THE CONTRARIWISE SALAMANDER

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

It is a generally accepted fact that living creatures get bigger as they get older. It’s a rule that has held up fairly well, so well in fact that most people accept it without thinking. Perhaps this is part of what makes the Contrariwise Salamander, with its tadpoles so many times bigger than the adults, so unnerving. There again, perhaps it has more to do with the venomous slime which the adults ooze from their skin. Or it could even be the way in which they occasionally stage mass exoduses from their homes in the caverns beneath the great Zsharkanian peaks, invading the homes of nearby people and devouring anything not nailed down.

Appearance. Contrariwise Salamanders look so utterly different in tadpole and adult stage that few would think them the same creature, the most obvious and unbelievable difference being that of size. A Contrariwise Tadpole is born a couple of palmspans long – large indeed, for any tadpole, but not unduly oversized, given the length of their parents (two to three peds from nose to tail). However, Contrariwise Tadpoles live for decades – possibly even centuries, as there seems no limit to how long they can survive, given food and space, before metamorphosing into their adult form. In that time, they grow steadily to fill whatever body of water they live in, and whatever food supply is available. Tadpoles as long as a horse and cart are relatively commonplace, and even longer ones are rumoured. Aside from their bulk, they look much like any other tadpole: a bulbous, smooth-skinned body with an upturned mouth and small beady eyes. A long, dorsally flattened tail at the rear of the body takes up around two thirds of the overall length of the tadpole, with a thin, transparent membrane running down the length. The skin of the tadpole, much like that of the adult salamander, is a pale, almost luminous yellow-white colour, often scarred and pitted from attacks by other tadpoles.

Adult salamanders are low-slung, heavily built creatures. They waddle with a kaimun-like gait, as their legs are quite short. Their tails drag on the ground, and their large, wide heads hang very close to the ground when they walk, giving them a ponderous, slightly laboured appearance – they can’t move very quickly, though they rarely have to.

The skin of adult Contrariwise Salamanders is very slimy – small organs along their backs secrete a thick, transparent slime. Thus salamanders leave trails of this secretion behind them – there are suggestions that they use the trails to find each other in the darkness of their subterranean habitat. Their pudgy, four toed feet have special porous skin on the soles, allowing them to grip the rock and not slide on their own slime. Even their mouths are constantly trailing long ribbons of slime – the salamanders have wide mouths lined with hundreds of small, ridged teeth, and a large, muscular tongue. They can open their mouths very wide, allowing them to swallow things only slightly smaller than the girth of their own bodies. They have tiny, pale eyes which protrude from the sides of their heads – how much they can see is doubtful, but they do appear to be sensitive enough to light to tell if they are nearing the outside of the caves in which they live.
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Special Abilities. Almost any dwarf resident in Tyr Faerath will tell you, if asked, one thing about the Contrariwise Salamander: the slime they produce so copiously is a potent venom – it causes violent nausea and vomiting if consumed, and if too much is taken it can even cause death, as no food or drink can be kept down long enough to sustain the body.

Obviously this poses a significant risk if any salamanders find their way into the water supply, and after several infamous incidents it was discovered that the tadpoles produce a different substance, which bears the extraordinary property of relieving the nauseating effects of their parents’ slime. Thus by ensuring that a few Contrariwise Tadpoles live in the main pools from which Tyr Faerath’s water stems, widespread poisonings are now a very rare occurrence. Because of their convenient properties, the tadpoles are known by the Kiingerim dwarves as TormutinJor (lit. “healing-fish”), and the adult salamanders, long thought of as an entirely unrelated species, because of their obvious size differences, are known as Udishumawi (lit. “Sick-milk-things”).

Another strange ability of the Contrariwise Salamander is that growing up seems to be largely optional. Unlike most frogs and newts, which develop from tadpoles into adults after a set time, it seems that the unchanging environment of the Zsharkanian caverns allows them to remain as tadpoles, growing slowly larger and larger, for indefinite periods of time. What exactly causes a tadpole to start changing is not known for certain, but the patterns of slow growth, invasion of the surface dwellings, and retreat back into the caves, might suggest that population is the cause. Thus when there is not enough room or food for the tadpoles, they will begin to change into adults. When there is no longer pressure for food or swimming-space, they will stop changing.
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Territory. The true extent of the Contrariwise Salamanders’ range is unknown, as they live solely in the underground caverns and pools of the Zsharkanian peaks, the mountain range with stretches through central Nybelmar. They are best documented in the network of mainly submerged caverns at the southern tip of the range, around the dwarven stronghold of Tyr Faerath. There they seem common enough to pose a threat to the water supply with their poisonous slime, and a community of the tadpoles is kept to remove the poison. How far into the caverns they live is almost impossible to say - next to nothing is known of the extent of the caves, or what conditions are like inside them. What the salamanders would find to eat is a mystery, though it seems likely that, if there were a steady food supply, and enough water to support the tadpoles, they could exist in almost any terrain that might be within the towering Zsharkanian peaks.

The only other place where reports of Contrariwise Salamanders are known is at the opposite end of the mountain range – travellers venturing north from Fullwanooth, into the foothills at the northernmost extremity of the Sharkion Zsharath (Zhsarkanian peaks), occasionally report sightings of, as one traveller put it, “enormous moon-coloured wyrms, which lurk within caverns hidden in the flanks of the foothills, and leave poisonous trails of foul excrescence behind them wheresoever they venture.” (from the journal of Leisl Woolyfoot, travelling smith of the Plainsdwarves).
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Habitat/Behaviour. Not much is known about the habits of the Contrariwise Salamander, and much of what we think we know is through inference, educated guesswork, and one or two expeditions into the caves. They seem to divide their time largely between eating, which they do with great enthusiasm, and sitting very still, or at the most moving slowly and apparently aimlessly in a perpetual quest for new sources of food, or, failing that, a mate. The formidable defences the adult salamanders have in their venomous slime suggests that they have at least one natural predator, but what it could be is unknown. Just what manner of cave-dwelling carnivore would be able to live off such large and unpalatable creatures can only be speculated on, at present.

They live exclusively underground, in the cave systems of the Zsharkanian peaks, most notably those containing plenty of water. The adults can survive outside of water, provided the air is not too dry, but the tadpoles and eggs need a body of fresh water to live and grow in. Tadpoles grow to fit the space available, which, in the many of the great caverns and tunnels, means they can reach colossal proportions – how large they could potentially grow is impossible to say, but some of those living in captivity in the depths of Tyr Faerath are true subterranean leviathans, breathtaking to behold.

The tadpole seems to devote its time to eating with much the same diligence and accommodating taste as the adult salamanders. There is an air of placid contentment in all their actions – they even eat slowly and calmly – a far cry from the adults, which wolf their food down convulsively, snapping and emitting low burping growls if any others are nearby. Contrariwise Salamanders are unsociable and tend to growl and bite at each other when they meet. It seems unlikely that they meet very often, as they don’t seem particularly common, at least in the small areas where they are known of. By and large, they stay well hidden in the deepest caverns, their light-sensitive eyes always steering them away from chambers close enough to the surface to still admit light. Sometimes, though, perhaps for reasons of food shortage, or population, or possibly both, they actively seek out better-lit tunnels, often in large numbers. Though this behaviour is very rare, occurring perhaps once in a century, it is well documented by the dwarves of Tyr Faerath, who find their homes invaded by giant, poisonous creatures in search of food. When this happens, salamanders are usually killed on sight, and the tunnels by which they gain entrance blocked up as soon as possible. Nonetheless, stories of Contrariwise Salamanders that slip into homes and devour children, sour wells, and otherwise bring sickness and sorrow, are abundant.

In an effort to confirm his theories about the population growth of Contrariwise Salamanders, Sadko Galkinir mounted an expedition into the caves – the first since the dwarves first sought out salamander spawn with which to populate their water sources. An idea of the habitat of these creatures can be glimpsed in his notes:

“Day three. It seems we are past the worst terrain – yesterday was the hardest climbing yet, in narrow, precipitous chambers jagged with broken rocks and slippery with shallow, fast-running streams. But this morning we passed the last of these treacherous descents, we think – the path has evened out somewhat and the caves are wider. These are old spaces. We are almost certainly the first to walk through them since the spawn-collectors. The air seems safe, though it is very still and silent. When we stop to rest or set up camp, the only noise is the far off sound of water. According to the report of the spawn collectors, the path should turn upwards now, and we will begin climbing into the very heart of the mountains.

Day five. The notes were right – we’ve been climbing steadily for two days, the terrain very varied; sometimes even harder than the first descents, with waterfalls that we must rope together to climb, holding our breaths; sometimes through great smoothed-out tunnels wide enough for us all to walk abreast. There are stalactites and stalagmites of all shapes and sizes – we passed through an immense chamber where they grew like trees in a forest, so that it was tricky to squeeze between them. More exciting than this, though, was our first glimpse of life: an adult salamander, which we guessed was at least a ped and a half long, was glimpsed by keen-sighted Brynjolf, some distance ahead of us as we rounded a corner in a long tunnel. As our lights neared it, though, it gaped its wide, yellowish mouth, emitting an odd burping-hissing noise, and slid into the river which ran the length of the tunnel, disappearing from view. A brief sighting, but encouraging – we were getting near to our goal. This also means that we must now rely on the water supplies we have brought with us. This far from help, we cannot risk anyone falling ill from salamander-poisoning.

Day eight. Finally, we have reached the great underground lake that the spawn collectors wrote of! It is even more spectacular than I imagined. I write this standing on the shore of a body of water so massive it defies description, or, at least, this s my assumption – in the distance, possibly as much as a stral away, the cave ceiling lowers to below the waterline. How far it goes from there is impossible to say. The “shore” itself is made up of a myriad of connecting tunnels and streams, some too narrow to admit my arm, others twice as wide as any of the streets back in Tyr Faerath. All flow into this great lake, or out of it, depending on the slope. There are small beaches of pale grey sand and shallows where tiny wriggling fishes swim, undisturbed by our lights, as they have no eyes. I wish we had brought means to construct a boat, as then we could go out to observe the tadpoles- I can see them from here, massive milk-white shapes, tens of peds long. Perhaps most marvellous is the means by which I can see all this- dappled growths of luminescent lichen, which seems equally at home underwater and above, carpet the rockfaces, softly lighting up the chambers with surprising clarity. Perhaps this is what the tadpoles eat. The only hazard here seems to be the adult salamanders. Though they never venture into the deep water, we often see them prowling the shallows and tributaries, snapping at the small fish. Their slimy trails streak the rocks all over, and we must take great care to keep our food and water wrapped up, as well as not to get the slime on our own hands or clothes. Sleeping is particularly difficult, as last night I woke to see a salamander nuzzling at my own feet, through the blanket that covers them. Naturally I kicked out in fright, and it hissed and lurched away. We are all, I think, feeling slightly nauseous, despite our best efforts, and keeping food down is a struggle, though none of us is sufficiently affected to find it impossible. We won’t be able to stay here long, for fear of running out of water. But what an astounding place it is to be, even briefly!”
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Diet. Contrariwise Salamanders are renowned for eating everything whenever they venture up into Tyr Faerath. They will consume meat, vegetables, ale and bread, even candlewax, soap and armour polish, and stories abound of them devouring small children, pets and other animals alive. The wide mouths and strong jaws of the adults, lined with a great many small blunt teeth, make it very hard for prey to escape once it has been caught, and the salamanders will slowly gulp down whatever can physically fit past their jaws, including smaller salamanders. Cannibalism is common both among tadpoles and adults, with smaller creatures falling prey to larger ones if they get too close. It has been argued that if the tadpoles weren’t so large, they too would be swallowed by their parents – as it is, though, the opposite is occasionally true. Adult Contrariwise Salamanders must take care not to slip into the deep pools where large tadpoles live, or they will be swallowed whole – the tadpoles have similarly indiscriminate tastes to their parents. There are rumours throughout Tyr Faerath that the ones kept in the water supply of the city are often used as a handy way to dispose of bodies whose deaths are thought best kept secret.

The chief archivist at Tyr Faerath Enkyklopaedia, Sadko Galkinir, has studied the patterns of salamander activity for hundreds of years, and formed a theory to explain their seemingly arbitrary invasions of the surface habitations. His research suggests that the limited food supply in the caves must be under great pressure from the salamanders, both adult and tadpole. However, because the tadpoles cannot feed on dry land, and the adults would risk being eaten by younger tadpoles if they ventured into the deep water, there are essentially two separate food supplies. Exactly what they might consist of is, as of yet, unknown. Fungi have been suggested as a likely source, as well as entire menageries of subterranean creatures. These two supplies might act in a kind of seesaw effect; for example, if the tadpole population grows until there is not enough food to go between them, some will start changing into adult salamanders. This means that the salamander population will grow, until they cannot find enough food in the deep caves, and start to migrate towards the surface, where there is more plentiful food, albeit guarded by dwarves who will do their utmost to defend it against the pestilent salamanders. This lowers the salamander population so much that those remaining in the deep caves find themselves able to gorge on food, thus gaining enough excess energy to breed. This they do, and so the tadpole population begins to rise again, the cycle having come full circle. This process must take hundreds of years, given the irregularity of the salamander migrations. Thus if Mr. Galkinir is correct, the lifespan of a salamander could, in theory, stretch to thousands of years.
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Mating. Almost nothing is known of the mating habits of Contrariwise Salamanders. What little has been gleaned comes from the observations of Mr. Galkinir, and certain records detailing the introduction of the first tadpoles into the Tyr Faerath water supply. Indeed, they are in fact the only tadpoles, as they show no signs, as of yet, of developing into salamanders, or of ageing, despite being each nearly a thousand years old. The long lifespan of Contrariwise Salamanders suggests they need only mate once in hundreds of years to maintain a population. Sadko Galkinir’s theory of their life-cycle suggests that mating requires an unusually abundant food supply, only available after a great drop in the adult population. Male salamanders (almost impossible to tell from the females, but for their behaviour), will often pursue a female, even above ground, but are always rebuffed with violent jaw-snappings. If a female had eaten well enough to sustain the expense of developing eggs, though, she might be more amenable to mating, whereupon it is assumed that she would lay eggs in water and leave them, as most amphibians do.

Only one description of Contrariwise Salamander eggs is known in existence – that of the eggs gathered by intrepid dwarves wishing to introduce some tadpoles to the water supply of Tyr Faerath, in order to protect it against poisoning by adult salamanders. The eggs are described as “the size of a small loaf of bread, but thickla coated in a foul slime. However it does not seem like the pestilent ooze of the Udishumawi, but clearer, and smelling sweeter, though by no means pleasant. They are silver-white in colour, and heavier than they look. We were at first doubtful that they could contain TormutinJor, and worried that they might harbour some dangerous creature of these dark caves, but on shining torchlight close against them, the curled form of a small TormutinJor could be faintly discerned.”

These records also state that the eggs were found in a shallow pool, connected only by a narrow passage to the deeper subterranean lakes where large tadpoles lurk. It seems that the adult salamanders are careful to lay their eggs where bigger tadpoles cannot get at them, so they aren’t all devoured before they can grow big enough to be safe.
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Usages. There are two uses for Contrariwise Salamanders, of which one is definitely not recommended. The other concerns the tadpoles, and has been touched on already –a property in the mucus excreted by Contrariwise Tadpoles makes it a very effective remedy for nausea, especially that caused by the venom of the adult. As well as their being kept in the water supply of Tyr Faerath to prevent contamination, the local people also make a decent profit from the carefully regulated harvesting and sale of the “AnjorSumavi” (lit. "Fish-milk") to healers from outside the city. Though it doesn’t keep especially well, it is potent enough to be a valuable remedy to illnesses that cause vomiting. Many fevers and food-poisoning cases would be a good deal more dangerous if it were not for a dose of AnjorSumavi. It should be noted, however, that this remedy tackles only the symptom of a sickness, not the underlying cause. It cannot speed recovery, other than by allowing a sufferer to keep down food, water, and other medicine, and to get some rest if nausea is preventing them from doing so. It should never be mixed with antidotes and purging medicines such as crimson rose sap or waterstar, as the results could be fatal.

There are currently eight tadpoles throughout the water supply of Tyr Faerath, and they are given great respect and care by locals, with special carers who devote their time to making sure they are well fed, and have responsibility for collecting excess slime to be dried and sold as AnjorSumavi. They are as old as the oldest dwarves currently living, and have individual names. Sadko Galkinir records a time when one of the tadpoles, known as Urye (lit. “pure”) scraped itself on a sharp rock edge, and was craned out of the water once a day so that its wound could be tended. To lift the immense, six ped creature from the water took the strength of twenty dwarves. That such pains are taken to ensure the wellbeing of these creatures shows just how important they are in keeping the city safe.

The other use is less beneficial, and derived from the adult salamander; certain individuals appear to have found a market for the mucus of the adult salamander. The violent, uncontrollable nausea incurred by consumption of even small quantities of this venom has been reputedly used in wealthy, status concerned societies as a form of “social assassination”. For example, an ostentatious dinner party will be sabotaged by the addition of Contrariwise venom to the main course – every guest being violently ill as a result, and the host’s reputation reduced to shameful infamy. Though not usually fatal, for those already ill or weak, salamander venom can be very dangerous, and the experience of being poisoned is always extremely unpleasant – trading in it or using it for personal gain is a cruel and vindictive act, regardless of its supposedly non-lethal effects.
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Myth/Lore. Contrariwise Salamanders are regarded with mixed feelings by the dwarves they occasionally come into contact with. Whilst the tadpoles are held as useful creatures for their healing properties, the adults are reviled and feared, their occasional plaguing of Tyr Faerath giving them an unshakeable association with pestilence and impurity. Even now there is doubt among many that they are truly the same creature, though the research carried out by archivists such as Sadko Galkinir comes as close to proving the link as possible, given the difficulty of observing them in the wild.

The existence of Contrariwise Salamanders is traditionally viewed as a mistake or a joke of the Un’Sthommerons, and the tricksterish Quontvil in particular. The oldest record of Contrariwise Salamanders takes the form of a short myth explaining their origin. Roughly translated, it goes as follows:

Kannvil stood here and grieved for his lost marble-wife, and his tears made the springs of Tyr Faerath. “All comes to nothing.” He exclaimed, “Though we strive to create beautiful things they are always worn down. Even the hardest stone wears down and so sorrows multiply and their weight grinds the whole world to dust.”

Quontvil was passing and he thought it a shame that Kannvil should spend his time doing nothing but weep. “Cheer up, lord! You know that is not true! Stop your moping and look at the world – is it crumbling beneath your feet? Clattering around your ears? No! It stands around us as it always has. It finds a way to keep going. You would certainly have something to weep about if it didn’t. Now smile and be quiet – I am trying to work and your wailing disturbs me.”

But Kannvil could not cease his weeping, for his heart was broken. Finally Quontvil became angry, and said to the mourning lord: “will you never be quiet? How can I be expected to concentrate on creating wonderful creatures when you make such racket? Here- look after these, I can’t get any further because of your noise.” and Quontvil spat in the stream, and TormutinJor were formed, and swam around in the water. Quontvil left, to travel through other lands and work his crafts elsewhere.

After a great time, he returned, to find Kannvil just where he had left him, but the TormutinJor were entirely transformed. “What are these crawling monsters that infest the caves? Where are the healing fish I left with you?” he asked. Kannvil mournfully explained, “All comes to nothing; what would you expect? When you left them here, these were but newborn creatures, and yet they were big as great fishes, and pure as the water they swim in- they gave milk that cures sickness, even. But when they got older they began to shrink. They crawled out of the water and changed into foul things that bring disease and misfortune on everything. They dwindled and shrank into nothing but poison. This is the way of the world, is it not?” and Kannvil began again to weep.

Quontvil was mightily angry at what had been wrought of his creatures, and said “If this is how you see the world, then they are my gift to you. Enjoy them!”

And with those words, Quontvil strode away, leaving Kannvil to his weeping, and the TormutinJor to grow into Udishumawi.

Though this myth states fairly unequivocally that the TormutinJor (tadpoles) are of the same species as the Udishumawi (adult salamanders), it has only recently become a widely accepted truth, as various expeditions deeper into the mountains have slowly added to available knowledge about the salamanders. Previously, almost everything known about Contrariwise Salamanders came from their occasional “invasions” of Tyr Faerath itself. These plagues, though rare, are well documented in the House of Records, and make sobering reading, as many of the reports cover the times before it was realised that keeping tadpoles in the water supply would keep drinking water safe. This short report documents the last invasion prior to the addition of safeguard tadpoles, and shows just how much damage the salamanders wrought before this simple measure was taken:

“Our fears are confirmed. The sudden sickness that seemed yesterday to flare for no reason among a few children did indeed herald a new plague. They came before we woke this morning, creeping pale and pestilent through the streets with yawning mouths and sagging bellies. We speared them, cut off their heads, burned them and crushed them but still they keep coming – hundreds! Orders have already been sent – none are to drink water, only ale or other drinks that have been boiled, but already many are sick – the foul creatures leave their ooze everywhere – it slicks the streets and tunnels. There are stories everywhere of the creatures breaking into houses, devouring food, rubbish, pets, livestock- a woman came before the council today, hysterical with grief, saying she had seen her baby swallowed up in front of her eyes! It has to stop. They are setting out poisoned meat as I write this, all along the streets. The people have locked themselves in their houses, and hopefully we will not have long to wait before our city belongs to us once more. There are so many sick... the illness does not last long – hours at most – but it wracks the body while it lasts. Nothing will stay in the stomach, not a drop of water or a crumb of bread – passing by people’s houses it is easy to hear them. Already the weak and the young are being claimed, and if we have to wait until the water runs fresh, and our streets are cleansed, how many more will be lost? Looking back through the records I see the same thing, time and again. There must be better measures that can be taken. Tyr Faerath will not be held in thrall by worms.”

-- From the writings of Kzat Osklin, keeper of the House of Records
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Researchers. The author would like to make known her gratitude to the chief archivist at Tyr Faerath House of Records, Sadko Galkinir. His dedicated research into the life cycle of the Contrariwise Salamander, and the intelligent theories he has formed from his research, were invaluable to this work, as well as being of incalculable value to the people of Tyr Faerath, who rely on minds like his to ensure their continued safety from the unknown dangers that lurk within the Zsharkanian peaks. Return to the top

 Date of last edit 15th Singing Star 1670 a.S.

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