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Here's another aspect of gloomstalker biology that has me tripped up. Being avian, female gloomstalkers lay a single egg, rarely a pair, after mating.

Now, adult gloomstalkers possess, in addition to their true skull, an avian-like external skull composed of dense bone that fits snugly over it. It consists of an upper half and lower half, each composed of two identical mirror image sections that are fused together. The upper and lower halves themselves interlock at the rear, similar to the TMJ joint in humans. It can thus be taken off and put on at will, and functions as a layer of armor to protect their actual heads, such as during friendly sparring matches or in serious combat scenarios.

Given how young gloomstalkers develop inside an egg, I'm struggling to conjure up ways for them to acquire this necessary and unique piece of armor.

I'm most interested in "how" this armor is created and "where" it comes from. I would definitely prefer if it is somehow tied to a hatchling's parents and/or its development and is grounded in reality to some extent. As magic exists in their world, this can act as a supplement, but I want to avoid it being the only explanation if possible.

Furthermore, what options would exist for repairing this armor in the event it suffers damage?

What sort of creative ways could suffice to tackle these thorns in my side? I'm all ears when it comes to suggestions.

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  • $\begingroup$ Bone is alive. If you take it off, it becomes dead, and rapidly more and more fragile. Are you claiming this to be living bone, or dead? $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Feb 17 '21 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ I considered making the bone living for that very reason. However, that begs the question of how it receives nutrients/is maintained by its owner's physiological processes, given that it is removable and not permanently fixed to their skeleton. On the other hand, I considered making it dead bone, but reinforced so as to cancel out its fragile nature, such as via magic, but limiting it so that the bone is not unbreakable. $\endgroup$ Feb 17 '21 at 0:51
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Hermit crabs. The skull comes from some "avian" creature - I don't know if you are proposing cranial kinesis per se, but the mechanism could be borrowed from the original owner of the skull.

Presumably the gloomstalker egg is laid within the corpse of the original owner, and the beast follows instinct to peck away at it from the inside, engaging in an instinctive program to modify the skull to become suitable, before eventually bursting forth from the seemingly harmless remnants of the corpse to claim some fresh meat.

Fresh skulls could be claimed as needed from future kills.

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  • $\begingroup$ That is a very interesting idea, yet I have to fault myself for not being clear enough. Each individual has a skull that is unique to them, that they come to possess at a very young age. What I mean by that is either the skull begins developing along with the fetus once it reaches a certain age, and is present at hatching. Or, the skull is acquired shortly after hatching, being "created" by the parents, in which case I was looking for inspiration as to how they did so. $\endgroup$ Feb 17 '21 at 1:02
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Gloomstalkers do not talk of from where their helmets come, but it is obvious to any outside observer that these helmets are significant to them on a deeply spiritual level. Some stalkers never get helmets and to those unfortunates, the road to full adulthood as a warrior is barred. Each helmet is specific to its owner and so closely fits their skull that it suggests an engineering preciseness which is strangely absence in other Gloomstalker creations. The helmets appear to be natural bone and they proudly wear every dent and damage assailed against them without any attempt of repair.

Here is the secret behind the Gloomstalker headwear... Each warrior wears an older version of his own skull, magically extracted from the time and place of his honorable death in the distant future. They fit so perfectly because they are the same skull grown larger during the maturation of its current wearer into its future adult warrior form. The unfortunates who never receive their headwear are those whose future holds no opportunity for honor, or those whose future selves will fail to bravely meet their honorable death.

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  • $\begingroup$ So a warrior whose helmet no longer fits knows their death is imminent? Doesn't this invite predestination paradox, where a warrior knowing that their next battle will likely be their last because they can't get their skull hat to fit decides not to go into battle? (Otherwise, doesn't this mean that the world of the Gloomstalkers is one where free will is an illusion?) $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Feb 17 '21 at 0:40
  • $\begingroup$ The predestination paradox is nullified by cultural pride and absolute faith in the call to honor. No warrior, no matter how forewarned by a tightening helmet would ever fail to meet their death with honor. Free will may or may not exist, but no warrior of the gloom stalkers will ever know. $\endgroup$ Feb 17 '21 at 0:44
  • $\begingroup$ I certainly wanted to incorporate the importance/significance of each skull to its owner, so that resonates well with my original intention. However, as I mentioned in my reply to Mike Serfas, I was seeking ideas for how this skull was made. I could simply say its construction is encoded in the hatchling's DNA and thus develops along with the fetus. I wanted to go beyond this simple route and have the parents "create" the skull for their child somehow, but wasn't sure how they would accomplish this. $\endgroup$ Feb 17 '21 at 1:10
  • $\begingroup$ It's a great romantic idea, unfortunately it falls down due to the amount larger a helmet needs to be over current skull size. They would be without their helmet for a large part of their fighting life, due to it only fitting properly for a very brief window. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Feb 17 '21 at 9:27
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That helmet is just like the rattle of some snakes. Gloomstalkers shed skin of some parts of their body. When the neck and head shed, however, the head skin stays, with each shed iteration adding a layer - hence the perfect fit, as long as the gloomstalker is wearing it when shedding.

If you look at it with a microscope you will see that the cells of this helmet are specialized skin cells, modified to be mineralized just like bones.

It is also vascularized tissue. If the helmet breaks, it will heal on its own just like actual bone.

If it breaks, the gloomstalker can start making a new one on the next shedding. However an old helmet is always stronger since it is thicker.

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  • $\begingroup$ It just so happens that I gave members of this race snake tongues to negate the poor sense of smell possessed by birds, as well as to provide a little extra uniqueness. While this other reptilian feature was a nice suggestion, a complication arises with it being vascular. This helmet is not connected to the circulatory system of the owner, hence why it can be removed and replaced at will. Also, due to a lack of clarity on my part, I wanted a hatchling's parents to be responsible for "creating" such a helmet for him/her. I was looking for ideas of how this could be done. $\endgroup$ Feb 17 '21 at 4:50
  • $\begingroup$ @KeturiosBlue I edited to address the circulation part. As for parents, they may place a mold on the chick for the external shape of their first helmet. From then on the child can always keep it or start a new one. $\endgroup$ Feb 17 '21 at 12:50
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Gum Leaf Skeletoniser

Also known as the Mad Hatterpillar. It's a great name for a creature, in this case it's a caterpillar that wears its old heads as a hat. Being its own old heads of course they're smaller than the current one, which doesn't work directly for your situation. On the other hand they're caterpillars, they don't have a society. The Gloomstalker's society means that they can wear a parent's or elder sibling's former head as a helmet. Genetic similarity between former owner and current means that a human observer would never notice any slight issues in fit.

The biological requirement of this requires that they grow continuously and have an exoskeleton, at least on the head, that they shed as they grow. They can also claim both helmet and skull from defeated enemies keeping up the supply for (successful) warrior clans.

Repair opportunity is minimal, but a replacement is available on the next annual growth cycle. A culture of ornate decoration of the helmet might help distinguish between the helmet and their own head. Social rank and wealth can be indicated via this means as the high cost of decorating a new skull every year would have similar effects to the sumptuary laws and court fashions of our own world.

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In stages.

Upon hatching from the egg The parents would use their tongues to make the newborn chick presentable, then they'd apply layer upon layer of saliva containing mucin, (a substance found in edible bird nests and associated with bone, nacre and sea-urchin shell formation) to the chick's head, allowing it to dry between layers forming a hard leathery cap locked to the skull by the matted downy feathers.

Finally, it is polished and waterproofed by application of oil from the preen gland supplied by mother and father.

First fledge, should occur within a few months, the cap will loosen and fall off, pushed away from the head by the new growth beneath. By then, the young bird should be grown enough that they can, with the parent's guidance, apply a fresh layer to the skull feathers, the final layer being applied to the inside of the old cap which is flexible enough to accommodate the change in skull shape that growth brings, then it's re-affixed. Another layer of preen-oil polish gives quite a shine, and the previous year's feathers can still be faintly seen beneath the surface.

This process will continue, year-upon year until adulthood. The cap is now full sized and like a sawn tree reveals it's history by it's rings, so the rings of years of feathers that shine through the semi-transparent surface, now polished to perfection.

Perhaps by a ceremony, rite of passage, the youngster passes into adulthood, no longer sticking the now thick and lustrous cap to the skull, but after years of shaping, it fits so perfectly and snugly, that it won't fall of even during the most vigorous of sport or battle. Still polishing it, oiling it, remembering the past with a smile, thinking of helping it's own chicks the same way. Layer upon layer, mixed with feathers of all sizes, like a composite material, unique to the head of it's owner, seldom needing repair being so tough, but easily fixed when needed with a lick and polish; the cap is a unique reminder of the continuity of life and it's precious nature.

A tiny fragment of the original egg lies below the gleaming surface a reminder of humble beginnings.

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  • $\begingroup$ What a poetic answer! +1 for that. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Feb 17 '21 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, I wasn't sure anyone had read it 'till now. To please one person is enough for me. $\endgroup$ Feb 17 '21 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I'm glad I could help you. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Feb 17 '21 at 18:53

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