THE NIGHT-STALKER ("CARNIVOROUS SLOTH")

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

The Scattersand Shoals is a land of lush greenery, and thriving fauna. While walking through the humid, tropical rainforests, listening to the happy chattering of birdsong overhead, one could be easily fooled into believing that no predators lurked nearby. But it would be foolish to allow that belief to take hold, and lull you into a false sense of security. Both the ground and the trees are home to an intelligent, and very capable hunter. One that does not rely on speed, or stealth, but more simply patience.

Even if one were to scan the treetops or undergrowth, it is likely that this dangerous creature would be missed, despite its large size. The Night-stalker, camouflaged perfectly into its forest home, will wait, biding its time, until the last possible moment when it will strike with deadly precision. A ferocious, carnivorous sloth, it is the silent terror of the Scattersand Shoals.

The Night-stalker
View picture in full size Image description. A Night-stalker preying on unsuspecting deer... Picture by Tikanni Corazon.

Appearance. The key to the Night-stalker's hunting technique is its ability to camouflage itself seamlessly into the surrounding forestland, whether it be on the ground, or high in the treetops. It's appearance therefore is very important to its survival. The fur is greenish brown in colour, and matted into disc-shaped clumps. The effect from a distance is of a dense cluster of leaves. So if one is looking up into the trees from the ground, the Night-stalker is practically invisible. When the animal itself is on the ground, the unusual texture and colouring of the fur allows it to hide amongst the undergrowth just as effectively. The green hue is caused by a form of algae, which grows in its fur. The belly is the only part of the Night-stalker's that lacks this matted fur. Though still quite coarse, the belly-fur is thick and curled.

A full grown adult Night-stalker can reach up to 2.5 peds in length, and nearly the same in height, but are more often found to be just under 2 peds. Though if tales are to be believed, there have been monstrous specimens of over three peds tall encountered by visitors to the Scattersand Shoals. None of these sightings have been officially documented, so it is unknown if it is true, but these animals are observed so little that it is a distinct possibility that it is.

The face is rounded, and small in comparison with the rest of the body. The eyes are beady, and look dark brown in colour, though this changes when the animal is in the middle of a slaughter. At these times, the eyes glow brilliant red, a reflection, maybe, of the creature's blood-thirsty desire. The nose is flat and consists of two narrow slits in the center of the face. The mouth is wide and smiling, and when open shows off a grin of many small pointed teeth, plus a set of fangs on both the upper and lower jaw. These fangs are around 6 nailsbreadths long each, and sharp as daggers. They are used to clamp down on prey, and the strong jaws then used to prevent escape. The head is located at the end of a long, thick neck, which takes up a whole third of the entire body length. While walking, the neck is held low, almost hanging, which combined with the animals slow gait, gives a clumsy, lumbering quality to its movements.

The legs of the creature make up much of the height, the front ones being quite a bit longer than the rear. Each leg ends in a long paw, which is almost shaped like a human hand, apart from the lack of a little finger. The three fingers each end in a long, sharp claw, curved for gripping tree branches, and also used for hooking onto prey. The claws are very sharp, easily piercing through both flesh and bone. The 'thumb' lacks a claw, and is thought to be used to aid the animal while walking on the ground.
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Special Abilities. The Night-stalker has the ability to remain perfectly still for long periods of time. It is believed that they can stay in the same spot, completely unmoving for five hours or more, as discovered by Genani Ra'anouf and her husband Tenrans Jorek, during a near fatal experience. The following was a journal entry of Tenrans:

"The sun was beginning to set, as we headed back to camp. We spotted a small group of hobbit deer in a clearing, and decided to stay a while to watch them as they foraged for food. We were delighted to see that there were a few babies that had only recently left the burrow. We knelt down in the bushes, and concentrated on a mother and fawn that grazed nearby. The fawn was tiny, just a little more than half a fore, and it tottered daintily along by its mother.

I began to get a cramp in my leg, and I shifted my position, unfortunately stepping onto a twig. The twig snapped, and the sound echoed around the area, startling the deer and making them flee. Disappointed we rose from our hiding places, and stepped into the clearing to take notes of the animals tracks. I knelt down close to the edge of the clearing to draw a diagram of the tiny hoof-prints. A gasp from Genani, made me look up. She stared, her eyes wide with fear, at a point behind me. I turned, and at first saw nothing. Then a flash of red came into my vision, and I saw two glowing eyes staring at me, mere fores away. Then the shape of the creature behind the eyes became clearer. A huge, bulky hide was outlined by the dim light, more than 2 peds tall.

"Back away slowly Tenrans," I heard Genani whisper frantically, "It's not too late to get away. Head back towards me, and it won't be able to get you."

As slowly as I could, fear coursing through my body, I inched away from the face, and those awful glowing eyes, full of intense blood lust. I had backed about a fore away, when the creature suddenly lunged at me. I let out a cry, and tried to leap back. But the beast caught my ankle with one of it's long claws, piercing through one side and coming straight out the other. It was then that I realised what the creature was. The Night-stalker began to drag me back, and Genani leaped forward and grasped me by the arms, and tried to pull me back. Pain shot through my ankle and leg, and I roared in agony. I could hear Genani calling out 'I'm sorry' over and over, but she kept tugging all the same, knowing that my fate if she let me go would be far worse. Throughout the attack, the creature remained deadly silent, just continued to pull at my ankle relentlessly.

I could feel Genani beginning to tire, and thought that my fate was sealed, when there was an awful ripping noise, and we fell backwards. Though it caused worse pain than I had ever felt before, the got to my feet, and we began to run, not stopping until we had reached the beach. We collapsed on the sand, and Genani checked my ankle. The bone was broken clean in two, and she said it would take a while to mend. But at least I had escaped with my life..."

Added to this is the ability to camouflage into it's leafy habitat to the point of an observer being unable to discern the difference between them. It blends seamlessly into whatever tree or bush it currently occupies, and remains there unmoving until it's prey comes within range for it to strike. This strike will come before the prey has realised what is happening. The Night-stalker is able to perform short bursts of lightning fast movement. Once it has a hold of it's prey it is strong, and only the luckiest will get away. But it is unable to chase after them, so this ultra quick movement is crucial for their hunting to be successful. Return to the top

Territory. The Night-stalker is a resident of the Scattersand Shoals. Though they are not observed very often, it is believed that a majority of their population exists in the lush rainforests on the island of Aidan, as this is where most sightings have been. But they have been discovered on Triam and Sapphiria as well.
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Habitat/Behaviour. The Night-stalker spends much of its time sleeping high in the canopy, occasionally waking to snack upon a passing bird or flittermouse. It awakens in mid evening to make its way to the ground, and find a suitable hiding place to await it's victims. It has been observed on the ground during the day on occasion, but this is very rarely seen.

They are solitary animals, with no adults ever having been observed in the same vicinity together. It seems the only time that another sloths presence will be tolerated is when they have young, and even then it is for as short a period as possible. The young will be taken care of by its mother for around six weeks. It will then be deposited in a tree, and left to fend for itself. For the first few months its life, the young Night-stalker will feed on a diet of insects and vegetation, until it becomes bigger and stronger and more able to take on larger prey. Their hunting abilities seem to be instinctual, as the young are never taught how to do it but are still capable from around the age of 6 months.

Most creatures will not attempt to take on a full grown Night-stalker, with the exception of the dragonbird, and it seems to be the only creature that the Sloth is truly wary of. Despite it being far larger than a single dragonbird, the Night-stalker is apparently no match for a pair. They stay out of dragonbird territory most of the time, and when they don't, the consequences are severe, sometimes resulting in the sloth's demise. An example of this was discovered by Genani Ra'anouf and Tenrans Jorek, when they came across the body of a dead Night-stalker while in the forest one day. They were attempting to observe the dragonbirds in the area when they found the mutilated body of the animal. It also happened to be their first sighting of the creature. The following is a journal entry, written by Tenrans:

"The body lay bloodied and broken in the undergrowth, the limbs all twisted awkwardly beneath it, as if it had fallen from the trees. It was a huge beast, slightly less than 2 peds in length, and, from the length of the legs, I would imagine the same in height. Three long, curved claws resided at the end of the four legs, and the strangely textured fur was a greenish brown in colouration. If it hadn't been for the large amounts of blood that spattered it and the surrounding bushes, I fear we would have missed it altogether.

Genani picked up a long bough, and prodded it, to make sure that it truly was dead. There was no reaction, so we attempted to move closer and take a better look. Genani knelt down and touched the chest of the creature, checking for a heartbeat.

"Nothing," she said, moving to take hold of one of the shattered limbs. "The body is still slightly warm, and rigor mortis has not fully set in." She lifted the limb, to show it had not yet gone stiff, then placed it back on the ground. "So I would imagine that this is a fairly recent kill." She reached up to the face and parted the lips, displaying many sharp teeth and two sets of long canines, the tips of which were stained slightly pink. "Carnivore. I'm guessing from the position of the body that it lives in the trees, and fell." She felt along the main body, searching for the wounds amidst the profusion of blood. "Narrow, deep wounds, almost like a rounded knife blade." She paused while she counted the number of wounds. "There are 7 wounds on the main body, 3 on the legs, and 2 on the neck, and I would say that it was this one..." she pointed to one of the neck wounds, "that finally killed it." She sat back on her heels, holding her bloody hands away from her clothing. "I wonder what could have done this to it?" I looked up into the trees, and couldn't help but smile a little.

"Does that answer your question?" I replied pointing. She looked up to where I was indicating, and saw some four peds above us, the pair of dragonbirds that we had been planning to observe that day. Both had bloodied beaks, and looked down proudly upon their kill..."
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Diet. The Night-stalker's diet consists mainly of smaller mammals and birds, it's favourite being hobbit deer, though it will eat pretty much anything that crosses its path. Night-stalkers are not fussy, consuming bones, teeth, fur, feathers and scales along with the flesh of its kills. When it is on the hunt, rather than killing just to satisfy its hunger, the Sloth will continue to kill and eat until it comes time for it to ascend back into the treetops. While in the treetops, the Night-stalker will snack on small flying creatures, including flittermice and varcosparrow, which it will catch by keeping its neck curled against its body, then shooting its head forwards as the unsuspecting prey flies past. Return to the top

Mating. The mating rituals of the Night-stalker are a complete mystery. No two adult Sloths have ever been observed in the same vicinity, and there has only been one incident where a mother and baby have been spotted together. By pure good fortune, the body found by Genani and Tenrans was both female and pregnant. It is thought that the female Sloth was about halfway through her gestation period when she died. The reproductive organs are similar to that of an ape or monkey, but there is yet to be a documentation of the mating itself.

Considering that it isn't possible to get close enough to them to even discern the sex of an individual, it isn't known if the male even looks the same as the female, or how common it is for each sex to be reproduced. Does the male take an active roll in the care of the baby sloth, or does the mother do it alone? Or is the baby passed on to the male after it is born? The answers to these questions have yet to be discovered, though the latter seems unlikely, as the baby would need feeding. Most mammal babies are fed through lactation, though this is not necessarily a fact, and it is possible that the baby Night-stalker could be fed in another way.

The one baby that has been observed, looked very little like the parent Sloth. Lacking the matted, green hued fur, baby sloths are covered in soft downy fur of pale silver-grey and are very tiny in comparison to the adults, being only around a fore in length. They snuggle into the belly fur of the mother/father Night-stalker, which lacks the matted texture of the rest of the body, and seem to sleep for much of the time. When open, the eyes are bright and curious, and despite the terrifying predator they will one day become, they are as delightfully sweet as any other baby animal.
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Usages. It is not possible to use the Night-stalker for anything. Due to their hostile and vicious temperament, it is highly recommended that people not only do not attempt to capture the animal, but that they make sure to stay away from it completely. Even if this was not the case, there is very little that the animal offers that is considered desirable. The fur is coarse and matted, so would not be greatly sought after. When she examined the body of the dead sloth, Genani discovered that the coat was waterproof. This, along with the excellent camouflage it provided, prompted Genani to use it to make an observation tent, through which she could get a closer look at her subjects and witness them going about their everyday lives. It could be used in the same way by hunters, to hide them from their quarry, and give a greater chance of a successful hunt. The claws could also be used in weaponry, as they are extremely strong and resistant, as well as being razor sharp. However, the risk to obtain these items far outweighs their usefulness. Return to the top

Myth/Lore. Early visitors to the Scattersand Shoals returned to their homeland telling tales of a huge, looming, night-hunting creature, that lay waiting in the shadows, before attacking with lightning speed. There were some that said that these creatures were sent by the gods as punishment, to feast upon the blood of those who had wronged their fellow man. The following story tells of one such tale, told originally by the keeper of a tavern in Cape Strata, though it has been passed along and is a popular spook story to tell around the camp fire. This is a reproduction of the original tale, told from the point of view of the tavern keeper:

The Terror of the Haunted Shores of Sapphiria. It was a stormy night, the night it happened. I was stood behind the bar, making slow conversation with one of the locals, who'd had a little too much of the new ale. When I heard the ruckus coming from outside, I figured that, since it was near to closing up time, that a couple of lads were brawling over some drunken disagreement. But then I pricked up my ears at the word 'help' being hollered from nearby. I made for the door, and opened it. A group of locals were making their way along the street, carrying something between them. When they saw the light from my open tavern door, they headed straight for me.

"What seems to be the trouble lads?" I asked them as they drew nearer. The boy in the lead, a young man called Hep, was the one who answered me.

"We found a man floating in the water by the docks. He's hurt pretty bad."

I paused before answering, pondering whether I wanted the trouble of looking after an injured stranger. But I'm a kind man at heart, and couldn't bring myself to turn them away.

"Bring him on in lads," I said, standing aside for them to pass through. They all smiled at me gratefully, and entered the tavern. "Take him through to the back room, and we'll have a look at him." They did as I said, while I rang the bell to signal that I was closing up for the night. When the last drunk had stumbled out the door, I followed the others through to the back room, and for the first time I beheld the injured man.

How he had survived his injuries I will never know, but I had never seen anything like it. He was a young man, maybe 20 years of age, and I knew just by looking at him that he wouldn't see his next birthday. The tattered rags that had been his clothing were saturated with blood, the flesh beneath them matching, ragged and torn. One of his arms looked like it had been ripped off at the elbow, the remains of skin and muscle hanging loosely from the wound. His legs had not fared much better, with both of them hanging on by mere bone alone, nearly all of the flesh having been stripped away. For a time I was speechless at the horror that lay before me. I had never seen anything like it.

"What happened to him," I asked when I was recovered enough to speak. The men all shook their heads.

"We don't know," one of them said, "We just found him floating on a piece of driftwood near the harbour. He was unconscious when we dragged him out of the water, and hasn't woken since." He pointed to the deep clefts hacked into the mans torso. "But I would say, looking at these, that he was attacked by some kind of animal." He laid three of his fingers on a set of the marks, and I could see that he was right. It looked like he'd been slashed by some three clawed beast. All of the other wounds were the same.

I fetched a bowlful of water, and some rags, and set about cleaning the chest wounds, though I knew there was no hope for him really. As the wet cloth touched his skin, the man groaned in pain. I continued despite the obvious pain that I was causing him. When I was done, I laid a wet, clean rag over his forehead to cool his fever a little, then I looked more closely at the wounds.

"They look awfully deep," I noted out loud. Carefully, and as gently as I could, I opened up the wound a little with my fingers. It opened straight through to his innards, which pulsated wetly beneath my fingers. "Whatever it was, it's opened him clean up." I looked up into the horrified faces of the man's rescuers. "What could have done this?"
They all shook their heads in unison. None of them knew, but all were scared.

I cleaned the rest of the man's wounds, and made a makeshift bed out of blankets, telling the men to lay him on it. When they had done so, they stood back and looked at me as if waiting for orders for what they should do next. I smiled at them wearily.

"You go on home lads," I said, "You've all of you got families to take care of. Don't worry, I'll look after him as best I can."They trailed out of the tavern, and I latched the door behind them. I checked on the man once more, saw that he was sleeping soundly, and then I went to my own bed for the night.

I was awoken from my slumber some time later by a terrible screaming. I went through to the back room and saw that the man had awoken, his eyes were wide with pure fear, tears streaming from them. He looked at me as I entered the room, and for a moment, his youthful, unlined face looked even younger, almost like a child. I knelt down next to him, and took his hand. He trembled erratically, and his breath came in short, sharp bursts. He shook his head over and over, as if saying no to an endless question.

"What can I do?" I asked him gently. He spoke then, little more than a whisper.

"Not the dark... it lives in the dark... "

I got to my feet and lit one of the lamps, and then returned to him. After a few moments he stopped shaking his head, and the tears ceased, though he still trembled slightly.

"Feel better now?" I said, smiling down at him. I pointed to his wounds. "What happened to you?" He didn't say anything for a moment, then he murmured something so softly that I could barely hear.

"It came from the gods," his eyes filled with tears once again. "It must have... to punish us for our crimes."

"What came from the gods?" I was sure by this point that the boy had become delirious from his fever. I took a deep breath. "Please tell me what happened, from the beginning." He looked back at me like he didn't understand me. Then after a few moments, he too took a deep breath and began his tale.

"We had just set up camp for the night. We arrived on Sapphiria for the first time earlier that day, and buried our loot deep in the forest where only we could find it. The camp was close to the hiding place, and we had just caught us a couple of deer. The Captain had brought some stingo from the ship, and we were drinking and eating, and feeling like kings. It was our first time you see, pirating. We had bagged ourselves a nice pile of loot, and found the perfect hiding place. No one ventures to the haunted shores of Sapphiria. We were so proud of ourselves.

We barely noticed when the others started to disappear. There would be a short yelp, and suddenly they just weren't there anymore. After the captain was taken, we started to get scared. Those of us that remained decided to split into twos and go look for them. After only a few blinks, my partner had gone. After that, I heard screams, all coming from nearby, the screams of my fellows as they too disappeared. It began to rain, and thunder and lightning crashed above me. But I could still hear the screams, echoing through the forest.

Then they stopped. I called out to them, continuing to seek them even though I knew I wouldn't find them. I crept through the undergrowth, looking around in the darkness for my lost companions.

There was a extra bright lightning flash and..." The young man paused, his eyes growing wide at the mere memory of what he'd seen. "... and I saw it. It watched me, from a few peds ahead of me. I might not have seen it at all, save for the eyes. They... they were red... bright red... and they seemed to glow. I stopped... I couldn't go any further and I couldn't go back. It was like my legs had turned to jelly. When the next flash of lightning came, the creature was gone. I looked around frantically in the limited light, and there it was. It sat in the bushes to the right of me, mere fores away. It towered over me, probably twice my height. Another lightning flash, and I saw the upraised claws, and the gleam of bloodied fangs. I didn't have time to scream, it just slashed at me with such speed and force that I hardly knew it had happened. Then it lunged at me. It... it grabbed my arm... and just pulled it off, like it was nothing. It slashed at me again and again, ripping the flesh from my body. Suddenly, my legs regained their movement, and I just ran. I ran and ran as fast as I could, until I reached the ship. I got on board, told the rest of the crew what had happened, and we set sail.

But the storm was to get worse, and the ship crashed into some reefs. I managed to haul myself onto a piece of the debris, before I lost consciousness. Then I woke up here."

As he had told his story, the young mans eyes began to go cloudy, and his voice rasped. I knew he was not long for this world. Suddenly he grasped my hand tightly, and looked into my eyes with such intensity that I could do nothing but take heed of his words.

"Never go there... it is a blood-thirsty demon that haunts that place... not ghosts ... stay... away from... Sapphiria... " He choked as he said these last words, and his eyes glazed over. After one final breath, he was gone.
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Researchers. Most of the research on the Night-stalker was done by the Eyelian researcher Genani Tallclimber Ra'anouf. She resides in the Scattersand Shoals, with her husband Tenrans Jorek, and is dedicated to the discovery of the flora and fauna that share her island home. Her current discoveries include the scattersand ray, the dragonbird, and the stunning harmony tree. Return to the top

 Date of last edit 20th Sleeping Dreameress 1670 a.S.

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