On Dra’Hynus, amid the drowned deltas of the Behean Shelf, towering mangroves strip nutrients from brackish waters, and life flourishes beneath their boughs. Silt flows form small islands amongst the trees’ roots. Between these loamy isles, hidden in the murk, gardens swim against the current.

The Wandering Gardens of Behea

The phenomenon known as the “Wandering Gardens of Behea” is the collective consisting of at least one dire khest, several swamplice, and a variety of flora. A dire khest will host generations of swamplice on its back during its lifetime. These swamplice will in turn decorate themselves in plantlife and other organic matter in order to defend themselves and the dire khest which carries them.

Although swamplice and the species they host can be found in a number of combinations without the dire khest, the dire khest itself is rarely seen without its accouterments except among juveniles. Swamplice are so integral to the dire khests’ development that they even feature prominently in their mating displays.

Dire Khest

Dire khests are large, semiaquatic beasts native to the Behean Shelf of Dra’Hynus. They are known for their swamplouse armor and the local ghost stories which feature the animal. Dire khests are social, omnivorous grazers with a wary disposition. It is recommended that they be kept at a safe distance, and eye contact should be minimized. Dire khests are not considered to be a threatened species, although this assessment has drawn recent scrutiny as human populations grow in Behea.


The name “dire khest” is a local corruption of its archaic name, “dierkhesaurus”, from the Greek diérkhesthai (διέρχεσθαι), meaning “wade”, and sauros (σαῦρος), meaning “lizard”. Several other colloquial names have been noted, mostly derived from myths surrounding psychopomps, such as “ferryman” and “Old Morana”. They are incorrectly referred to as “wandering gardens”, which is reserved for the collective of the dire khest, swamplouse, and the flora they host.


An adult dire khest may measure 25 to 30 feet in length, 10 to 15 feet in height, and weigh as much as 8 tons. They have two legs, no arms, and a meaty tail – a body plan common amongst their genus, of which they are the largest by mass. Their head, ridged spine, and tail are covered in hydrodynamic scales and osteoderms for swamplice to grip onto, while the rest of their body is wrapped in leathery skin made up of dermal denticles similar to those of a shark. Their color will vary from light blue to yellow to brown depending on body temperature and stress levels. Spots adorn their flanks and legs to break up their silhouette in the eyes of aquatic predators.

A dire khest’s head is a long, narrow triangle terminating in a trifurcated beak and two hairy tentacles. The beak has one maxilla and two mandibles, the latter of which move back and forth to grind vegetation and shells. The tentacles are beneath and behind their mandibles, and they are used to grasp tree branches and direct swamplice with secreted pheromones. They have four eyes featuring rectangular pupils: an upper binocular pair for forward-facing vision and a lower pair covered in polarized scales to see beneath the water’s surface.

The dire khest’s legs are digitigrade and muscular, ending in wide feet and three clawed toes which it uses for defense against aquatic threats. Their tails are flat and provide a substantial amount of thrust while walking or swimming.


Dire khests are inermians, which are a group of Dra’Hynus natives with two legs, no arms, and facial tentacles descended from raptor-like ancestors whose arms became vestigial and eventually disappeared. Their necks grew longer and more muscular as their upper thorax shrunk in order to keep their balance and offer greater mobility. Most inermians are terrestrial carnivores built for speed, something which greatly contrasts the dire khest’s lethargic grazing. It is believed that the dire khests’ ancestors were tidal hunters, a niche filled by other extant inermians, which moved into deeper waters and ballooned in size.

Scholars have had a difficult time pinpointing the exact mechanism by which dire khests’ and swamplice’s relationship arose. The prevailing theory is that the dire khests’ ancestors were already sizable and semiaquatic at the time that juvenile swamplice began to cling to their backs and do as they had done for eons: gather plants. From there, their osteoderms grew to give swamplice greater purchase, and they began to secrete a pheromone that attracts the isopod-like creatures in their saliva. The swamplice’s defenses also allowed the dire khest to grow larger, and their integration into the dire khests’ mating rituals is believed to be the most recent development.

Distribution & Habitat

Dire khests inhabit the brackish mangroves of the Behean Shelf, although they have been recorded both further up the Behean River as well as along the coast. They are strong swimmers, but the need to keep their backs generally above water for the health of their swamplice and flora limits them to the calm waters of protected swamps and bays. The shelf itself spans roughly 470 square miles, which supports a population of an estimated 10,000 dire khest. The status of their small population has been debated, although it is not currently considered to be at risk.

Behavior & Ecology

Although dire khests are semiaquatic, they rarely venture onto land or fully submerge themselves. The exceptions to this mostly occur in their youth before they have an adult’s impressive mass or a population of swamplice to maintain, but they will dive down or walk onto land if there is an active threat from a predator. They will even sleep standing up in shallow waters with their heads submerged, holding their breaths for several hours, and it is believed that this state is what gave rise to the original myth of the “Wandering Gardens of Behea”.

Diet & Predation

Dire khests are omnivorous grazers that feed primarily on sea plants, shimmershells, and fruits. Eggs make up a less significant portion of their diet. They will typically dedicate about fourteen hours a day to this opportunistic style of grazing and consume roughly 200-300 lbs of food daily. Similar to a cattle’s cud-chewing, they will regurgitate hearty plant matter to chew again, a behavior which applies to chitinous and keratinous shells as well.

Dire khests are considered to be a “keystone species” in that they have a disproportionate impact on their environment given their relatively small population. Their diet keeps shimmershell populations from overwhelming the warm, shallow waters that would otherwise smother much of the brackish sea’s flora. Their massive feet also stir up underwater seed beds, and their movements disperse the seeds of the plants they carry.

Dire khests will live around 50-60 years in the wild, although their young are the target of several aquatic and aerial predators. Adults without the added deterrence of swamplice and the plants they cultivate will also have their undefended lumbar region fed on, particularly by the large, flying hemovores of Behea. There are also several large, aquatic predators which move in the waters of the Behean Shelf, such as the pallidosuchus, a 32-foot-long worm-like creature which spawns in the nearby seas. To escape these ocean-borne threats, the dire khest will simply swim or wade to land, although if it is trapped in open waters, it will use its muscular legs and clawed feet to defend itself.


Alien lice or bug
A swamplouse without its floral residence

The lifecycle of the dire khest is heavily influenced by swamplice. Swamplice will keep a dire khest’s back free of pests and mites. They will also build the herbaceous armor which protects the large inermian from aerial predators which can cause them serious harm. The dire khest will in turn protect its swamplice from terrestrial and aquatic predators which might bypass the armor on their backs. The movements of the dire khest also give swamplice more opportunities to obtain foods that would be otherwise out of reach, and dire khests have been known to rip down low-hanging branches for their chitinous passengers.


Dire khests are gregarious animals who will often travel in singular family units and multi-family pods with varying frequencies. Solitary dire khests can be spotted most often in the early months of spring, their mating season, and unsuccessful males and females may continue this behavior for at least another year. Although these pods seem to provide some practical grooming and brood-rearing improvements, the presence of unmated, unrelated individuals traveling with a pod for several days would suggest that the purpose is at least in part social.

The most prevalent social behavior exhibited by the dire khest, referred to as “donning”, is the exchange and maintenance of swamplice. If the population of swamplice on one dire khest is reduced, others in its pod will supplement the population. This behavior is especially prevalent between parents and children, and elder members of a pod will often rearrange the swamplice on a juvenile’s back using their tentacles.

What has been referred to as “pranking” is common among young dire khests between the ages of six months and eight years old, in which one will sneak up on another and guide its swamplice into inconvenient places, particularly on the top of the head.


A female dire khest will give birth to one to three live young after a gestation period of one and a half to two years, after which she will not mate for another four to five years. For the first four to six months of their lives, newborn calves will ride on their mothers’ backs and drink a milky secretion from glands behind the thoracic spine. During this period, juvenile swamplice will begin to attach themselves to the dire khest calf. The calves will begin swimming and walking on land at around one month, although they will still return to their mothers’ backs. Calves will be responsible for their own locomotion and feeding after six months, but they will remain with their mothers for the first six to eight years of their lives. Dire khest fathers have been observed to consistently depart the familial pod as early as three years, although there appears to be a large amount of variance with some pairs seeming to mate for life.

Mating Rituals

During the region’s spring, the male dire khests will mix elaborate displays of flowering flora into the defenses of the swamplice and the vegetation on their backs. They will guide their swamplice into more prominent, tiered positions around the shoulders for a forward-facing display. While trying to find a female, the male will release a low ululation into the Behean Shelf’s calm waters. The ripples, which shift with the dire khest’s pitch, are theorized to be a part of this mating display. Eye-witnesses have called it “dirge-like.”

The exact criteria by which females judge these displays are unknown, although many are theorized. The physical characteristics of the flora, such as the size of the bouquet, colors, variation, symmetry, and even the scent have been proposed. As for the ululation, it is believed that rhythm and pitch are relevant, especially the latter because the lowest sounds recorded from the dire khest are a part of this display. Some scholars have theorized it is a way to grab the attention of distant females with the vibrations traveling through the water. A complementary theory is that the lowest sounds imply the largest males. Yet another theory is that it is to warn off or challenge other males, as confrontations between breeding males are common and have resulted in fatalities.

Relationship with Humans

The earliest interactions between the dire khest and humans were characterized by the needs of early colonial activity, all the way back during the first space age. Although initial encounters were colored with fear, some of the first recorded meals of humans around the mouth of the Behean River featured dire khest, whose taste has been described as ‘chicken-like.’ The hunting of the dire khest dwindled as their low population became apparent.

Many myths about the dire khest center on the males’ mating calls. The sorrowful sound begot several urban legends among locals, many of which bear a passing resemblance to those of the Scottish kelpie or Australian bunyip: an animal that lures unsuspecting travelers to the water and drowns them. Where the Behean myths deviate is the dire khest’s role as a deliverer of souls, mourning their victims and seeing them off to the next life.

Domestication has been attempted with mixed success. Although dire khests may be amiable to those who provide food, it was difficult for early colonizers to keep up with their large appetites. Certain colonists saw some success with replacing the dire khests’ swamplice and foliage with a boat-like saddle, which provided similar defense and coverage for the animal, but the dire khests were oftentimes unruly with the uncomfortable weight. Moreover, although they do not actively predate humans, many a hand has strayed too close to their beaks. The most common modern use of the dire khest is pulling hewn logs and other supplies to and from the more remote areas of the Behean Shelf, as they are easily guided with food.

This entry was a joint collaboration between Spaghetti Moe and Rezonant Void. 


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