The warm, tropical seas around the islands of the Scattersand Shoals are home to the shy and mysterious Aquanix (plural "Aquani"). This placid creature is best described as a gentle giant of the sea. Growing close to five peds in length, it can be quite a scary experience to be in the vicinity of such a large animal, though one need not fear. Except during the breeding season, when they are protecting their newborn foals, the Aquanix prefers flight to fight.
|Image description. An Aquanix roaming the the tropical seas around the islands of the Scattersand Shoals. Picture drawn by Tikanni Corazon.
Appearance. With their beautiful, dappled coats, and powerful, streamlined bodies, the Aquani are stunning creatures. The elegant equine head is set with gentle, intelligent eyes of deepest blue and thickly outlined with pale lashes.
Colouring varies between the sexes, the males being a light silver grey, and the females a pale gold, with dappling in a slightly darker shade patterning the back, flippers, and the upper half of the head. The dappling is also dotted with scales, which glitter when the light shines on them, making the creature look even more stunning. Due to this, the males have been nicknamed Moondancers, and the females Sundancers, though this has nothing to do with the animals activities. Aquani of either sex are observed regularly during both day and night.
The coat itself is made up of short, fine hair, which lies flat against the skin, making it easy for the animal to manage, as it requires minimum care to keep it clean and groomed. The mane on the other hand is very long, sometimes growing to just over a ped in length, and is of the same fine silky texture as that of the coat. The colour of the manes vary between the sexes, matching the coats, though of a slightly lighter hue. Despite the length, the mane is rarely seen tangled, though it is unknown how the animal manages to maintain the silky, snag-free condition. The skin beneath the coat is tough, resistant against the sometimes harsh ocean environment.
There are two sets of flippers, and these are located on the main body, two on each side. They are each around one to two peds in length, depending on the size of the creature. The Aquani use these flippers to propel themselves through the water, though they do work alongside the powerful tail to allow the animal to navigate quickly and gracefully through the warm seas around the Scattersand Shoals. The fluke is large and disc shaped, aiding the creature in reaching it's maximum speed of 40 strals per hour. The main body is streamlined, perfect for slicing through the water at top speed. The ribcage is large, around two peds in diameter, with the rest of the body gradually becoming slimmer towards the tail.
Though their mere size and strength is enough to deter most potential enemies, the stallions also possess a set of elongated canines in their upper jaw. These fangs can be nearly a palmspan in length, deadly sharp, and capable of doing some serious damage to any foolish enough to provoke an attack.
Special Abilities. Aquani can hold their breath underwater for long periods, up to an hour at a time. Their nostrils close automatically when submerged, and the eyes are covered in a thin, transparent membrane to allow them to see under the water without the risk of damage. Special muscles located inside the ear allow them to close these too, so that water cannot irritate the delicate inner workings.
Territory. The mares live exclusively in the southern islands of the Scattersand Shoals, particularly around the islands of Sapphiria and Lesmir of the moon isles, and for much of the time, the stallions live alongside them. But the males will occasionally venture away from the family pod, and move north, in groups of two or three, settling for a few months around the northern isles in the Shoals and sometimes slightly further north around the western coast of Strata. Once there, they choose to go about their business alone, though they regroup to sleep. It is unknown why they do this, though the theory is that they simply want a little solitude from the rest of the pod. These northern excursions are never for very long though, always lasting less than four months.
Habitat/Behaviour. The Aquani spend most of their time in the water, usually swimming alongside reefs searching for Scattersand Angel Coral, which makes up the majority of their diet. Being such powerful and large animals, they need to eat rather alot a lot to maintain their strength and stamina. When they're not eating, they will occasionally leave the water, using their strong flippers to haul themselves out onto a deserted beach to sunbathe. When this occurs, they have been observed to roll in the sand. It is thought that they do this to exfoliate their skin, and rid themselves of any parasites, that may have set up home in their coat. They move clumsily on land, so they never venture far from the water, usually within a mere fore or two.
Aside from a few individual persons over the years, the Aquani shy away from many of the land races, but seem to have a very good relationship with the merfolk. The fondness that these ocean-dwelling folk feel for the whales, seems to extend to the Aquanix also. There have been a few occasions when an Aquanix has been spotted, gliding placidly along the surface of the water, with a mermaid seated upon its back.
Towards their own, Aquani are always welcoming and friendly. They are often seen in large groups, called pods, that can be made up of up to 30 individuals. But they also seem perfectly happy to be in the same vicinity as another group, with both pods mingling together as if they were one.
Despite their gentle, placid natures, the Aquani are perfectly capable of defending themselves and their young from danger. Due to their size, the adults do not have many enemies that could do them harm. But during the breeding season, when the much smaller and more vulnerable foals have been born, predators become a much more real problem. The main danger comes particularly from the moon shark, which, though it is far too small to take on an adult Aquanix, it is more than a match for a tiny foal. The stallions use their elongated upper canine teeth to defend against any possible threat to their young, and both they and the mares will use both their size and powerful swimming ability to ram into potential predators. Against a large group of moon sharks, the adult Aquani will mass together to protect the young, though just one or two are easily dealt with by a single set of parents.
A stallion and his chosen mare form a bond, and will remain together for life, which can be as long as 55-60 years. They also retain a special bond with their young, particularly between the mares and their female offspring, who will remain close to their parents for the rest of their lives. Though the young males share a bond with their parents too, they are prepared to leave the family pod to find a mate if necessary.
Diet. The Aquani are herbivorous creatures, their favourite food being scattersand angel coral. The angel coral grows in abundance upon the reefs offshore from the Scattersand Shoals and slightly less abundantly around the coast of Strata. Though the it makes up most of their diet, they also eat plenty of other underwater plants, mostly various types of seaweed.
Mating. Both male and female Aquani reach sexual maturity at around 5-6 years of age. At this time, the newly mature males will seek out a mate. There haven't been any accounts of male Aquani fighting over a female, they just seem to choose each other, almost by instinct. The ritual of wooing a new mate is very much the same as that of the mating rituals between an established pair. The two will chase each other, and dance, whilst also searching for food together, and sleeping alongside one another, forming a close bond between them. They will not mate during that first year, but will wait till the following season.
As a pair of Aquani mate for life, the stallion has no need to attract a female. But he will still attempt to woo his mare, keeping the bond between them strong. At the time when mating will take place, the mare will still have a foal to take care of. At night, the foals will sleep near the shore of the birthing beach, and it is when the young are settled for the night that the mating rituals will take place. The female will leave the foal sleeping peacefully, and seek out her mate. The two will swim together for a time, sometimes chasing each other playfully through the ocean, and at other times spiraling around each other in a graceful, aquatic dance. This ritual can go on for hours before the actual mating occurs. This will become routine for the following two nights also.
The foals are born 14 months later on the birthing beach, which is located on the south-western coast of Sapphiria. This special beach is surrounded on all sides by high rocks, making it impossible to reach over land. The only way to reach the beach is through deep underwater caves, which have proven treacherous for any non-aquatic animal to attempt to pass through. As such, the beach remains untouched by the hands of man, and the young are safe for their first few weeks of life. When they emerge from the birthing beach for the first time, depending on the sex, the young foals are exact miniatures of their parents. At this time, they are around a ped in length, but while feeding on their mothers milk, they will grow quickly, reaching close to two peds by the time they're six months old, and will have less need for the vigilant protection of their parents. They will reach around 2.5 peds by the time they are a year old, and at this time they will stop suckling, and begin to eat the same as the adults.
Aquanix mares will stop having young at around 45 years old. The males will remain with their females, the bond between them seemingly too strong to break.
Usages. Due to the size and shy nature of the Aquani, they're not really used for anything. They are incredibly difficult to capture, and even more so to tame. And on the rare occasion that they have been caught, they seem unable to handle the stress of living a life in captivity, and die soon after. They are occasionally killed for their beautiful pelts, but their speed and strength makes this a difficult feat, so it is a very rare occurrence. As mentioned previously, they do allow the merfolk to ride them, though this is purely for pleasure, from the viewpoint of both Aquani and merfolk.
Myth/Lore. The obvious trust that exists between the Aquani and the merfolk has been the basis for many tales of the creatures origin. One story in particular is told more than the others, and is a favourite to tell both around a campfire, and to wakeful children refusing to sleep until they get their bedtime story.
The Aquanix. A young mermaiden happened one night to be swimming along the surface of the ocean, when she saw a horse standing at the edge of the water, the waves lapping against its hooves. The horse was the most beautiful creature that the mermaid had ever seen. He looked like he had been crafted from liquid silver, such did his shining coat glimmer and gleam in the moonlight. The light night breeze blew his pale mane, tugging at the delicate silky tendrils, and his dark eyes glittered, reflecting the moon. His head was tilted up towards the light that glinted upon his beautiful form, and he stood still as a statue, just staring upwards as if in a trance.
There are other stories that connect them to the mythical sea horse, mostly saying that they are one and the same thing. This is despite the obvious differences between the two in both size and appearance, the Aquanix possessing it's silky coat and mane, while the sea horse has rubbery skin of a greenish colour, and the mane is replaced by a long green fin. The Aquanix also lacks the front legs and hooves, and the scaled fish tail. The sea horse also remains, for much of the time, on the ocean floor while the Aquanix is happier to frolic closer to the surface of the water.
Researchers. The main research on these creatures has been conducted by Genani Tallclimber Ra'anouf, a widely respected Eyelian researcher, who settled in the Scattersand Shoals, and is dedicated to discovering the flora and fauna that reside there.
Due to her extraordinary natural affinity with animals, Genani has been able to find things out about the Aquanix that no other researcher has even come close to discovering before.