Meldops are invaluable companions to those travelling in harsh environments. As well as being unusually hardy and able to go for long periods of time in barren wilderness, meldops have the unique ability to create mirages of desert oases or small, heated hot springs that manifest as physical places for a short time. These refuges can be life-saving, providing food and water to the meldops' weary human companions, and sheltering entire caravans from the hot sun or freezing snow. In the wild, meldops use these mirages to create safe havens where the herd can rest without fear for predators and where the weaker members of a herd can take a drink or nibble some grass to replenish their hump stores. The meldop that creates the mirage must use their own energy stores to make it, and anything consumed is drained from the animal. Herds will often band together to create parts of an oasis, with one animal providing water, one food, and one the heat for hot springs or the tall inedible plants that offer shade. Anything that isn't consumed can be recouped and restored as part of the animal's hump fat, but the process itself takes a small toll. Nomads are always careful to ensure that their meldops are well-fed and watered when they reach outposts, letting the animals eat and drink first before they take care of themselves, as a thanks for the many times the meldops have ensured their safety.
Meldops are peculiar and occasionally dangerous creatures but essential to life for nomads and traders. They thrive in dry environments, whether the hot deserts of the Etain or the northern prairies leading up to the Arkene. They get most of the water they need from the plants they consume, and can go for long periods of time without either food or water thanks to humps of fat on their backs. The northern meldop has a shorter hump located over its shoulder and cannot last as long as its southern cousin without food, but in the high prairies it rarely needs to. The northern meldops migrate around the plains each year, wandering into the foothills of the mountains and as far north as the Dark Lake during the summer when the snow is shallowest. In the winter, these creatures can be found passing by the Keep in small herds of ten to twenty, along with other creatures like latifra beasts and musk oxen. Wild northern meldops rarely walk on ground that isn't covered in at least a little bit of frost, though they prefer to avoid larger snow drifts in the winter. They fare surprisingly well in warm climates too, however, and make for hardy pack animals that can easily travel the full trade routes from remote villages in the Arkene down to the southern coast, though their stubborn nature makes them less common travel companions than the southern variety.
Sprite art: Jrap17 | Description: PKGriffin