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Isheferm (aka Shrem)
The dreamskate is a medium-size (male 25-30 ft, female 35-40 ft) southern predator. It has a kite-shaped body with powerful wings extending from a central ridge so that it can "fly" through the water; it can also leap out of the water, or flop into high jumps if it lands on a boat or beach. There are seven pairs of gill slits on the underside of the body, positioned behind the head and under each wing, plus a breathing spiracle on top behind each eye. Dermal denticles emerge at sexual maturity, in irregular patterns unique to the individual, making the skin rough to the touch. Contact can leave a broad path of spotted or crescent scars called "dream rash." The huge mouth opens relatively far under the snout, full of small sharp teeth similar to shark teeth; the teeth are sometimes used as souvenirs. They eat mainly fish, but occasionally other sea monsters. They are sometimes preyed upon by soldierfish and other sea monsters. Dreamskates are elasmobranches: cartilaginous fish related to sharks. They often travel in schools, and they can live 40-50 years.
The dreamskate has a fleshy tail with a barbed and serrated stinging spine, favored for tipping harpoons. It is strongly venomous; the venom can be brewed to create the unlicensable "dreamers' liquor." Dreamskate venom is protein-based with neuromuscular and hallucinogenic qualities; it is destroyed by heat. Stings cause extreme pain and delirium along with other nasty symptoms, and can kill. Brewing removes most, though not all, of the deadlier components and enhances the psychotropic effects. Dreamers' liquor can still have unfortunate side effects, such as impaired breathing or heartbeat, nausea, or fainting; if brewed poorly, it can be fatal. Wounds from a dreamskate spine often have tissue necrosis due to damage from the spine and venom. They tend to leave large, nasty scars which can impair or cripple body parts. Dreamskate sting scars are among the more distinctive marks on warsailor veterans; these can also appear on swimmers or fishers, but those people are more likely to have "dream rash" from touching the harsh skin.
Dreamskates often leap from the water, especially for courtship or challenges over a desired mate. They have exceptional sensitivity to electricity and other energy flows. They will not leap when Others are low in the sky, nor will they go near an active time barrier, but they will readily cross a former barrier that has fallen. They also won't go near a heavy deposit of time crystals, a time crystal mine, or a ship carrying a cargo of time crystals.
Although people do not know these exact details, they have noticed that certain types of accident or anomaly don't occur when dreamskates are visible. So despite their sea monster status, dreamskates are considered lucky; it is fortunate to see them, especially if they are leaping. Warsailors sometimes argue over whether to apply the standard kill-on-sight approach to sea monsters, or merely drive the dreamskates away from an area where they are causing problems.
A prominent dorsal fin near the end of the tail usually lies flat, but becomes erect during aggression or mating displays. A few inches in juveniles, the fin can reach one foot tall in adults, supported by tough (blunt, nonvenomous) spines. Mating is internal; dreamskates are oviparous and release their eggs inside tough cases with a closed loop at each end. The cases can be dried for use as containers, particularly "dream purses" used for giving small gifts or hung to attract pleasant dreams. Young dreamskates prefer shallow water, often resting on the bottom. As they grow, they move toward deeper water, but never go out into the deepest parts of the ocean. Adults return to shallower water for mating.
They are comfortable in tropical to temperate waters, but not cold waters. They tolerate turbid and even polluted waters well; this can make them difficult to see and therefore more dangerous. Marginally edible, their flesh is very tough; it requires a strong marinade to tenderize it. The skin can be tanned into shagreen similar to that made from sharkskin, but the dermal denticles must be removed for safety and that process is tedious.
Dreamskates cause somewhat different problems when young or when mature. Young dreamskates pose more of a hazard to swimmers, as they lurk on the bottom and cause injuries when stepped upon. Adult dreamskates are big enough to damage boats when bumping against the hull or flopping down on them after leaping from the water. Dreamskates of any size are a nuisance to fishers, as they compete for the same fish and are hazardous when caught in a net. They are also curious and playful, which can bring other conflicts with humans. The worst threat is from the spine, which in adults is large enough to kill just by stabbing someone, before the venom even counts. The dermal denticles can rub skin off a person, the muscular wings can deliver powerful buffeting blows, and the mouth is full of shark-like teeth.
However, for a sea monster, the dreamskate is relatively easy to kill: the gill slits are vulnerable to stabbing or crushing attacks, the large wings can be slashed, and the body lacks the heavy protection of many other species. They are also easy to deter if they are merely curious; hitting or poking a dreamskate will usually make it go away unless it is quite hungry. Their attacks are often singular rather than repeated like other sea monsters -- but a single bump or flop can do serious damage, and it's not much comfort if the dreamskate then leaves. Another challenge is that if the dreamskate actually lands inside a boat, it's hard to get close enough to kill the thing without getting stung by the spine or scraped by the dermal denticles.
Before Upheaval: Several subspecies existed in scattered populations around the edges of the Southern Continent and islands, with more off the map to the south. Dreamskates were relatively uncommon.
Sundered Times: Two surviving populations remained, although most died out. The western dreamskate lived in time shard #11 and the central dreamskate lived in shard #30. Populations expanded and colonized the available territories.
Modern Times: Dreamskates are bicolored with accent markings. Western dreamskates are blue-gray on top with a white belly, divided by a narrow black line. Males have orange markings on their dorsal fins; females have coral markings there. They spread from time shard #11 to shards #6, #9, #10, #12, and #69; then shard #68. Western dreamskates are currently common.
Central dreamskates are tan with a cream belly, divided by a narrow brown line. Males have neon green markings on their dorsal fins; females have lemon yellow markings there. They spread from time shard #30 to shards #32, #30, and #68; then from #30 and #68 to #13 and #66, and from there to shards #14, and #12. Central dreamskates are currently uncommon.
Populations intermingle when the western dreamskates and central dreamskates reach the same territory, but they do not merge completely. The distinctive colors have begun to blur together inside the Central Gulf; these are subspecies.
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