Then they invited me to ride with them on the back of one of their Shadestalkers. I accepted the offer and almost immediately the jungle around me was hurtling past at an incredible speed. It may have been utterly terrifying but I could not have fully appreciated how graceful and agile these creatures are unless I had witnessed it first hand.
The shadestalker is one of the largest cat-like creatures in Axora. They have black, dark brown, dark purple or dark green fur or combinations thereof. Oddly, the colourings of the shadestalkers match the skin tones of the native Jungle Elves. Whether there is a reason for this or it is just two species finding the same evolutionary answer separately is unknown. The fur is short and smooth but can be a bit thick down the neck and across the shoulders. They can grow to be 12-14ft in length (tail not inclusive) and about 5ft in height at the shoulders. Their backs tend to arch downwards slightly so the riding position is usually somewhere around 4-4.5ft off the ground. Their tails can add up to another 2ft in length.
Shadestalkers have a long feline face with deep yellow eyes and two pronounced fangs from their upper jaw, similar but not quite as large as the sabretooths of Gonde.
Habitat & Traits
Shadestalkers can be found in the hot tropical jungles of the continent of Suriima and the country of Hantau in southeast Mysandros. More accurately, the shadestalkers will find you in those places. They are so-called due to their innate ability to hide so effectively in the shadows before pouncing onto their unsuspecting victim, a feat made even more impressive when factoring in their size.
They hunt alone but live in small packs, often just a direct family in size. They typically live around 30 years and are considered fully adult in terms of breeding at around 10. (They will reach their full size in about 6 or 7). As such, there can be around 3 generations in the pack at any one time. They appear to operate in a patriarchal society like other large cats, with an alpha male in charge.
Taming and Usage
In the Quitaphan Dynasty of southern Suriima, shadestalkers are tamed and used as steeds. You will not find horses in the jungle there. The capital city of Sarancio holds a reasonably extensive breeding program of 'domesticated' shadestalkers. They are never entirely domesticated and accidents can and do occur. However, they do require a solitary individual to raise and train a single shadestalker. The shadestalker will then listen and respond to that trainer only. If the trainer dies before the creature does, it is released into the wild since it won't respond to any new individual.
Occasionally, the party of trackers will be sent to capture new specimens to help keep the stock fresh and inbreeding to a minimum. Oddly, this relationship between the Quitaphans and the shadestalkers seems to keep both wild and tamed populations at a steady level.
There is an elite group within the Quitaphan army that use shadestalkers known as the Praedatare