|Losteed, Dragon Horse
The Khunma is a rare variety of steed found in The Far East with a combination of mammalian and reptilian traits said to originate from their draconic origins as gifts from the Loong Dragons. Well adapted to a variety of climates, the Khunma has also diversified in coloration over the millennia it has had to spread across the distant homelands of the Sihai. Most favored by warriors and the rugged of society due to its naturally fierce face and temperamental nature, the Khunma is quite the sight for the unprepared and is certain to leave a lasting impression.
The connection between the Khunma and the Loong Dragons was forged very early in Sihai society. Ancient records spoke of how the Loong gave the First Emperor and Empress “an aspect” of themselves for transportation, capable of great feats of speed and strength and even, it is said, being able to walk on the air itself. As the centuries wore on, the Khunma’s origin remained tied to the Loong, but a supposed “First Sin” by the first bad Sihai Emperor was blamed for the creature’s stubborn nature and inability to perform the feats spoken of in tales of the past. It is unlikely such a “First Sin” ever took place and that instead, prideful animal tamers attempted to explain why their stock was so universally temperamental. With time, methods of taming their easily irritated nature came about, and the animal grew more common and less fantastical, even to the Loong-obsessive Sihai. But this relationship was uprooted during the impact of the Cataclysm. Their snarling faces, mixed with the war armor used to protect their forms, twisted the narrative to state that they were fallen guardians of the Loong, and the “sin” was not that of any Sihai, but of the animal themselves. But even this did not last long. As the people of Zhong calmed, the Khunma regained its more regal, ancient prestige, especially given how the Sihai military was of great importance to the reborn Sihai Empire. Today, the Khunma is a strange mount, and often temperamental to the unprepared, but one that is largely respected. But whispers of a darker nature still persist in some isolated towns and cities, choosing to remember different periods of the past than those when the Khunma was not so evocative.
Khunma stand between six and seven feet in height, with a weight of over a thousand pounds. Their faces are strange blends of mammalian and reptilian traits, along with generally strange features. Their mouths are wide and feature a set of large, blunted canine teeth which forces their mouths to be open at all times, often emitting audible breathing. Their lips are thick, yet thin around the points where their mouth is exposed, giving the perpetual appearance of a snarl. Their nose is a short structure, more feline than reptilian, with a philtrum and a pair of nares meshing into a heavily, horizontally wrinkled nose. These wrinkles lead up to the pair of large, slitted reptilian eyes that the animal possesses, with various shades possible across the color spectrum. Between the eyes and nose two pairs of two-to-three-inch-long barbel-like protrusions just out, which when exposed to the air, tend to flex and move at sounds or when the Khunma is on the trail or someone. They are considered extra-sensory and an enhancement of the nose’s olfactory capabilities because of this. The animal’s ears, which sit at the top of the head, are more like that of an equine, with a long shape that ends in a point, yet each also has a frill of semi-flexible fibers behind them which stand upright, and are much like hair in their consistency.
The head is connected to the body by a short, bulky neck, and the front half of the creature maintains its reptilian qualities. The underside of the animal, running from the head down the neck and then below the creature, is covered in a rougher textured and often colored type of body scaling, while the rest of the front half is covered in smoother scales. The legs are also reptilian, featuring a pair of well-built legs, each with four clawed toes capable of extremely powerful grips. The back half of the Khunma meanwhile, is more traditionally equine, with a pair of hooves legs supporting a thin-haired rear with a thick-haired tail. As for body coverings, as mentioned previously, the forward half of the Khunma is coated in scales. The palettes of these, while once more standard and all possessing a plain white appearance based on ancient artwork, have wildly diversified over the centuries in a similar way to the animal’s eye color. Warm, cool, and clashing shades have been seen on the creature for many years, while the animal’s rear has largely gone unchanged. It almost always has a deep chestnut brown back half, sometimes being black. This hair tone also carries to the hair of the tail, the frills and tone of the ears, and also colors the animal’s feline nose and some of its lower wrinkles, before the scales resume their dominance.
As previously noted, the colorations within the Khunma palette are immensely diverse. The most common palettes are a dominant red with a cream underbelly, a dominant orange with a black underbelly, a dominant dark blue with a white underbelly, and a dominant black with a red underbelly. Eye color is similarly diverse, with the most common colors being blue, green, and yellow. The gender ratio for the Khunma has fluctuated over the millennia, with records speaking of rarities in both genders at different points. However, in modern times, and throughout the past few centuries, there has been an equal ratio of males and females. There is also minimal sexual dimorphism between the genders, with more of a mental divide existing between the two groups than anything visible outside of their bodies.
Life Span and Development
Khunma are live-born in groups of up to three but first emerge in a thin and soft-shelled “egg” though most consider it more of a body wrapping than an egg given its wispy nature and general lack of protection to the individual within. Any healthy Khunma foal is easily able to break out within a few minutes, upon which they begin the unsteady process of walking and running over the course of an hour. At this time, all of their features are generally softer, with their scales and hindquarters a pale shade of their eventual adult colorations, and their face lacking the wrinkles above their noses as well as having only short, stiff barbels. Over a period of four years, they gradually mature through adolescent, teenager, and young adult stages of growth, before they reach their final adult form. During this time, they gradually drift away from their mother and father, as Khunma mate for life, and so the children are easily separated by the time they are young adults. They can live for up to forty years, though some have been known to push fifty.
Khunma have an easily simplified mentality: grumpy. This is expressed differently between the sexes, and the methods for taming them are similarly different. Males are often solitary, more outwardly aggressive, and possess a deep arrogance that leads them to ignore those they feel are weaker than them. Females meanwhile, keep in groups of three to five, and express collective ridicule for those weaker around them, with group aggression against those they dislike. The main way to get over this is to assert one’s self, get into their line of sight, and ensure you stay close, avoiding their bullying actions or responding in kind, even if they react negatively to them. While somewhat bizarre to other mount tamers in Aloria, the end result is often a more pliant mount easier to train. Centuries of trial and error on specific actions to take, as well as long periods already growing up around those who will tame them have only made this process easier. As for other mental features, Khunma are omnivorous, though they largely gain the “meat” part of their diet from insects, small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and birds, as they do not hunt medium or large mammals. However, they still largely prefer the herbs, grasses, and more that are fed to them by their Sihai caretakers, or they gain through grazing.
Territory and Groupings
Khunma exist entirely in the domesticated sphere, on agricultural lands, and within stables across the whole of Zhong. Generally, their herds are rather small, at only around twenty individuals being comfortable together, with males keeping apart from one another in their free time while females group together. However, greater numbers of Khunma have been and were forced together due to conflict, the most recent example being when some 3000 Khuma were mounted and ridden into battle against the first attack of the Void Demons.
- The soft “eggshell” left after a Khunma is born often rapidly hardens into a brittle, easily decomposing substance within twenty-four hours of a foal’s emergence. However, processes to treat, and craft the material into useful material for clothing exist, and some even find their way into saddles and decorative pieces for saddles and other mount paraphernalia.
- Sihai armor for the Khunma is often somewhat elaborate, though the armor on their face is minimal. Instead, a series of hanging, yet secured pieces add a loose mask that only accentuates the animal’s fierce natural facial expression.
- Khunma are rare beyond The Far East, as the sea voyage over to Aloria upsets the animal greatly. A few young members kept close to their parents have been able to make the trip along with said parents, and have produced no amount of terror and shock upon first reveal to outsiders.