lepiceph

Lepicephs are titanic creatures which are capable of living and traveling through the Sora under their own power. Appearing similar to a cross between a squid and a butterfly, they have large, hollow internal structures which connect to spiracles that run on various parts of their exteriors. These internal structures are dry, relatively warm, and filled with air which allows people to enter and ride inside the creature. Due to this, they are utilized by several races as their primary form of soracraft.  

Origin

Lepicephs are artificially creatures that were created over a thousand years ago by elven druids on the realm Ildathach. For generations the elves of Ildathach used giant creatures as mounts and weapons in their constant warfare against the dwarves and giants of the realm. Of particular note were the megadopters, giant butterflies favored by the pollen elves, and the kolosepia, a massive cuttlefish utilized by the kelp elves. As the dwarves created numerous weapons of war, the elves had to turn to increasingly creative druidic magic to fight back. This often took the form of manipulating animal and plant species to create new warbeasts.   When the coal dwarves developed airships it gave them a great advantage in their wars. Even with their flying mounts, the sheer size and power of the airships pushed the elves to the very brink of destruction. It was only through the combined expertise of the wisest druids from the pollen, kelp, and flower elves that the tide was turned. Together, they magically merged the kolosepia and megadopters into a single creature; the first lepiceph. They were not as large or powerful as the modern creatures, but they were capable of carrying a dozen elves on their backs, allowing them to effectively fight back against the dwarven airships.   When the wars finally ended, the elves were turned to using their lepicephs purely for transport. Slowly, they bred them larger and larger, using druidic magics to shape them in a variety of ways. Eventually, the lepicephs came to resemble their modern forms, with the internal pockets and spiracles to allow people to enter and travel inside them. This allowed them to eventually breach the Sora, where they came into contact with explorers from the Bl√°thaofa Kingdom.  

Physical Description

Lepiceph by Denis Khusainov
There are several different subspecies of lepiceph which have been developed over the centuries, though the basic body plan remains consistent between them. Their long, soft, segmented abdomens terminate in a finned area that resembles a squid's mantle. This abdomen is lined with spiracles, a pair on every other segment, which leads to large, internal pockets. These spiracles can be opened and closed by the animal, allowing people to enter inside. The pockets are dry, soft, and relatively comfortable. The pockets are connected by tubes which functionally serve as hallways. The exact layout of the pockets is different between individuals, with larger lepicephs having enough pockets to comfortably house over a hundred people, along with supplies, equipment, and other cargo.   The abdomen is connected to a chitinous thorax, from which sprout three pairs of legs and four scale-covered wings. This thorax has some smaller internal pockets, but they are rarely used for passengers, instead most frequently housing food for the lepiceph itself. However, the most important pocket sits right behind the head of the lepiceph. This pocket tends to be fairly small, enough for one or two people to sit in comfortably, and is close to the animal's brain.   The head is hardened and has two large compound eyes, two antennae, and ten long, strong tentacles which cover a beak-like mouth. These tentacles are lined with suckers and often have hooks or claws at the end. They are capable of grasping other soracraft, holding them in place, and often crushing them.   Subspecies that vary from this body plan may have a different number of tentacles, extra fins on the abdomen, nautiloid shells protecting their abdomens, ink sacs and siphons, or puncturing proboscises. The smallest subspecies are around 50 feet long and 10 feet wide with tentacles 15 feet long and a 100 foot wingspan. The largest are nearly 300 feet long and 60 feet wide, with tentacles 90 feet long and 600 foot wingspans. They have all manner of colorations and patterns, often bright and striking.  

Life Cycle

Lepiceph mating is rare and controlled tightly by special handlers. The lepicephs which are to be bred are gorged on food high in protein, which causes their internal pockets to collapse as their digestive tracts fill with food. The females lay a cluster of about a dozen eggs shortly after, usually depositing them inside large trees specially designed for lepiceph larvae. After mating, the lepiceph ceases to eat, though their large sizes means they will survive for roughly a year before finally starving to death.   The eggs hatch after a few weeks, with the larvae approximately 1/100th the size of the adult and resembling caterpillars with with short tentacles on their heads and a soft, transparent mantle covering their abdomens. They begin feeding on the trees which they were hatched on, quickly stripping it of leaves and growing rapidly. They molt several times over the course of roughly 6 months, each time molting while the mantle grows larger and harder. At the end of the six months, they molt one final time, their mantle forming a complete chrysalis. Over the next three months they will pupate and transform into their adult form.   Lepicephs live for roughly 20 years if they do not mate.  

Diet

Due to their enormous size, lepicephs require huge amounts of food. As larvae, they can consume the leaves off an entire large tree within a day. In order to provide them with the large amounts of energy they need to survive and travel through the Sora, they are fed very sugary foods such as fruit, sweet grains, honey, and the like. They require roughly a ton of food every day to survive.  

Usage

Lepicephs are widely used as soracraft by elves and kamakari. Due to the large size of the creatures, it is difficult to control them through manual means. Instead, their "pilot" must be able to connect with their mind and give them commands that way. Elves do so with druids, who utilize their abilities to speak with animals to communicate with and issue instructions to the lepiceph. Kamakari create a psionic link with the lepiceph and control them more directly, meaning that kamakari lepicephs tend to be more functional than elven ones.   While lepicephs are much more difficult to control and costly to maintain than soraships, they have two advantages that balance these scales. First, lepiceph tentacles give them a powerful weapon that can be used against other soracraft in battle. Soraships must rely on rams or boarding spikes to attack other craft. This makes them extremely unattractive targets for pirates, allowing lone lepicephs to travel without much risk. Second, they are capable of traveling even without a pilot, usually following their current paths when their pilots are sleeping, distracted, or otherwise occupied. This means their pilots put up with much less strain than the pilots of soraships.   Lepicephs have a higher top speed than most soracraft, being capable of short bursts of up to 3000 miles per second for around 10 minutes. However, they can only maintain speeds around 2300 miles per second safely, and attempts to push them will quickly exhaust them and can even lead to their deaths.
Class


Cover image: by Denis Khusainov

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