Regarding Canno: The Ton-Ga Knifestail

The Ton naturalist Jihao often said, “When death visits the Bogs, she stalks legless.” He spoke, of course, of the Knifestail.

While there are five regional species and dozens of sub-species, the classic (and largest) Knifestail is native to the northern Ton-Ga bogs. They’re especially dense in the territory of Houses Lin and Sairo. Extraordinarily aggressive, highly territorial, and growing up to fifteen feet in length, the Knifestail’s titular blades often reach closer to short swords.

The Knifestail produces one of the most potent venoms on Canno, a neuro-haemotoxic compound which paralyzes in thirty seconds, kills in forty, and decomposes corpses so quickly at such low concentrations it seems more like acid. Some as-yet unidentified quirk of the Knifestail’s body chemistry prevents it from ruining its own fangs.

When attacking prey or any living thing stupid enough to enter its field of view, it attempts to latch on and inject venom straight into the bloodstream. This causes an agonizing death every time, and can only be prevented by reflexive amputation of the affected limb or a truly adept mage-healer; most simply can’t cast swiftly enough to counter the venom. If bitten on the head or chest, a swift brain piercing is the kindest option. Experienced hunters know that the Knifestail always bypasses limbs to attack the core or head even when defending itself or panicked; the viper cares only to kill.

When attacking men in heavy armor or plated animals, the Knifestail uses its fangs to anchor itself while lashing its needle-sharp tail against potential openings. Though the fangs may wear through lighter armor, this is where the Knifestail’s deadliest weapon comes into play. Even in a fifteen-footer, the tail is so narrow as to easily pass between chainmail rings, and so rigid that it punches through cloth, leather and sinew with ease. The core of the tail is reinforced with dozens of thin, razor sharp spines. Each is actuated by a single small tendon.

Once it meets flesh, the Knifestail works the point in, extends the spines and thrashes its lower body wildly, causing catastrophic internal damage. Under the right circumstances a single Knifestail can kill an entire hunting party. Slaying one without injuries is said to promise prosperity and might to a Matriarch’s house for three generations.

In spite of its malice, the Knifestail is one of only a small number of serpent species known to pair-bond for life. Knifestail pairs are fiercely protective of their young, so much so that both parents may throw their lives away to remove perceived threats. Knifestail family groups are able to recognize members of their own lineage up to five generations removed, and are friendly to them alone.

Returning a missing egg to a Knifestail is the only way to (partly) domesticate one, though it’s far more common that the serpent assumes threat and tries to kill the egg-taker. If the Knifestail accepts the person, they will (by methods still unknown) become part of the family group, protected accordingly.

The Ton matriarch Simu Tilar was known for a family of Knifestails in her palace; her children and those of the vipers played together without incident. When one of her husbands attempted to assassinate her, however, he was eviscerated in seconds and pumped full of so much venom that he’d half-dissolved by the time her guards arrived moments later. Incidents like this suggest that the Knifestail is highly intelligent and may even have a clear code of ethics, though how this reflects on its psychotic behavior is hard to say.

(More from Canno)

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