Introduction to S'Kra Anatomy (book)
An Introduction to S'Kra Anatomy
- I, Insrat'ha iird'Kortaal, scholar of the King, His Royal Majesty Korlanis II, called Malksaanin, offer here the translated works of the Elothean Silmoran Tangoranae regarding S'Kra anatomy. It is a comprehensive work, and, such as can be verified, seems quite accurate. The reader is advised to be patient with Silmoran, who often takes some time in getting to the point -- I have left none of his rambling out. An Elothean might offer tribute to Silmoran's thoroughness -- I personally believe that he simply liked to hear himself speak.
- By my hand,
- Insrat'ha iird'Kortaal
- Akroeg 254
On the Anatomy of the S'Kra Mur:
Early studies have led my predecessors to believe that S'Kra are colorblind, but this could not be further from the truth. I personally believe that this misconception may have arisen from Elven 'studies' wherein the scholars held a private bias that any eye not similar to that of an Elf (or Elothean, or Human) could not possibly be as developed as their own. For their defense I can only say that among the creation myths of the S'Kra there is no apparent need for the S'Kra to have full color sight, as we have found that those creatures lacking it often have increased night vision, and this would in fact enhance the capabilities of a hunter as they seem to have been originally created, if one is to believe the myth.
From studying comparisons between Elothean eyes and S'Kra sight we now believe that S'Kra actually experience a deeper and more varied level of color in the visible world. However, this richness is counterbalanced by a weakness in focus in the eyes both in the very young and the very old -- it is not uncommon for an elderly S'Kra to be utterly blind.
However, these new findings on the depth of an average S'Kra's color vision shed new light (if you'll pardon the word play) on many aspects of S'Kra culture. Could this be why so much emphasis, for example, is placed upon color in many of their rituals? And though their intricate, asymmetrical designs may seem overly excessive or chaotic to other cultures -- what glorious intricacy does the S'Kra eye see with its perception for the many more levels of detail in a dyed fabric?
From a practical perspective, this also may explain why S'Kra are such efficient hunters within a certain range, during the daylight hours -- the enhanced color vision enables a S'Kra to pick out a fish in the sea at close range, or separate a deer from dense autumn foliage.
We have found, though, that a S'Kra's depth perception and indeed length of focus is not as great, compensating for this fascinating color perception. Scholars, particularly in the Empathic arts, continue to study the limits and abilities of the S'Kra eye, but as entire studies can be written on this subject alone, I will move on to other areas.
S'Kra do, of course, have ears, though they lack external projecting flesh. Their ears are, instead, mostly internal -- and, we have found, closely tied in with the S'Kra's sense of touch!
By depriving a subject of one sense or another, we have found that a S'Kra feels a detriment in hearing when their sense of touch is lessened. Likewise, without sound, they do not sense as much when touching things. This strange phenomenon has led us to believe that the S'Kra actually sense, to some degree, sound through their skin!
This theory must of course be refined, but most believe it to be a rather simple device by which S'Kra, in their minds, align the material effects of sound with their sense of touch. For instance, in a small room, a terrific yell will veritably shake the walls -- S'Kra sense this shaking and interpret it as "hearing." Many see this to be a defect in the construction of the S'Kra, and I must admit it is indeed strange.
Thus it is clear that, contrary to the beliefs of some of my contemporaries, S'Kra skin is actually quite sensitive and complex. For this reason it gives the species a slightly greater resistance to intense heat, but conversely an increased sensitivity to cold, as is commonly known. It is also this "hearing" mechanism and congruent complexity of the skin, it is believed, that causes S'Kra scales, though thicker than Human skin, to be unable to take much more damage than the latter.
Scales do indeed provide increased protection, but compensating for this -- or, as is my personal theory, due to it -- is the delicacy of the S'Kra tactile sense. The scales of a S'Kra are beautiful and fascinating, but I will attend to them later, for I am still speaking on their senses.
It is vehemently argued whether the S'Kra sense of taste is more or less sensitive than those of the other races. Based on food preference in general, evidence seems to point toward the latter -- most S'Kra, for instance, cannot appreciate the intricate tastes in Elothean tea cakes, much to their loss. Most tend not to prefer sweets or heavily prepared foods in general. However, is this an indicator of increased or decreased sense of taste? Those subjects I have spoken to find cakes and such "too sugary" yet "bland." So perhaps there is no indicator here. Certainly S'Kra tend to prefer a heaviness of spice in their foods that most confounds the delicate senses of this Elothean, but there is some indication that S'Kra can perceive a depth to such strong tastes, as well as a breadth of mere spice power.
A tradition in the island-dwelling cities has arisen sometime during the past one hundred years -- that of eating fish raw! I am told that this is to verify freshness, and indeed, I have had the chance to interview and test a number of these connoisseurs.
Most of my subjects accurately gauged the freshness of a fish past the ability of an Elothean, Elf, and Human, signifying a definitely increased sensitivity. These S'Kra also claimed to be able to discern whether the fish had been Moongated -- but results here were inconclusive. The Moongate aspect came into play when the desert city of Muspar'i was accessible, however sporadically, and trends, as they tend to, migrated there -- though of course it is much more challenging to assure freshness in sea creatures so far from the coast. Most S'Kra who favor this rather strange cultural variation will not sample fish beyond a certain distance from its sea origin.
The same tests would have been conducted with other raw meats, but the S'Kra refused. It is generally understood, though, that the fish sensitivity would translate to many varieties of meat -- perhaps providing "wilder" S'Kra a useful ability to tell when meat has turned.
Thus we have found that S'Kra have, rather than a "better" or "worse" sense of taste, one geared in a different direction. This direction may also contribute to their preference for highly spiced -- but not sweet! -- foods, though this does of course vary between individuals.
On the Anatomy of the S'Kra Mur:
Though they are clearly omnivores, the teeth of a S'Kra reflect a carnivorous origin. Between the two primary fangs in the front of the mouth are four identical, slender incisors. Behind each fang are four more interlocking demi-fangs. With the exception of the two primary fangs, all of these teeth are matched on the lower jaw. All of the teeth are -exceptionally- sharp -- and it is a good thing that the forked S'Kra tongue is slender and highly maneuverable, rather than thick like a Human's, or the creatures would constantly cut it on their sharp -- but relatively delicate -- front teeth.
Behind these teeth is a gap, followed by a row of molars, also interlocking. These molars, like the rest of the teeth, are proportionately more slender and sharp than those of the other races.
S'Kra most certainly are not venomous, despite some of the wilder legends circulating among the Humans. And, save for in the case of certain rituals in the Drum Clan, they are just as susceptible to poison as any other race. But I digress.
S'Kra shed their teeth four times over the course of their lives. It is postulated that this serves to maintain the intense sharpness of the teeth. However, the process by which the teeth are replaced is slightly different from, say, that of a Human. Except in exceptionally rare cases, teeth -always- come in directly behind the departing tooth. And the departing tooth does not leave -- and in fact retains almost all of its strength -- until the new tooth has come in. Thus S'Kra teeth, barring injury, are never "loose".
This is due to a notch on one side of each tooth. When a new tooth is fully developed, it last grows the piece that fills this notch, triggering the release of the old tooth. Not surprisingly, their scales have a similar device -- really quite ingenious, but I suppose these are gods we speak of when discussing their creation.
I will take a slight detour now to discuss the structure of the S'Kra tail. I must admit to some puzzlement regarding the discomfiture of those S'Kra I petitioned for information about this -- only the Empaths were of any help at all, and even they seemed positively squeamish with regard to this appendage. Strange for such a proud race. The tail, of course, has enormous personal significance and is considered a S'Kra's most private part of the body. Therefore I would assure any S'Kra to read this document that I have no offense in mind with my following discussion.
The tail of a S'Kra is an immensely flexible, sensitive organ. It is the seat (no pun intended) of many virtues in S'Kra culture, I believe, precisely because its movement is so closely tied in with a S'Kra's emotion. Certainly a S'Kra's tail will never "wag" like a mammal's, but many a diplomatic endeavor has failed for the outsider's lack of proper observational skill of a S'Kra's tail posture. Granted, S'Kra work diligently to control the degree to which they express this emotion -- and S'Kra children are much more likely to be possessed of more dramatic tail movements.
I say that the tail is more sensitive, and this is due not only to the natural result of avoiding contact with the area, but to, I believe, a concentration of sensory receptors in certain parts of the tail. Again, my evidence has been hard-won, as it is an exceptionally rare S'Kra who will so much as discuss this with me, to say nothing of participating in experiments.
As the tail is increasingly sensitive -- the scales, one will note, are slightly smaller on the tail than the much larger scales that protect the spine -- the ritual of removing the tail in the 'smozh' ceremony is not only humiliating but intensely painful. In this process the tail is detached as close to the base as possible (this is enacted by an elder Empath, as to cut the tail any closer to its base would result in bleeding death) and magically cauterized so as to never grow back. The tail, if cropped closer to the tip or in some cases near the titled "smozh barrier", will slowly regrow over time, though the S'Kra in question will most likely endure a period of intense mortification until it does.
In some cases it is said that, as an act of mercy, the tail is "accidentally" cut too close to the primary arterial node just below the pelvis, allowing the S'Kra an agonizing but honor-saving death. There are certain minor and little spoken rituals involved in the family's treatment of the blood that issues forth in such a death, but I am afraid that the whole issue is too grotesque for my own sensibilities, and I have not researched it.
Ah, I did mention that I would speak on the scales of the S'Kra. As with the teeth, they employ the trigger- detachment method. A S'Kra's skin therefore does not "shed" into strips in the manner of a lizard, but rather the scales themselves flake away in whole during grooming.
There is no "molting" period -- the S'Kra undergo a sort of constant regeneration of their scales. In an unhealthy S'Kra the new scales will not grow as quickly as the old ones deteriorate, leading to a patchy appearance of skin.
The care of the skin is one meticulously undertaken by the S'Kra elite. They routinely apply scented oils to their skin, rubbing it into the scales (which possess tiny pores so tiny as to make the surface of the scale seem shiningly smooth) with a certain type of soft cloth. Prior to the application of this oil, a coarse brush is passed roughly over the scales, sanding away any imperfections on the edges of each individual scale and causing the entire scale pattern to lay properly into place.
The scales vary in size. The largest by far surround the spine, though those that actually cover it are quite tiny -- and noticeably harder than those covering the rest of the body. The smallest cover the face, as might be obvious, allowing for a full range of facial expressions and movement.
I will speak briefly on the S'Kra's claws before I close. Formed of a relatively soft but quite dense substance, the healthy S'Kra claw is dark black and glossy. If chipped, the impacted edge cracks white, and "dead" spots flake away over time. S'Kra in fact keep these claws blunted as to grow them out too far is not only considered uncouth, but also causes the older claw material to be increasingly subject to chipping or snapping, which can be quite painful. If too much of the claw snaps away at once, the blood vessel at the end of the fingertip can be bared, resulting in quite profuse bleeding. Thus the sanding of the claws is not only aesthetic, but quite practical.
On the Anatomy of the S'Kra Mur:
I find the S'Kra Mur to be quite fascinating creatures from an anatomical perspective. I do not pretend to understand the intricacies of their culture and language, though my competency in both is, I would say, perhaps superior to many of my peers'. As with most species, it is clear that an understanding of their culture can at least in part be determined from their physical structure. My studies of the S'Kra will continue, allowing for the cooperation of those who have kindly offered answers to my questions and subjected their bodies to inspection by the Empaths. I thank in particular Empath Saarli Irrlivas, who was able to share with me her extensive experience with the treatment of S'Kra patients.