|Stone Dog, Guardian Dog
|Ruins, tombs and old religious sites of the Sihai
The Poukuan is one of the stranger creatures the lands of the distant Sihai have to offer to the scholars of the wider world. Unlike other animals native to such places, the domestication of the Poukuan is almost a false one as while they do exist in urban areas, it is on their own terms and in a select range of sites scattered across the central, western and once southern lands of Sihai territory. They have an odd, stone-like appearance, as well as a combination of feline and canine features. These animals are a sacred piece to Sihai society, undoubtedly remaining a mystery for centuries more.
The ancient nature of the Poukuan has led to some believing they were a creation of the Loong Dragons, but it is unknown if this is true. It is much more commonly said that the Poukuan “came forth from the mountains, immovable stones, and were graven into their task,” or at least, that is the rough modern translation. Many interpret this to mean the creatures were once mountain-dwelling animals that, similar to the ancient mountain canines that became the Yuen Doge or the Poukuan's cousins, the Anui Lions, were gradually tamed and domesticated by the Sihai. However, the Poukuan mentality has pushed back on this interpretation, as despite being fierce protectors, and friendly with Sihai locals, the creatures have remained around certain locations across The Zhong Kingdoms despite the spread of population, as well as the ebb and flow of time. Ancient ruins–of capitals, tombs and shrines long dead–hold these animals standing stalwart guard over what little remains. In populated areas, these animals exist in small groups around their chosen places of guardianship, often flanking the entryway to the site, and sustaining themselves on donations from the populace or the owners of the site itself. Today, this has remained the norm for the Poukuan, guarding as they did millennia in the past, and almost just as mysterious as they were to the early Sihai.
Some call the Poukuan carved-statues-come-to-life, and that is easy to assume based on their physical appearance. They vary in size, based on region and temperament, but range from two to five feet in height when seated on their hind legs, a true length of two to four feet, and weigh between 150 and 300 pounds in weight. The Poukuan has a strange face; it can be described as having a combination of feline and canine features. They have flat snouts with large nostrils, small white whiskers and wide mouths with a prominent flap of skin like a bulldog sitting over sharp teeth and small fangs. Their eyes are large and forward facing, sunken into the head, and producing the constant appearance of a furrowed brow due to their positioning and the dense hair on the animal’s form. Their eye colors are all earthen tones, in shades of green and brown. Their ears are short and pointed, and stick up alert on their head, propped there by a short, though dense, mane of curled hair. The rest of their body is surprisingly broad for a feline, but it may be thanks to their millennia of “domestication.” Their necks are thick, attached to large, thick-boned bodies with four limbs, two front legs and two hind legs, with feline paws and pads, which only possess four digits each. Their rears end in a large, fluffy tail, both broad and long that adds an additional, artificial, foot to their length. The animal’s fur is its most key characteristic, and the reason they are considered to be from stone. It has a very stiff structure to it, and while it can be combed, it has an almost wiry makeup that snaps it back into its position. Slightly curled, and forming lightly artistic swirls and patterning around the animal’s legs, jawline, tail and mane, it starts as a gray-white to white coloration, unblemished by time. However, if left unkempt, either by a Poukuan, its pack, or caretakers, it rapidly develops moss growths and other minor vegetation. Additionally, over the half a century of life these animals can live, it will gradually gray to a darker shade, and eventually reach an almost stony complexion.
Poukuan do show a great physical diversity, but this is not based on gender, and is instead a result of their surroundings. Poukuan that exist in urban settings or Sihai-occupied regions tend to be smaller and plumper, turning gray much faster than those in the wild. These wild creatures are often larger, with more prominent canine fangs as well as copious plant growth on their larger bodies.
Life Span and Development
Poukuan have an extremely private birthing process. Other members of their packs actively drive away attempted onlookers, with Poukuan females actively burrowing themselves into a dark, secluded corner when pregnant, with their mate actively protecting them. It is suspected to be a live birth, but Poukuan cubs as they are called are rarely seen before they are one month old. In this early state, they are blind, without any hair, and lacking any teeth, constantly emitting little mews and cries as their mother and their mate care for them. However, at one month old, a rapid transformation takes place. Their first coat of fur, soft at this time, promptly develops and adopts the patterns and appearance their adult coat will possess. They will also leave the darkness of their birthing spot, and will follow their parents around like ducklings. During this stage, they are seemingly shown around their place of residence, taught its boundaries, its entrances, and other important facts. At three months old, they begin to accompany their parents out on their sentry duties, forming a small clutch around the seated pair of guards at the front door.
By six months, Poukuan have reached an adult disposition, where their fur has grown in and they take to lone watches. At this point, their parents usually die, though this is also one of the most bizarre parts of their life. They have an aggressive state of rigor mortis and always die at night, taking a final watch with their partner before they perish. Additionally, Poukuan only produce offspring near the very end of their life, around their 40th year if they live to it, with the maximum age of a Poukuan being 55, achieved by Fearsome Fang, a Poukuan that rose to prominence by killing a whole band of grave robbers, before spending some thirty years constantly guarding his domain of a long abandoned town monastery in the central lands of CONTINENT.
The Poukuan mindset is extremely difficult to describe, as despite being so simple, its simplicity has often confused those focused on animal training. Each Poukuan seems programmed from its earliest days to defend a certain area of land that they grow accustomed to from a young age. The size of the site does not matter, nor does the amount of people within the site; the Poukuan pack is their home, as is the site, and they will guard it as needed. This often takes the form of sitting in a pair by the largest or front entrance to a location, turned forward, and possessing a stiff position just looking at nothing, not tracking or meeting eyes with those that pass by, or even at other local animals that might come up close. When approached by individuals, they will take notice, but their gruff appearance, and “furrowed brows” often deters people from getting closer. They will accept signs of affection, like head pats and more, and only really break ranks when given food, laying down and quickly eating whatever it is or sharing it with their guarding partner. However, when something violent happens within their guarded site of choice, or a person of hostile intent approaches a site, they spring into action. They will growl very prominently at this figure, fangs showing as they cease their sitting, raising their rears and fan-like tails, before, or in the case of violence within their site, they begin to call. The sound is often described as a warped dog bark, filled with a reverberation and sharp tone that immediately demands attention. They will rarely directly attack people, unless they harm a Poukuan, or are committing outright violence and bloodshed within the visual range of a Poukuan. They will also act with immediate violence if one of their children is taken from them, at least during their early stages.
Territory and Groupings
Poukuan packs are generally small, numbering around ten to twenty, though larger sites of guarding–at least in urban areas–can have as many as thirty members. Packs in the wild are often much smaller, whittled down to just four or five members. These numbers do fluctuate based on regional population, with sites guarded by Poukuan being re-inhabited by Sihai experiencing a surge up in numbers to reach those of urban areas. The actual sites of Poukuan stewardship vary wildly, from temples to taverns to ruins so old, none can remember what once existed there. Some believe that the physical buildings are not what the Poukuan are protecting, but instead points of great power in the world, and so such places are often afforded prestige in communities and across the surrounding regions.
- A pair of massive statues seven feet high, carved in the image of Poukuan, laced with red and white paint in their manes and around their eyes, guard the entryway into the Imperial Palace of the Sihai. This represents the broader, growing practice since the Cataclysm to place stone statues of Poukuan outside of one’s home.
- Some have observed, strangely, what seems to be same-sex pairing among Poukuan mates, leading some to believe the species is actually agendered, and lacking the masculine and feminine qualities prescribed to them for years.
- Poukuan are sacred in Sihai society, to kill one is to call the threat of execution, and to try and keep one as a pet is impossible. Poukuan babies are often actively kept safe by Sihai living in the sites that Poukuan guard, but proper domestication is impossible.