherswimmer has been a source of curiosity for many people the most noted researcher who has dedicated his life to their study is Bobhei Nlan. Mr. Nlan was a failed magic student from Ximax in the early years of the fourteenth century. Most if not all of our discoveries regarding this creature can be attributed to him.Below are excerpts from his journal describing what he learned about this animal.

The third day of Burning Heavens 1325. Today my guides have finally led me into the caves that house the Otorm’Fyr. Prek the leader of the group informs me that I might as well rest for a few hours as the Netherswimmers will not be active until nightfall. How these creatures could tell the difference is a mystery to me. I shall wait until evening though I don’t believe that I will get much rest.

The seventh day of Burning Heavens 1325. It has been four days since my last entry in this journal. The reason for this is evident in the welts covering the palms of my hand, writing has just been too painful. Back to the first evening we arrived. Much to my surprise that night I had managed to sleep for a short period of time. I was awoken by a shout and as I sat up in my bedroll what appeared to be a burning branch landed hard next to me. Upon landing the item, what I realized was a large Netherswimmer, emitted a noxious yellow cloud hat nearly had me vomiting where I stood. In my excitement and having just been suddenly woken I reached down and picked the creature up. That mistake is what led to the welts across my hands and at that moment my profound embarrassment. So to did the laughter that accompanied what I learned was a common prank for travelers in this region. After cleaning the burning slime off my hands and bandaging them up I asked Prek about the smell. “Do you not smell the brimstone in the air?” he asked. At this point I found that I had been smelling the same smell for some time though much diluted. He procceded to tell me of how the nether swimmer had small sacs in their bodies that collected the gas and condensed it. He believed that it was some form of protection from predators.

After explaining this to me he donned a pair of leather gloves and walked over to the stream bank where I realized you could see a number of the animals swimming just under the surface. He caught one that seemed rather rotund and brought it back near our fire. After sitting he pulled a knife from his belt and cut the poor animal open carefully. “See the sac this is where he stores the gas. If you squeeze him or is he lands hard on his belly the gas comes out.” At these words he squeezed the sac causing yet another puff of the bad smelling vapour…

The sixteenth day of Burning Heavens 1325. We are packing up our camp now I will miss these wonderful creatures sorely. Though we have devised a container to hold a young specimen and I shall bring him home with me for further study, I think I shall name him Anders…

The twelfth day of Sleeping Dreameress 1325. I have just found out for certain, what I have suspected for a week. The soft glow that emanated from Anders is gone. Even in the darkest of night there is no gleam to be seen. Accompanying this I realize that though he still is slimy to the touch I can now handle him without fear of pain. He also has not swollen in size since leaving the mountains which leads me to wonder if the sacs that concentrate the gas of his home region have anything to do with this…

The twenty-third day of Awakening Earth 1326. It has taken some time to arrange but I have returned to the underground streams of the Celeste Mountains, Anders’ home. I return to test a theory of mine whether the creation of his aceed is dependant on the brimstone gas of the region. We have been here two days now and evidence suggests that I was correct. Within hours of arriving Anders began to appear bloated once again, and today he has taken on a definite glow. I hesitate to touch him but feel that I must if I am to be proven right...

The eighteenth day of Dead Tree 1349. I fear that this will be my last entry in this journal. My hand is unsteady and it is hard to breath. I am sitting behind my house at the edge of the small pond that is Anders’ home. While I feel as if my time here is nearing over he seems not to have aged in any fashion other than size. When I first brought him home he was no larger than a palmspan and eating what insects I could catch for him, now he reaches over two peds and is the terror of the pond. I hope that I can find a good home for him before I pass... Return to the top

 

 Date of last edit 11th Burning Heavens 1669 a.S.

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