Wednesday, January 11, 2017Posted by Mitch Williamson at 4:29 AM
With five huge heads independently biting and spitting acid at its foes, the Desert Hydra is one of the most devastating warbeasts the Skorne Empire has ever captured and conditioned for war. Each head can release a focused spray of highly corrosive acid or snatch up opponents to be devoured by its gaping, hellish jaws. Flesh hooks protruding from beneath armored plates keep the beast maddened with pain, spurring it to further carnage even after suffering multiple decapitations.
Desert hydras have a varying number of heads, and their bodies are layered in scales from soft beige to deep red. Although a desert hydra begins its life with a single head, masses of cells accumulate and divide upon the torso as the creature ages to form additional heads, all fully functional. On average, a hydra grows a head for each decade of its life. The eldest desert hydras can have as many as seven, though few survive to this stage.
A desert hydra's vital organs, including its brain, are protected deep within its torso. The protective plates lining the creature’s multiple necks and back also work to retain body heat; alternately, the spines protruding from these plates can disperse excess heat when necessary. Glands inside a hydra’s mouths discharge a potent acid capable of eating through chitin and steel, and a heat-sensing structure embedded between its eyes and nostrils facilitates highly accurate strikes against warm-blooded prey.
When not engaged in territorial disputes, male hydras often battle one another for the right to mate with a female. Likewise, a female will challenge and fight any males who approach her, refusing to mate with those who back down. Though a single clutch can contain up to a dozen eggs, competition among newborns is fierce, and more than half are killed by their siblings within days of hatching.
A hydra’s wounds are extremely quick to heal. Only deep strikes to the torso are likely to prove fatal, though decapitations prior to such strikes may help lead to a kill. Severed heads can grow back within weeks, and lesser wounds heal at a much faster rate.
Desert hydras spend the daylight hours hunting. Once its target is dead, the hydra unhinges one of its many jaws to swallow the meal whole, its mandibles guiding the carcass down the gullet. With its multiple heads, a hydra can consume prey even as it fends off scavengers and other predators.
At night, when the cold desert air makes the ectothermic hydras sluggish, they retreat to expansive subterranean dens to stay warm. Such dens also serve as nests, and female hydras protect such holdings fiercely. While navigating or constructing these dens, desert hydras propel themselves through the soil with rows of tiny, horned feet that line their bodies.
Capturing a desert hydra is an exceptionally violent undertaking. At night, masses of slaves armed with rudimentary prods descend into a hydra's burrow to lure it to the surface where beast handlers fire upon the beast with harpoons. After several of the creature’s necks have been ensnared, slaves take hold of ropes stemming from each harpoon and pull the snapping heads to the ground long enough to let the beast handlers sedate the hydra. Successful captures often come with high casualties among both slaves and beast handlers. In a step that may seem extreme but is the essence of skorne pragmatism, experienced beast handlers often decapitate all but a single head prior to transporting captured hydras rather than risk further deaths - the hydra's regenerative capabilities ensuring it could not be killed by such tactics.
For every slave killed in capturing a hydra, ten are lost during conditioning and battle preparation. Additionally, inserting flesh hooks beneath the hydras’ natural armor plating is a task from which few beast handlers walk away unscathed, and keeping the beasts fed requires a steady expenditure of resources.
All attempts by the skorne to breed hydras in captivity have failed. Subjugating them for use as warbeasts was not considered to be worth the expense or deaths even for the richest skorne houses, until Supreme Archdomina Makeda unites the empire and makes the acquisition of these beasts a top priority so that she might use their strength in the conquest of the west. Keeping a desert hydra in captivity without breaking it to a warlock's will first is nearly unthinkable, so the creatures are captured wild and tamed in the desert, often by a team of the most skilled paingivers available