In late spring around the Eight Winds Bay, when the wind blows from the great maelstrom that boils perpetually at the bay’s centre, inhabitants of the outlying islands and the shore are witness to an eerie spectacle – clouds of glittering creatures, a little like spiny worms or strange airborne fishes, drift on the wind like lotann seedheads. The strange, insect-like appearance of these “Stromflies” has long made them a mystery, and it has only recently been confirmed that these are fish, which will grow into large, considerably less helpless ruffed eels.
The fry (newly hatched young) are very small, light creatures, hardly like fish
at all. They consist almost entirely of a long, silvery body a palmspan or so
long but less than a nailsbreadth across. Bony and fragile to the touch, this
worm or grub-like body has often led to them being classed as some form of
insect or even an airborne jellyfish, and earned them the name Stromfly.
The eyes are very large and bulbous, with the glassy look is common to fish out of water, and the mouth is tiny and underdeveloped, as of course they have no use for it at this age, subsisting entirely off the pinkish yellow yolk sac which acts as ballast, attached to what will be the fish’s belly. This being the only note of real colour to the Stromfly, they can look quite striking when the injera’s light is behind them, and a cloud of Stromflies before the sunset is a sight to behold, with each yolksac glowing like a small lamp, and their silvery fins reflecting the light between them in a constantly shifting, glittering cloud.
The gills are extraordinary, and quite beautiful – the gill plates lift up around the neck like a silvery ruff, and the thin red tendrils of the gills are exposed to the air, where it seems the high moisture levels in the maelstrom allow them to breathe out of the water. The gill-plates themselves are hardened and quite sharp, enough to cut the mouth or hand of anything snatching them too injudiciously from the air.
The rest of the body is little more than a bony tail, studded with the extraordinary fins, which fan out and lock together by means of little hooks at the tips to create two sail-like ruffs around the body of the fish - the larger from the pectoral fins, behind the gills, the smaller from the dorsal and ventral fins, a few nailsbreadths down. These fins act like sails, catching the gales of the maelstrom to let them fly for strals and strals. These fins are transparent, but reflect direct light much like water, so that they sparkle and flash as they twist through the air.
The adults are so entirely different that it was long a matter of doubt as to whether they were in any way related to the Stromflies. Known widely as the ruffed or dandy eel (modified to “Danderel” around the Eight Winds Bay), the adult is a substantial fish, growing to over a ped long and thicker than a man’s forearm. They have no fins, save a faint spiny ridge down the backs, lengthening to an oar-shaped tailfin, and the same double row of ruff-shaped fins that the young Stromflies have. What were magnificent silvery parachutes on the tiny fry, however, are tiny in comparison to the adult fish, as they stop growing nearly entirely when the fish matures, giving the impression that the adult ruffed eel has been fitted with an undersized collar.
The gills recede, back to the normal concealed kind common to most fishes, and the rest of the skull grows to fit the bulbous eyes, leaving a head characteristic of bottom-feeding scavengers – a large, versatile mouth and upturned eyes. They have a formidable set of teeth, up to two hundred tiny sharp fangs, backward pointing so as to grip any prey fast. Their bodies, though without the usual arrangement of fins, are strong and well muscled, without scales, as is usual for eels, and with a slimy skin which is nonetheless slightly rough when brushed the wrong way.
Of course the most obvious ability of Stromflies is that they can fly. As a
defence against water predators, breeding
Ruffed Eels take advantage of the unique permanent maelstrom of the
Eight Winds Bay
to scatter their thousands of young far and wide. The young, whipped up into the
air by the boiling
water, need only unfurl their fins to be
borne out of reach of most predators, and dispersed over vast areas. Unable to
steer themselves, many will of course land far from
water, or in otherwise hostile areas, but
enough hit water that it is well worth the
loss of the minority of fry.
Both adult eels and young Stromflies can breathe out of water, provided there is sufficient air moisture. Adults are less efficient at this, as their gills are not exposed to the air, but instead their slimy skin allows them to stay moist for long enough to cross barriers to their migration, breathing through their skins much like some frogs can when underwater, and closing their gill plates entirely to keep from drying out. Over land they move like somewhat clumsy serpents, wriggling their bodies from side to side with more determination than grace.
The adults also have a great homing instinct, able to find their way back to the bay every year, even slithering over land. They are believed to navigate by the moon, knowing its orientation in relation to the Eight Winds Bay. The fact that they can notice this as fry, and memorise it well enough to find their way unaided across strals of unknown land, suggests intelligence far greater than is generally attributed to eels.
Territory. Danderel are found in the waters of the Eight Winds Bay, as well as surrounding rivers, lakes and shores. They can live in salt or fresh water, though they do best in salt water where there are rocky areas to hide in. Adult Danderel are especially common round the three islands within the Bay, particularly Galnós'chrónn, where the connection between Stromflies and adult Danderel was discovered by the researches of the druid Steverin the Blue. Young stromflies originate only from the maelstrom, as this is the only place where Danderel breed, but can float far and wide, leading to a fairly dispersed territory for the adult fish.
Habitat/Behaviour. Danderel favour sheltered areas of water, preferably with rocky shores where they can hide, or at least rotting wood or muddy banks where they can make their lairs. They thrive around the shores of the three isles in the Eight Winds Bay, which offer the perfect rocky nooks and crannies, but also do well in brackish marshlands and muddy riverbanks. Adults are solitary outside of breeding season, attacking and sometimes eating other eels that get too close. They are strictly territorial against other large fishes and animals, guarding their lairs ferociously. They will not hesitate to bite hands which get too close and try to eat your fingers off, as the druid Steverin the Blue remarks in his notes thereon.
Diet. Stromflies eat nothing but the stored yolk with which they are born. It will hopefully last them long enough to drift to a safe body of water where they can develop into adults. The adults, by contrast, will eat anything; mostly they subsist on small fish and carrion, even taking newly-hatched trologs if they should stray close enough. Because of this indiscriminate diet, they are valuable cleaners in dock areas, eating waste fish from fishing boats, and anything else thrown into the water. They hunt by ambush and opportunism, grabbing and wrapping round prey to hold it still while they try to get their teeth into it. they have been known to attack almost anything small enough like this, including other eels, and even the hands or feet of unwary paddlers off the shore of the Eight Winds Bay.
Mating. Every year in spring, when the waters are high from snowmelt and heavy rains, full grown Danderel (no younger than ten years old, and sometimes as much as thirty) start to change, going off their food, and darkening in colour. They hang around the surface, in a dramatic reversal of their usual bottom-dwelling habits, and can even be stroked without fear of being bitten. They wait until the moon is full, and it is then that they begin their journey, apparently using the moon as a guide, towards the heart of the Eight Winds Bay, in a straight line as much as possible, even travelling over land.
When they arrive the bay fills with eels, offering a huge fishing opportunity for both humans, elves and animals (especially greater hooded trologs, which frequent the stormy centre of the bay), but this opportunity is brief, because they soon collect right in the maelstrom where boats, and most animals, can’t go, and breed in the heart of the storm. Of course nobody knows the particulars of their breeding habits, because it’s never been seen firsthand, and they won’t breed in captivity. A few days later the eels are gone, dying and washing up on the shores, drawing seabirds, pinnip and fish to feast on the dead and dying fish. Then the Stromflies start, appearing in clouds and drifting past the islands on the wind, getting tangled in shrubbery, fishing lines and the rigging of boats. In a few days the Stromflies too will have disappeared, blown to waters of their own where they will grow into Danderel, starting the cycle over again.
Usages. Both Stromflies and adult Danderel are a versatile and cheap source of food – the Stromflies are a staple of flyer crabs and flying fisherman, as well as land birds, fish such as kuk’arg which leap to catch them, and even frogs. The Arthyrón elves catch them for bait, using fine nets held between two poles. This is a simple task often given to children, who delight in running to find high ground ahead of incoming clouds. As well as being used simply as fishing bait for line-fishing, the Stromflies are dried and eaten salted as a delicacy, and the yolk-sacks are removed and eaten raw, or else added to other dishes to add a characteristic rich flavour. Since the work of Steverin the Blue confirmed the link between Stromflies and Danderel, some Stromflies are also kept to grow into captive eels, housed in custom-built wicker cages that are hung underneath pontoons and jetties into the water and fed on scraps.
The adult Danderel are, as aforementioned, an important consumer of waste around settlements, as well as being a useful source of food and bait for larger animals. They are raised from fry (a fairly recent practise, the fact that the Stromflies are their young being only recently confirmed) or else hunted with barbed spears and tridents, as they tend to slide through nets and creels.
Myth/Lore. The Stromflies are seen as a sign of good luck around the Eight Winds Bay, with large clouds believed to be an omen of good fishing for the year. A favourite game of Arthyrón children is to try and catch them in bare hands, or to tie lengths of string to their tails and follow them around like kites. After such games are finished, such individuals are more often released into the water on the three islands than eaten like their net-captured siblings. It has long been reckoned that Stromflies grow into some sort of sea creature, but just what kind was only recently confirmed. There is still a widespread belief that they grow into mythical silvery fish which watch over the maelstrom and the beast which supposedly dwells at its heart, the notorious “terror of the Bay”, or Tuu'marásh.
Further afield, where Stromflies are rarer, they tend to be seen as more ethereal things, often called regarded as a kind of fairy or wild spirit, and regarded with suspicion, much like a will o’ the wisp. Indeed, there are stories of the glittering creatures leading wanderers on the shore of the Sea of Tears off cliffs as they drift out to sea.
The adults have garnered less mythology, being such a stolidly useful and unglamorous creature, though as with many fish there are tales of ones which have grown to great size in certain areas. A popular tale heard in Silven tells of a deep pool on the borders of the Dinali territories, where that legendarily savage people took their dead, to be devoured by a Danderel as big as an Ophochio, which lurks there, grown fat from eating corpses for hundreds of years, patiently awaiting the next offering. Of course this is likely simply a fanciful tale told to pass time and scare the gullible.
Researchers. Steverin the Blue is a druid whose researches in the aquatic fauna of the Eight Winds Bay often touched on the Danderel. He was the first to confirm that they were the same creature as the Stromflies, mapping out their lifecycle and raising several in captivity. They apparently made excellent bait for greater hooded trologs, the creatures which formed a major focus of his researches, and which are used to eating them when the eels migrate to the maelstrom to breed.