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Kheperic Beetles

Information sourced from various studies by the Citadel of Scholars dedicated to Our Lord Hamaskus

Written by David_Ulph

The sand whips up in such an uncouth manner as a cloud grows from behind the dunes and into the sky to fill the open blue. The lack of natural clouds in the skies above the Serpent Sands is, well, unnatural for an Analander such as myself and a far cry from the relative luxury of Khasahmir. By this stage of your journey, after crossing through the Black Crag and into the Sands, the memories of Khasahmir may be distant and enticing. Feel no shame in turning tail and falling back to that honeytrap as very few brave or foolish adventurers make the full journey through the desert and reach the far eastern shores of the Sunrise Sea.   Just pray to the gods of your choosing that you stumble across the puzzling sight of a lazy caravan consisting of oversized dung beetles and ragged undead afore you are caught in the fury of a sandstorm or maw of a sandwyrm. The Tithemasters are generous in their protection from the elements they offer, so long as you can offer them at least a tooth for their services. Remember, in this part of the Mortal Realm, the bonetithe is ultimate law. You'd rather lose a tooth by choice than a femur by force when they come knocking for the debt to be settled.
'An Adventurer's Guide to the Known World', by Glandragor the Ox

Introduction

There are many work animals utilised by cultures across the Mortal Realm, but in the inhospitable regions such as the Great Desert of Rostau in the high shadow of the Black Crags mountain range, only one can truly suffice. The Kheperic Beetle is a Giant Scarab-Dung Beetle domesticated by locals to carry heavy loads across distances and geographical features no other work animal of the far east could. The lifeline of those in the desert, there is no wonder that the image of this huge beast has led to the symbol of hope, safety and salvation in Rostau to become the scarab beetle.

Biology

Anatomy

An oval insect resembling a Sacred Scarab Beetle only increased in size comparable to average cattle. The Kheperic Beetle is covered in a thick and durable carapace exoskeleton for protection, which appears black in colour though when the light of the sun or from other magical means bounces off the Beetle, it explodes into shades of purple, blue, violet and green all at once like a shining jewel. Underneath the hardened elytra of the Kheperic Beetle are long flight wings which can allow it to travel several miles in ease.
 
The Kheperic Beetle features projections coming out of the head and front legs used for fighting, digging and shaping their food into balls. These projections appear to be extended more than a simple increasing of a scarab beetle's original size, seeming more like deadly impaling pikes. This has allowed the Kheperic Beetle to be able to carry its rolled dungball rather than require a second individual of its species to assist in rolling the ball across the ground. With the front legs reserved for digging, the mid- and fore-legs are clawed and used for actual movement.

Growth Rate & Stages

A note of interest on the Kheperic Beetle is the fact the species features no sexual dimorphism and so therefore would be incredibly hard to distinguish the gender between individuals. This is even more of a struggle where the records of the Hermetic Cults are inconclusive as to whether or not gender even exists within the species. No mating ritual has ever been recorded with a credible sighting, in part due to the secretive nature of the insect when the season occurs.
 
When a presumed-female is ready to breed it will select an adequate dungball and carve out a new underground cavern for it to be sealed into. The female will then lay a single large presumably-fertilised egg into the ball before sealing up the cavern for two months.
 
During these two months, the eggs will hatch into a single larvae which will devour the dungball and develop. Forming a pupa undergoing several instars. After this stage the pupa hatches and the newly formed adult breaches the tunnel and searches for a fresh dung supply for feeding.

Dietary Needs

As a coprophagous species, the Kheperic Beetle consumes faecal matter which it will scavenge for using its specialised antennae to sense, and roll into a dungball for transport back to a safe place for eating. This will usually be its underground chamber, where the dungball will be slowly devoured over the course of several days before the Beetle is required to scavenge again. While faeces is the best known meal of the Kheperic Beetle, it will also roll into its ball any other rotting material it can find such as mushrooms, carrion, and decaying plants.

Habitat

The Kheperic Beetle's natural habitat is exclusively the near-coastal dunes and marshes near the Black Crag mountain region across the Leonid Pride Lands. While this is where the species naturally occurs, they are suitable in almost every habitat from farmland, forest, grassland, prairie, to desert. However, the need for higher temperatures limits the Beetle's habitat to the Mortal Realm's equator regions. Despite this too, the further a Kheperic Beetle is taken away from the Black Crags, the weaker it appears to become almost linking the species to the location for a reason unknown to the Hermetic Cults.

Domestication

Being able to carry weights up to fifty times their own, the use of the Kheperic Beetle as a working beast of burden was inevitable. The most famous of all who have domesticated the species are a faction which operates throughout the Great Desert of Rostau since the fall of the Nameless Empire known as the Tithemasters of the Dead. These Tithemasters are undead servants of their masters who they refer to as only a "great eastern power", and are charged with the enforcement of the Bone Tithe across much of the Mortal Realm's south-eastern regions.
 
Caught at a young age, the flight wings of the Kheperic Beetle are castrated in order to ensure their control, with the discarded wings being sold to merchants as a silk for fashionable clothing. This also allows the elytra to instead protect specific bones of the Tithemasters carved with arcane runes. These bones are referred to as libraries according to most translators, and appear to be sacred to the Tithemasters. The Kheperic Beetle will also be trained to carry great masses and piles of bones in lines of caravans either with their front projections or in Library-Palanquins attached with chains to the Beetle's back carapace.
 
In order to facilitate the long journeys of Tithemasters to collect their tithes, the Kheperic Beetle is also responsible for the known safe passages through the Great Desert of Rostau. As the caravans cross the desert, when the Beetles require feeding they will pick up the scent of dung on their antennae and direct the caravan towards that area. The presence of dung requires the presence of animal life which equates to more hospitable paths and regions, and so while the undead TIthemasters care not for mortal suitability, many merchants will follow them for the easiest journey across the inhospitable dunes. Though these merchants will have a debt placed upon their head, which in turn they may lose if they do not pay for some time.
 
Upon the death of a Kheperic Beetle, their meat is sold to traders travelling into Khasahmir where artisan chefs create exotic delicacies out of what they can, and the carapace is sold to any armourer or worshipper of Fourga who wishes to utilise the durable material. As such, the High Guard of Khasahmir itself even resemble the now-fabled Scarab Cult of old.
 
As the Citadel of Scholar's Hermetic Cult has started flexing its muscles and spreading its influence through their backdoor and into the Eastern Realms, more and more Wickseekers are establishing footholds of power for their Candlebishops throughout the ancient lands once dominated by the Nameless Empire. This has of course put the Order in direct contact with the Tithemasters of the Dead and other factions of vultures picking away at the decaying riches hidden beneath the dunes and sandstone tombs. With these connections, the Wickseekers will also come into possession of domesticated pack beasts in the shape of Kheperic Beetles, which they will sometimes even use as mounts for even easier traversal of the Great Desert.
Summer Camp Prompt #4
Scientific Name
Scarabaeus Sacer Gigantis

The Scarab Cult

In the ancient days of Tei Mei Mhen where the Nameless Empire contested the Realm-wide dominance of the Midlandian Empire of the Third Era, the greatest of these warriors sent to stall the expeditionary legions were the Khepera. According to fragments of information the Citadel of Scholars have uncovered on the subject, the Khepera - the Scarab Cult - were the elite warrior and religious caste of the Nameless Empire and while scarab beetles of all kinds seemed to be important to their cult, the Kheperic Dung Beetle was granted the most importance, with the Khepera donning heavy armour fashioned from the carapaces of these giant insects.
 
Consisting of heavy great-weapon wielding infantry and armoured sorcerers, the Scarab Cult were only recorded directly by the Midlandian Empire in reports of battles involving high-status individuals of the Nameless Empire. This has led to the most credible theory that the Cult were incredibly influential within the secretive east with the Khepera seemingly even acting as bodyguards of some kind. However, with the collapse of the Nameless Empire, the Khepera were lost alongside the rest of Rostau's warriors; Cast in clay and ground to dust within this mould over time.
 
Like with all Claymen warriors, the Khepera are susceptible to the techniques developed by the Hermetic Cults to brand the clay and reanimate the dust inside into faithful bodyguards for new masters. The Citadel of Scholars itself now holds a handful of these elite guards watching silent and vigil for eternity over the rarest tomes found within its deep bowels.
 

Origins of Khepera

While Candlebishops are still struggling to piece together the history of the lands once under the Nameless Empire, a fragmented possibly semi-mythological history has been found in relation to the origins of the Khepera.
 
The tale describes a crazed master of the Black Crag who sent out followers to scour the lands of the sand to collect scarab beetles and return them to the master's palace of the Benben Trifold. These beetles were them bred into the Kheperic Beetle, which the master claimed would be so large and strong enough to carry him into the Aether from atop the Black Crag so that the master could meet the Gods themselves and charge them with treason.
 
Many flocked to the master's holy site, seeking to nurture the Kheperic Beetles and feed them lumps of rich dough mixed with their own faeces. When forces of the gods met the master in the Benben Trifold, these feeders stood up to the outsiders attempting to prevent the breeding of the giant beetles and fought back. Donning the sacred armour of the creatures they had worshipped for years whom had died, these Khepera would go on to defend Rostau from any other outsiders intent on dismantling their way of life.

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Cover image: by Matt Rhodes

Comments

Author's Notes

All I have to say is you're all lucky I didn't decide to expand on the giant spiders my Dwarves use as pack animals ;-)   The asexual nature of the beetle is actually a nod to the actual deities Ancient Egypt worshipped in connection to the scarab beetle such as Atum and the species' namesake Khepri. Though switching the gender to "female" only rather than the mythic belief male scarab beetles could reproduce solely with a ball of poop ala Atum creating life by both sneezing and spitting into his own semen... The Egyptians really did have some wacky myths didn't they?


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11 Jul, 2021 19:36

This is a super cool desert animal. Does anyone ride kheperic beetles? How would you even fit a saddle to one without impeding the wings?

Journeyman David_Ulph
David Alexander
14 Jul, 2021 18:30

Thank you :D The beetles aren't usually ridden as the processions of tithemasters are undead and don't get tired from constant walking over desert dunes and have no need of steeds. However the members of the Hermetic Cults are a different story and I'm not fully decided on whether they are ridden like steeds or not...

Latha math leat! Sending praise from the Hebrides! Check my Summer Camp ramblings out here
14 Jul, 2021 01:18

This is a fascinating desert insect! And thank you very much for not expanding on the giant spiders. I hate spiders so very much!

*TimeBender*
8 Aug, 2021 19:45

This is a really fascinating article (and your author notes, too). I'm very interested to hear more about the bone tithe in the future.   I love that the reproduction method of the beetle is an unknown at the moment.