Art by, Raibys
Common Jobs: Guide, Sentry, Scout, Explorer, Performer, Creative consultant
Likes: Discovering new places, Finding out new things, Learning about new people
Dislikes: Being stuck for too long with any one place, thing, or person
Attack Method: Hold back as long as possible until they can overwhelm the target at the most vulnerable opportunity, using every underhanded technique possible.
Traditionally drawn to the many demideities of Real Yermo around whom they flocked; nowadays some cereustratuses groups and individuals can become hyperfixated on various gods and demideity figures in and out of the Real Yermo system. These stracti regularly pick up new gods that draw their attention while dropping old ones.
Cereustratuses are anthropomorphic cactus creatures that are part cloud. A typical cereustratus's body is covered in protective needles and bristles, and is green, though some individuals are golden or purplish. A stractus stands on two stubby legs with two pad-like feet and has a neckless, barrel-like body-and-head that is usually short and squat. This body is good for storing within them a large volume of highly-pressurized, iridescence-tinged water. This water seeps out the top of one's head in the form of water vapor that forms into clouds, which vary in size and shape between individuals. The stracti use a single word, "tempes," to refer to both the concept of a cloud and the concept of an emotion, because the size of the cloudmass emanating from the top of a stractus's head grows the longer a stractus wells up their emotions without release. These clouds range in color from white to blue-grey to a near-black; the clouds also sometimes have iridescent linings or highlights.
The clouds of a stracti typically flow from the flowers atop two horn- or ear-like outgrowths atop their head made of one of various cactus types; these earhorns gain new sections that branch off from each other if growing conditions are right. The earhorns allow some minor steering control over the direction they, and their clouds, drift if their tempes has taken them aloft. If lacking flowers or earhorns, their tempes will stream directly from pores inside the rim atop their barrel-like head. Flowers close and wilt into themselves at the beginning of earhorn-growing periods for about a month, where new extensions shoot from their place.
The face of a cereustratus has six eyes, two main eyes and four smaller eyes with two above the upper corners of each larger eye's lid. Their mouth is a long, thin and tough hummingbird-like beak which they use to reach flower nectar and insects in tight crevices, and to dig thin holes into the ground for the sake of accessing hidden pockets of water beneath the ground's surface.
A cereustratus's two arms are much like their earhorns, in that they're made up of outgrowths of a type of cactus. An individual's arm cactus-type will often differ from the type of cactus their earhorns are. These arms also branch off into new sections of growth, but do so more frequently than earhorns, gaining new sections every growing season or two. The arms are tipped with cylindrical berries that act as fingers, though these may not be present for around a month during growing season, when new growth comes from the spot the berries were.
After finding someone they trust, a cereustratus may remove all of their bristles and needles from their body through blade-shaving or with fire in order to be able to be closer to that person without poking them and making them all leaky. Bristle removal is incredibly painful, and also risky, because it makes them vulnerable to those natural predators that wish to bite into a stractus for water. Stracti bristles usually grow back through the scar tissue after a while, though this isn't guaranteed.
In more ways than one, cereustratuses are hard to pin down. Emotionally, they cycle through feelings much more quickly and intensely than most species and have new moods triggered by minor perceptions. Those they interact with can feel intimidated or put off by their extreme variability of temperament, often coming away from interactions with them thinking they're prickly or distant. A stractus's personality grows from this in many different directions. Some dissociate entirely, showing little sense of self and clinging on to something or someone else. Others become nomadic, traveling from place to place, forming and leaving behind relationships quickly. More join into voluntary work organizations, religious cults, or fandoms that they pour themselves into wholeheartedly to distract from their emotions. Yet others fall into the nightlife, settling into habits and practices of quick gratification. The last common course of a stracti's life is to embrace a cultivated feeling of emptiness, living their lives as ascetics in hopes they can quell their tempes.
In general, most stracti prize novelty, want to act as people-pleasers toward new acquaintances, avoid opportunities that might end in abandonment, are slow to trust, and are seemingly quick to jump on impulses that shake things up. However, seeing as they commonly feel things intensely, and usually get negative reactions from expressing those feelings all the time, they learn to not give vent to most of their moods and instead learn to mask how they are feeling. One advantage to learning this is that stracti also become adept at detecting the feelings of others and can read the mood of a room, and any changes to the mood, very quickly. While most other species find it difficult to get a confident read on a stractus at any given time, as long as they aren't giving it away completely with a weather event, one stractus will have an average time picking up on the feelings of another stractus, and much more easily pick up on the concealed feelings or intentions of non-stracti.
No matter what path a cereustratus heads down, their tempes will grow all the while. In a way, the tempes acts as a reminder that a stractus probably should deal with some things. Without a proper periodic outlet, their tempes will start to physically affect them. The size of a tempes is measured on something called the Squall-Venti scale. At its first stage, the cloudform above the stractus has no effect. At stage two, a stractus will feel lighter on their feet than usual. At stage three, the tempes will start to lift the stractus slightly off the ground, allowing them to somewhat float from place to place. Stage four allows a stractus to achieve short bouts of low flight, alternating between different heights by riding gusts and surface thermals. Stage five sees the cereustratus at their most mobile, being able to stay aloft for long bouts; however, this carries great risk with it. A stractus's tempes can easily become too large at this stage and carry them away. One can keep floating up and up further, to the altitudes where the air is too thin for a cloud to keep a hold of its form, at which point, the cloud breaks, a storm pours, and the stractus falls.
In most cases, if unprepared, the cereustratus won't survive such a fall. Before the invention of the parachute, those who did manage to survive would establish themselves in their new surroundings, and this resulted in evolutionary selection for stracti to develop into ever-hardier individuals, since travel-by-cloud was much quicker than travel-by-foot through the harsh Nuevo Yermo landscape. Since the invention of the parachute, though, restless and adventurous stracti can choose to build up their tempes, begin carrying a parachute with them at first sign of lightness, and use their tempes to travel to far-off places on the whim of the winds.
A cereustratus can also choose to concentrate and pour all of their emotion into one single detailed gesture or message, which trails up into the sky and can touch the hearts of many other stracti at once who witness the message. If this is more abstract and kinetic, it's what's called a "sky show," while if it's more descriptive and informative, it's what's called "cloud signals." These are the earliest stractal form of long-distance communication, predating even the establishment of the cereustratuses on Nuevo Yermo, as it allowed faraway individuals to give notice of the ever-changing conditions on Real Yermo. Performing one of these acts leaves the stractus feeling drained, emotionally and physically, after its completion, since doing so requires them to put the whole of their being into it, and depletes their tempes for a time.
Stracti society is vastly interconnected, but the positions individuals take are noncomittal. Much of what makes life livable for stracti is dependent on the often-unacknowledged actions and deeds of other stracti. However, if an individual ever stops liking a part of it, they can and will leave it at any time to no fanfare. This results in frequent temporary lapses of services and a sense that things are always impermanent and in flux. Norms change quickly, cultural zeitgeists rise and fall in localized places before many have a chance to experience them, and new inventions are frequently thought up as workarounds for the many niche situations a particular subsection of society finds itself in. The noncommittal attitude stracti have also results in stracti being much more represented than other members of the Real Yermo system in the larger universe through the many wayfaring stracti who head out for the stars, taking on whatever jobs they feel are a good idea at the time.
It is said that at the beginning, cereustratuses lived only on Real Yermo. There, they lived harsh and marginal lives. While the planet was interesting enough to pique the natural curiosity of stracti, it was also extremely dangerous, as they were preyed upon by the many various strange and dangerous fauna that live in the so-called Desert of the Real. They spent most time having to hide from something, and as a result, existed mostly disconnected from each other.
Then, it is said, that an unnamed stractus explorer bore witness to the great world-tortoise, Testudatalan, and became enamored with the ideal of their serenity. Over time, more and more stracti gathered around Testudatlan to bear witness to them, wishing to explore their localized-yet-boundless complexity. They stayed around, setting up their lives upon the world-tortoise's back, letting their bristles settle between the cracks of the shell. They asked Testudatlan for refuge in the midst of this chaotic place and pledged they would follow whatever Testudatlan's will might take them.
The keepers of the Great Cultivator's word say that what happened next was that, in a great act of divine compassion, Testudatlan looked into the heart of the cereustratuses's problems and saw the answer to be to draw in a great breath, and with one mighty gust, spirit them all off to the planet's moon of Nuevo Yermo, along with dormant seeds of nectar-heavy plants and eggs of insects that cereustratuses ate. The cereustratuses could unlock the potential of that sleeping moon, scratching the lifewaters hidden beneath its surface. The stracti's rains could renew the surface of moon enough that life could flourish. And isolation out on that distant rock would do well for the stracti.
More cynical stracti who believe in this course of events grumble that it was a simple act of avoidance on Testudatlan's part, who was annoyed by all of the clingy cacti tracking needles all over their back and constantly trying to strike up conversations. Skeptics say that none of this even happened, but instead, a strong runaway weather system took a large group of cereustratuses and other smaller creatures, eggs and seeds to the nearby moon or something. The only records from this time would be the ones kept by Testudatlan themself, who won't reveal anything about it if asked.
Whatever the story is, the cereustratuses found themselves on a desolate moon that they had all to themselves, for the time. Finding that they could finally live without constant fear, they could finally live how they wanted to. There were two main schools of thought: stracti who wanted to live on their own as carefree wanderers concerned only with finding what they needed and stracti who wanted to build rudimentary communities that shared resources. At first, most fell into the wanderer group. But then, with the realization that they lacked predators on Nuevo Real, some realized they could remove their spines altogether to live happily close with others. This resulted in the emergence of most stracti living entirely within a few great cities and forming the simple, non-intrusive-behavior-favoring set of guidelines for wider society that stracti would carry with them from this point. This time is looked back on fondly, and is known as "the clearsky time."
The clearsky time was short lived, because soon after, gnawbrels emerged from the soil. One theory of how they emerged is that runaway clouds from released tempes drifted all the way around Nuevo Yermo to an unsettled part, where the clouds' rain activated dormant eggs which slowly made their way around the moon. Another theory is that Jerkowl the farseer, demi-deity of sight and jealousy, looked from Real Yermo to see the stracti thriving and sent a swarm of gnawbrels to Nuevo Yermo for the sole reason that Jerkowl is a jerk who wants to ruin everyone's happiness. Gnawbrels are a part-squirrel, part-crab and part-beetle-like desert fauna that hatches from eggs, grows for several years beneath the soil and then morphs into a foot-tall pest that sucks water from wherever it can find. One water source it will happily take from is from an undefended stractus, by climbing up them taking a large bite. Usually, a stractus's bristles and spines are enough to keep a gnawbrel away, but since nearly everyone was stripped of their natural protection, gnawbrels killed many stracti and spread rapidly, emptying the cities of most of their inhabitants.
As cereustratuses grew their needles back, society entered "the thundery time" as stracti as a whole had to readjust to living in ways distant from each other. This was a tumultuous but fruitful time for the stracti's cultivation as a species. Tempes grew, and numerous smaller cities were formed as a result, settled as vertical archipelagos along giant mesas at various altitudes that some cereustratuses found themselves at after being borne aloft by their tempes and then being unable to find any easy way down. Likewise, the stormy time saw the founding of 26 major religious and philosophical traditions, as the stracti worked to find the meaning of a capricious existence. Some of these traditions' adherents sought to make expeditions back to Real Yermo and ask the demi-deities for advice or give them homage, but no one who traveled forth was ever heard from again.
Two inventions changed this. The first was the parachute, which allowed stracti to travel via tempes more reliably, as carrying one meant that falling from such heights as those they reach at the peak of their flights would not nearly always result in death. This led to the first circumnavigation of Nuevo Yermo, their spread across the whole of the moon, and a boom in population. The creation of the parachute marks the start of what cereustratuses call "the world-wide brainstorm," as the access to new minerals and increased abilities of trade and communication kicked off an age of invention. One such invention was the second one to allow for travel between Real Yermo and Nuevo Yermo: the "weather balloon."
The weather balloon is a device that contains a cereustratus's tempes in such a way that it does not burst at high altitudes (if it works correctly). Instead of breaking and falling, a cereustratus can keep rising very slowly, sometimes venting off some of the tempes for propulsion. With an airtight suit and steady supply of breathable gas, a cereustratus can travel back and forth between the two planets without any sort of spaceship. Some did, though the early technology was rather faulty. Most who did survive the journey to Real Yermo and had the ability to come back did so, as Nuevo Yermo had become the cereustratuses's home, a place that would not kill them so much. This didn't stop many from setting up homes or shops on Real Yermo, or setting up tour agencies for other cereustratuses to guide other cereustratuses.
One tour guide found out about the soledades first contact with a spacefaring species from outside the Real Yermo system, and that whole tour group jumped at the opportunity to introduce themselves, thrusting the stracti into the cosmic age. While most soledadas were reluctant to deal with the prospect of new species and build spaceports, the stracti as a species were more than willing hosts, facilitating commerce and trade between the two Yermos and with the universe beyond. Nuevo Yermo is the much more space-friendly location of the two Yermos, though.
One oddity of their introduction to the cosmic age that caused some initial confusion for everyone involved is that no stractus city-states called themselves the official stracti government or were politically aligned with other city-states. When it came time for other species to ask about diplomatic relations regarding all of cereustratus-kind, no one knew who to turn to, and no city-state was willing to stand out enough that they'd feel like they were imposing on another city-state. As a result, the official planetary representative for the stracti became an independent volunteer position that everyone else agreed would have arbitrary diplomatic power, on the condition that they wouldn't use it for anything. Currently, it's staffed by some rando who sits at a desk in a shack, ignores all notices that don't look urgent, only makes decisions where they won't have to put out notices or get into contact with too many representatives of city-states or syndicates, and mostly just plays Starship Pilot Simulator XX16 all day long because, in their words: "Heck if somebody thinks they can represent this whole joint accurately. That's a fool's errand." Instead, if you want to talk to a group, you are encouraged to pick one and talk to them; brochures from various tourism departments are provided in the diplomacy shack.
None: While it was once thought that the differing types of cacti that make up the arms and earhorns of a cereustratus were determined by genetics, later researched proved that it's determined by prevailing weather conditions during gestation.
Tempes: This species has clouds emanating from it that grow as its emotions are stored up. This allows for several abilities. First, at any time, an individual may release small weather events around, giving release to part of the tempes, but also temporarily activating [emotional dysregulation]. Second, as the tempes grows, gravity will affect the individual less and less, to the point where they may be able to float. Third, the individual has the Skywriter ability, which allows them to expend their entire tempes for large messages in the sky. The effectiveness of their message depends upon the size of their tempes. In addition to leaving whatever message is there, doing so will increase their sanity and their morale. However, doing so leaves them moving quite slow for 1-3 days after, with it starting to let up for a week after that.
• As a plant-based species that partly relies on photosynthesis, stracti often go without clothes. The most common type of clothing for a stracti is a simple shawl or poncho. These are typically translucent and made of some sort water-resistant material, since absorbent materials constantly get wet from their ambient cloud moisture. These rain ponchos come in various colors and patterns; not only for aesthetics but to partially filter out some sunlight at times when the sun is too harsh; this helps them cut back on water requirements during heat waves. Some choose to wear plastic garbage bags or shopping bags, and that's okay.
• If visiting a place where a cereustratus's rains fall, unless you yourself are a native to the Real Yermo ecosystem, you are discouraged from drinking any stillwater there. Water from a cereustratus causes something called "mood diarrhea," where one temporarily comes down with a bad case of emotional dysregulation. Any places that cereustratuses accept outsiders will have more than enough treated water or other drinks fit for the consumption of Yermoi outsiders.
• While it's common for many cereustratuses to carry certain substances for personal use or trade, it is incredibly rude to just go up to a random stractus you've never met before and ask if they have any.
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