The Xiekantra are a species of sequentially hermaphroditic, semi-parasitic octopods native to Persephone, the second planet of DM+19 279. The Xiekantra call this world Xikreer.
Note: All terms are from the language used in the Ne Xlec region. Xiekantra is a racial collective term like 'Humanity' (the adjective is xiekant); a single individual is a xekant (plural is xakant), corresponding to 'human'. Using the term 'the Xiekantra' is really incorrect, but the alternative 'Xiekantra' sounds very unnatural to human ears.
The first contact between Terran civilization and the Xiekantra occurred in 2194. One of Pathfinder 2's drones, which had landed in the Terr Ne Xlec wetlands, was accidently discovered by a xiekant brood. The young xekant realised that the probe was an artificial construction, or some strange foreign creature, and passed word of it to the nearest Matriarch. The drone had been given instructions not to fall into the hands of native sentients, and reorbited shortly after making contact. The Pathfinder has since used its drones and smaller sensor to conduct observations of the Xiekantra, including some from extremely short range. Some progress has been made towards understanding xiekant culture and translating several of their languages.
The characteristic of the Persephonian environment that most clearly distinguishes it from that of Earth is the cycle of extreme climate variations. Indigenous organisms have adopted a number of strategies to survive the extreme Radial winters:
The earliest xiekant ancestors made use of the second strategy. An early inovation was the injecting of eggs into hibernating tanxent, large herbivores native to the equatorial regions.. It was then natural that there be an evolutionary tendency for individuals to guard the hosts of their eggs. The proto-xakant began to feed off the hosts to enable survival deeper into the winter, and then to become external parasites themselves. Each proto-xekant remained prepared to defend its host against other proto-xakant and Radial predators. The relationship between xekant and host became symbiotic as the host gained some measure of protection from predators, in exchange for providing nutrition for the xekant and her offspring.
Most of the xiekant body is sheltered beneath an armoured outer shell. The overall shape is that of half a flattened teardrop. Viewed from above the only apparent features are the lidded eyestrips running across the slightly ridged structures of the carapace. The shell is edged with sixteen hook-claws. When a xekant is attached to a host these hooks securely attach the shell to the body of the host.
Beneath the shell the xekant has four pairs of legs, a complex set of mouthparts and, at the front, its primary sense-cluster. The mouthparts are used both for feeding on small animals and attaching to the host's circulatory system. The foremost pair of legs is adapted for manipulating small objects.
Most of the xiekant sense-organs are mounted on a muscular sense-cluster that can be extended through an articulated flap at the front of the shell. This organ houses a set of three eyes set at 120° separations, olfactory organs, infrared sensor pits and vibration-sensitive bristles that serve as both ears and motion detectors.
Females inject their eggs into the tenxent at the onset of winter. The eggs hatch into male-phase Xakant which feed on the host during the harsh Radial season. The female, meanwhile, seeks out another tenxent that has been injected with eggs and has just begun to hibernate. She then paralyzes and anaesthetizes it with a natural toxin and partially burrows into one of its insulated fatty regions where she attaches her mouthparts to a blood vessel and feeds throughout the winter.
Any males that encounter a female on the tenxent attach to her and remain males. Otherwise they metamorphose into the female phase at the onset of spring and eat their way out of their host. These new females form a brood, the basic unit of xiekant society. The mother separates from the host before the emergence of her young female offspring and seeks them out. The brood are provided with considerable training in the skills necessary for Tangential hunting and playing a part in xiekant society.
The females in a brood will almost always choose hibernation hosts as a group, typically parasitizing an entire herd of tanxent.