Staring up at you with soft, dark eyes whose sorrowful appearance is only exacerbated by the tear stain shaped marking running down its rounded cheeks, the Zaniskari can seem endearing, even vulnerable – a small, lightly built reptile lost in massive landscapes, alone and defenceless in a vast wilderness. But pay no attention to its expression; Zaniskari are never lost, and anything but defenceless. The compact little head that houses those endearing eyes is thick enough to chip solid rock, and the dainty little feet will carry it unfailingly across deserts greater than human, or orcen minds can contemplate. Also, they have a tendency to kick. So move, or… oh. Oh well.
The Zaniskari is fairly gracile in appearance, being an animal adapted to
constant travel, and having little defence against danger but to run, which it
does very fast with a springy, bouncing gait. It is fairly tall, and has a
strong, even sturdy figure, not unlike a pony’s except in the legs, head and
The thick skull is small but with a herbivore’s sloping muzzle, ending in a blunt beak, giving them a slightly pensive expression. The nostrils are large slits above the beak which can be closed completely to keep out dust, and the eyes are large and dark, with darkened skin around them and sometimes in a “tear line” running down the cheek, which reduces the effect of the glaring sun on their vision. The strong, rounded cheek bones give the impression that a Zaniskari always has its mouth full, but belie an array of grinding teeth and a large, muscular purple tongue. Its head is crowned by short, blunt horns that point backwards down its thick, arching neck. The horns grow even more slowly than the animal itself, rarely reaching more than a span in length.
Its body is covered by diamond-shaped scales, rough and strongly keeled. The skin varies in colour; it can be coppery, grey, black (much less common in desert dwelling animals), steel blue-grey, off white, or occasionally an irregular mixture of one or more of these.
A slow growing animal, the young are born around 2 palmspans in length (see Mating section). A Zaniskari is generally considered mature at 3-4 years old, at which point they are generally around a ped and a half at the shoulder, and 2 and half long, including the tail. A mature Zaniskari weighs about 5 or 6 pygges. Of course, as they continue to grow steadily throughout their lives, this will increase with age.
The legs are powerful, built to spring forwards at a moments notice. The feet are digitigrade, so the animal walks on the balls of its toes, of which it has two, large, tough padded, with thick, blunt nails. At the back of its ankles are a pair of short “spurs” like small, sharp horns. These aid in defence, especially among young animals.
It has a long, tapering tail, used for balance and flicking away flies. Like its back, from the neck down this is ridged with a short crest of blunt but nonetheless protrusive spines – another reason that it is not a commonly used riding animal.
The Zaniskari is unique in its resilience, and its adaptations to its habitat
form a large part of this. Its leathery mouth insides let it crunch happily on
thorns and twigs, and it has a strongly acidic stomach to digest all kinds of
food. It also has a strong, purple coloured tongue which can grasp independently
at leaves, dextrously stripping them from branches whilst leaving the thorns and
Long legs, sprung with elastic tendons and strong muscles, allow it to run very fast for long distances, as well as giving it the ability to leap great heights and distances – some large specimens have been recorded to jump over a man on horseback during hunts, with no noticeable reduction in speed. It would also appear that the way their legs are built, plus the generally more rubbery consistency of reptilian bones, makes the Zaniskari able to survive long drops by landing on its feet.
Perhaps the most notable attribute of the Zaniskari, however, is its head. An incredibly thick skull and a layer of fluid cushion the brain against immense impacts, making them proverbially hard headed. This is associated by many with a lack of intelligence, and whilst it is unquestionable that they are not particularly clever, the brain they go to such lengths to protect does hold some value. They are able, for instance, to remember vast areas in close detail, keeping a kind of mental map that is used to navigate towards the best feeding, shelter and water areas. Though the resilience of their heads is best displayed by males during the breeding season, females have the same protection, as head butting and charging are a formidable defence against any predator they can’t run away from.
Finally, the Zaniskari, as well as being able to extract nutrition from the sourest, most dried up vegetation, can also store water in a specialised gullet pouch, and if really starved of moisture it can even produce concentrated urine. Incidentally, this urine is collected from captive animals and distilled into a powerful pesticide by the people of Zhun, and is reputed to send anyone who drinks it blind.
Territory. The Zaniskari itself has only reportedly been found on Nybelmar, appearing in a variety of plains regions on the West portion of the continent. The creature itself has been spotted in large numbers in the Plains of Zhun, the Kaerathi Plains and the Municipen di Fa. Additionally the beasts have been spotted in smaller populations within the Naezshan Zhunith Deserts, though it is thought that these reptiles could be seen in greater numbers before the cataclysmic Breaking, when the area was fertile and better known as Nybelmarasa (or "The Courtyard of Nybelmar").
Habitat/Behaviour. A solitary nomad of plains and semi desert areas, the Zaniskari is hard to observe in the wild, at least for the majority of the year. They seem to drift aimlessly across their vast habitats, though close observance of individuals reveals a purpose to their travels: they construct their journeys in a complex web revolving around places known to yield particular foods, reliable water sources or safe shelters. They appear to navigate by landmarks, smells in the wind, stars and the position of the sun, choosing their destinations depending on what they need or think they will need soon, and what is likely to be available given the weather conditions and time of year. This suggests that in certain areas, they have considerably greater intelligence than they are given credit for.
The combination of certain weather conditions at the right time of year, causing flowers to open en masse, heralds a new purpose in the minds of the Zaniskari from miles around – to breed. Scenting the sudden concentration of pollen and nectar in the air, they alter their routes and travel single-mindedly to the flower fields, often coming far closer to human and orc habitations than they would usually. The drive is so strong, even in captive animals, that Zaniskari owners often have little choice but to travel with their livestock and wait until the flowers fade. Otherwise they are lone wanderers, and will attack with a charge any creature they cannot outrun. They grow very slowly, and could possibly live for a hundred years, though this has never been investigated properly.
Diet. A dedicated herbivore, the Zaniskari plays an important role in keeping the plains and deserts it lives in free of trees and dense shrubbery, by nipping off even the toughest seedling. Its hard beak and strong jaws make short work of the woodiest stems, and its tough, purple-grey tongue is unfazed by thorns. They seem to have a great liking for flowers, probably because they contain more moisture and sweet flavours than leaves and twigs. They devour Zhun geraniums, wild hububat flowers and the kazai rose eagerly.
Mating. As mentioned in the Behaviour section, the Zaniskari breed sporadically, entirely depending on the mass flowering events of plants such as Zhun geraniums. When the flower fields are in bloom, the Zaniskari head as one towards them, and it is here that they gather to breed. Females have complete choice of their mate, and males compete vigorously for their approval, via brutal charging contests – males simply run full tilt at each other, armoured heads lowered, to connect with an earth shattering crack which can be heard for many strals. Injuries are not common in these battles, and usually result from being bowled over and trampled rather than the force of the collision of skull on skull – these animals have legendarily strong heads. This was proved beyond a shadow of a doubt by an anonymous researcher who conducted the rather cruel, not to say hazardous experiment of persuading a male Zaniskari to charge into the stone wall of his house. His description of the endeavour follows:
“On collision with the wall the specimen shook his head, took a step backwards and sat down rather heavily. However, other than going slightly cross-eyed there were no noticeable ill effects. After around 10 minutes he got to his feet and walked unsteadily away, but by half an hour later one could never have guessed anything untoward had occurred. Other, that is, than by looking at the state of the wall, which was alarmingly bowed inwards, and required to be shored up, lest it collapse. I have discussed my methodology with my wife, and the experiment will not be repeated, lest we become homeless, or, in her words; 'you want your own skull thickness tested with a brick fallen from your own chimney'. Nonetheless, I believe my hypothesis has been proved.”
breeding, and all the high drama and battling that goes with it, is over, the
animals disperse. Females, however, may stay together in smaller groups as they
head for sites they are aware of which they consider to be good for nesting.
When they reach them they dig a wide, shallow pit in sandy soil, sheltered from
the sun but not in danger of flooding, and
lay up to 50 fist sized, dark grey eggs, which are then covered over with soil.
The females will not feed until the eggs hatch, keeping a strict vigil over the
nest, broken only by the trip once a day to fetch
water, stored in their gullet pouch, the majority of which is then sprayed
over then nest to maintain the moisture vital for the eggs’ development. After
around a week, the female, pressing her head close to the nest, will decide that
she can hear movement, and will dig out the hatchlings, each little bigger than
a rat. Here she deems her task complete. She will leave
for a good solid meal, and is unlikely to see the majority of her young again,
as they are left alone in the plains to fend for themselves.
Usages. The scaly, slightly metallic looking skin can be used to make shields and armour, as it goes very hard if treated in special way. Zaniskari are also domesticated in small numbers as a pack animal and sometimes to ride. However, they are not particularly easy to tame, nor strong enough to carry great weights, and can’t be kept in enclosed spaces, so they are not a common steed. The iron hard, 5 nailsbreadth thick skulls of large animals are occasionally used as helmets, most notably among local orcs, and, it is rumoured, some of the more distinguished Orcristh warriors. Among certain human communities, water from the Zaniskari’s gullet is believed to have restorative properties, and the urine, as mentioned in the abilities section, can be converted into a pesticide.