|Common Nicknames||Greater Crane, Mai-Beian Crane|
|Habitat||Riverlands of Zhong|
The Baente is an enormous species of crane native to the Sihai continent of Zhong, and one of its most revered animals. The animal has had portions of its population domesticated for centuries, and while these mounts are unable to fly with the weight of people on their backs, they still present an elegant terrestrial ride for those who make use of them. The War of the Weeds, fought between 250 to 238 BC, led to populations being low in number and scattered into isolated regions. While the animal has been taking time to recover since this disaster, the governments of The Zhong Kingdoms have made sure to let all know: if you harm any Baente, you will answer to high justice.
The Baente was found soon after the Sihai reached the landmasses of Zhong, as tales claim that within mere hours, men and women who scouted into the lush brush of the eastern reaches from the shoreline came upon huge birds which attempted to attack them. Eventually named the Baente, these birds became revered among the Sihai due to their similarities to the Beian Crane that served as the basis for the Crane Stance. In fact, Crane Stance Sihai were the first to infiltrate Baente nesting grounds, and they gradually came to domesticate a significant portion of the population. There were several reasons for them to do this, but ultimately it came down to the bird’s unique size, capable of providing rich meat, large eggs, feathers, and more. By 500 BC, it was a common pull and riding animal for the wealthy of not just Zhong but also Sheng, whose Imperial Dynasty received shipments of the bird for their vast stables. Baente were said to be dignified, wise, and long-lived birds fit only for those of a similar disposition to ride. However, the War of the Weeds did significant damage to this bird’s population, both wild and domestic.
The conflict is called this in Common for its strange origins, with groups of bandits from all Zhong Kingdoms uniting in the “weeds” of the wilds, and then dispersing to cause mayhem and suffering for the wealthiest of society. Some would call them folk heroes, but they were little more than looters and brigands who took advantage of a period of prosperity to gain profit. Dozens of domesticated Baente died with their riders or owners in road attacks while others died when whole stables of the wealthy were set ablaze or were poached from their grazing grounds. The Northern Kingdom of Beian and the Eastern Kingdom of Jin-Lung united and drove these pillagers into the weeds that had sprouted them. Unfortunately, what followed was the damage to the wild Baente population. The region the Barons of the Barrens (as they now called themselves) controlled was at the heart of the same nesting grounds earlier stumbled upon by Sihai settlers generations before. Thousands of Baente were killed, sometimes purposefully for food by both sides, and other times by accident or necessity. By the end of the conflict, few Baente were left in the wild, and both sides immediately cordoned off the region, departing with the sworn promise to never combat there again. Since that time, Baente in the wild have slowly recovered in this reserve, while the domesticated stock also takes its time to gradually recover. With the unity between the Zhong nations following the Cataclysm, the Baente Nesting Ground is fully protected and is now seen more than ever as a part of the past to preserve. As such, they are rarely seen in the open, but are immortalized by the artwork and culture of the Sihai people overall alongside their smaller brethren.
Baente are extremely large birds, sitting between nine and ten feet in height, six and a half to eight feet in length, and possessing a wingspan some sixteen feet across. Their weight is highly variable, with those in domesticated surroundings sitting at about 180 to 220 pounds, while those in the wild sit closer to 150 to 180 pounds. Their head possesses a large, thick, black beak, above which sits a pair of large, black eyes, before a thick, long neck connects this to the rest of the body. The animal’s main bulk is in its body, with its two enormous wings folded in against itself, ending in a thick tail of feathers that are curved down. The Baente stands on two thick, impressive black legs, not as skinny as those of other cranes due to their large size but especially thick in the domesticated flocks, being used to carry greater weights during their lives. The limbs are digitigrade, bending backward at the midpoint, ending in two large, semi-webbed feet with four toes, three of which have the scant webbing between them. The animal’s physical covering is all feathers, but it possesses some striking colors. Their head is dominated by a large black patch that goes around their beak and runs down their neck before ending at the body. The back of the head, running in a streak from the eyes, is a white spot, while a large red blob also sits at the very crown of their head. In males, the red coloration of their feathers bleeds down their neck a bit but ultimately stops after just a foot or two. The rest of the bird is covered in white feathers, while their tail feathers are once again black, with male tail feathers speckled with points of red.
Baente have no strong visual divergence between the sexes and has generally equal gender numbers, despite the cataclysm that severely impacted their numbers. The only real diversity between the genders is that males have red feathers on a small bit of their neck and in their tail feathers, while females do not. The other level of diversity exists between the domesticated and wild varieties of the bird. Those in domesticated surroundings are often “fatter”, with a heavier weight, and thicker legs better built to support the weight of a rider. Wild Baente are slimmer and lighter.
Life Span and Development
Baente are hatched as a single dirty-white oval egg the size of two Human fists placed on top of one another. When a Baente is born, the animal is initially covered in a thick fluff of white down feathers, but over the course of several months, they gradually grow in size and also lose this feathery down. They cannot fly during this time, but instead remain on the ground by the nest. By six months, the Baente hatchlings are now considered adolescents and finally have their first set of flight feathers. For a further six months, the bird gradually begins to learn how to fly with their parents, ultimately soaring one full year after their birth. From this point forward, the bird rapidly physically matures, growing from about half the size of their parents to their mature height within as little as three months. However, the bird is not fully matured and is unable to mate for a further three to four years. At this point, the now-grown Baente joins the wider flock, disconnecting from their parents. This is when the life cycle of the bird takes its course, as they can live for up to a century and a half, outlasting even some Sihai in their span of existence. During this time, they prove highly selective about their mates, rarely mating for life, and instead select them by unknown means. While rarely observed, “courtship dances” of flying around females, dancing with them on the ground or in the water, and displaying their full wingspan, are believed to be ways males demonstrate their value and power to a female during the mating season. In their long lifetimes, Baente may have as many as twenty partners, but many have lower numbers than this.
Baente are highly intelligent birds, capable of detecting threats and recognizing allies easily. Their enormous size has made them apex prey in the wilds, though many predators refuse to tangle with such large and sharp-beaked beings. The species is omnivorous, eating a variety of plant life but also using their beaks to crack freshwater crustacean shells, as well as spearing or quickly gulping down fish unfortunate enough to be scooped up. The Baente is said to always recognize a face, even from decades previous, and show affection among the Sihai Race by reaching down and tapping the underside of their beaks on the tops of heads, like an adult might do to a child, patting it. However, should they recognize someone that did them harm, or sense predators approaching their young, they are fearsome birds. Their beaks are sharp, and their necks thick, easily able to worm down and prod at parts of an enemy’s body that would not be ideal to be struck. They will also, initially, give out their elegant though long-winded call, while flapping their wings to try and force enemies away. Between members of their own species, the animal displays a great deal of caring, nuzzling with their young, helping to clean a companion or friend, and generally lacking antagonism, especially in those members domesticated by the Sihai. However, this is not the case during the mating season, as males seeking mates will jostle for attention. They can and will peck at each other, driving an individual out of their personal space, even a personal trainer or caretaker.
Territory and Groupings
In the wild, Baente flocks are generally small, sitting at about twenty to thirty members, with flocks that grow larger than that self-dividing. They are divided up into unofficial territories within the swamps and riverlands of the northeast of Zhong. Flocks in domesticated surroundings are often smaller in size, numbering only between five to ten.
- The saddle for riding a Baente is angled, to compensate for the bird’s angled back and walking gait. When the bird stands up and walks, the saddle levels out the rider smoothly.
- Tales exist of how the ancient Sheng Empire made use of child messengers to carry Imperial decrees across the Empire, riding on the backs of Baente who were capable of flying with such a light load. Eventually, the practice was ended, but some suggest the “child messengers” were simply dummies, which contained the edict, and were a form of ceremonial pageantry.