This creature’s bulbous compound eyes peer in all directions as its twin mandibles twitch and gnash. Six legs, each ending in spade-like claws, support its bulk.
Shalkeshka CR 8
Str 24, Dex 17, Con 18, Int 2, Wis 11, Cha 5
Base Atk +10; CMB +18; CMD 31 (39 vs. trip)
Feats Combat Reflexes, Improved Critical (bite), Power Attack, Run, Skill Focus (Perception)
Skills Acrobatics +7, Climb +11, Perception +14
SQ feeding, no breath
As a free action while a shalkeshka is burrowed beneath the ground, it can go into a dormant state and leech nutrients from the soil. During this time, the shalkeshka regains hit points at a rate of 5 hit points per hour. While in this state, the creature can’t move, doesn’t have to eat or drink, and is considered flat-footed for the first full round of combat if interrupted from its dormancy.
A shalkeshka can burrow into dirt, sand, or loose soil to lie in ambush 30 feet beneath the surface. It monitors the area above it using tremorsense, awaiting a victim’s movement into the area. When it detects prey, the shalkeshka can surge to the surface as a standard action and make a single bite attack. This action creates a 30-foot-deep pit where the shalkeshka was laying in wait. All creatures standing in the area above must succeed at a DC 18 Reflex save to jump to safety in the nearest open space to the edge of the newly formed pit. Creatures that fail this Reflex save fall into the pit, taking damage as normal. The pit’s walls have a climb DC of 25. The shalkeshka (along with any creature it may have grappled) can stay above ground by making a successful saving throw, or voluntarily fall back into the pit. The save DC is Dexterity-based.
Environment temperate and warm deserts and plains
Organization solitary or pair
A shalkeshka is a strange burrowing predator that inhabits fertile soil near rivers, oases, and (most destructively) farmland.
This creature’s anatomy is reminiscent of an insect or some sort of lizard, and when burrowing it tears into the earth with its claws, swimming through sand and soil. Since the creatures spend most of their time buried underground, their pale, nearly transparent skin is cool and clammy to the touch. Shalkeshkas feed on whatever creatures are unfortunate enough to tread the ground above them while they nest in the earth below. When fighting, a shalkeshka viciously grapples its victim with its mandibles, shredding its prey to pieces with its claws.
Squat and powerfully built, a shalkeshka stands only 5 feet tall, but is 8 feet wide and weighs almost 2,500 pounds.
Although shalkeshkas are predators, they have a unique ability to derive nutrition from the ground itself if unable to find prey. This serves the creatures well, where desert travelers are few and far between and the harsh sun and unforgiving terrain keep roaming fauna to a minimum. While burrowed, a shalkeshka can enter a state of hibernation wherein it can sustain itself by absorbing minerals from the soil.
A shalkeshka absorbs nutrients through the tufts of hair distributed across its long body, each of which is capable of leeching valuable sustenance from the very ground. This method of feeding can sustain a shalkeshka for extended periods of time—anywhere from a few hours to weeks, or even years—without the need to hunt. A shalkeshka breaks its hibernation only when it senses prey or during the rare times it succumbs to the urge to reproduce.
A shalkeshka’s bristly hairs also serve as one of the creature’s sensory organs, allowing it to sense subtle vibrations in the ground. Its compound eyes provide it with excellent vision, and the third eye on the center of its forehead enables it to see in even the darkest of lighting conditions. Its enhanced senses ensure that a shalkeshka remains a constant threat to those who intrude on its territory, regardless of time of day or whether its prey is above or below ground.
A shalkeshka ambushes its prey with impressive speed, bursting from beneath the sand and snatching unwary foes with its mandibles. Once engaged in combat, a shalkeshka fights with unrestrained ferocity. When it encounters groups of prey while hunting, a shalkeshka burrows beneath the ground to stealthily follow them until a member splits off from the group. The shalkeshka then emerges, grabs the straggler, and dives back into the sand to devour its newly acquired meal. If unable to snag its target, a shalkeshka remains above ground until it has subdued or slain its prey. They are powerful creatures, but lack the intelligence to make strong tactical decisions when it comes to engaging a target. However, if the tide of battle turns against a shalkeshka, it doesn’t hesitate to burrow away to safety.
Shalkeshkas can live for over 300 years, though most of this time is spent hibernating underground. Shalkeshkas experience periods of fertility only a few times in their lives, during which they lay their eggs in hidden tunnels in the desert. Shalkeshkas stay near their eggs during the yearlong incubation period, sometimes even letting prey pass by untouched in order to conceal the eggs’ location.
In rare circumstances, however, a pair of shalkeshkas that are both about to lay their eggs will tolerate each other’s presence, instinctually recognizing the need for extra defense during the process. Such mutual defenses are dangerous for other intruders in the region, as the two shalkeshkas can then work together to bring down larger prey.
Once the young hatch, they emerge from their leathery eggs in a larval stage that lasts for a year, culminating in a cocoon stage. During their larva stage, shalkeshkas subsist solely on nutrients in the soil as their mature mouthparts have yet to form.
Shalkeshkas feel little kinship with their broodmates and soon begin splitting off from the group. As the cocoon stage nears, the parent shalkeshkas leave the area, leaving the young to fend for themselves.
Any shalkeshkas still living in close proximity to their broodmates when they reach adulthood often cannibalize their siblings in great burrowing clashes until only one or two shalkeshkas hunt in the immediate vicinity.
Many wandering shalkeshkas travel throughout great deserts, stopping only once they have claimed a lush territory for themselves. Though they can live in the deepest desert, shalkeshkas prefer territory with a source of water, for prey is more plentiful there, and while lying in wait enjoy the abundant nutrients in the soil— the creatures are notorious for setting ambushes near riverbanks or in oases. A single small oasis can sustain a shalkeshka for its entire life.
When adult shalkeshkas encounter each other, violence soon follows. A shalkeshka that has claimed a territory defends it to the death against intruding shalkeshkas seeking to claim it; these vicious fights often leave both opponents injured. Shalkeshkas also frequently battle ankhegs, as they often share similar environments. Many a caravan has had to alter its path after happening upon a clash between these two burrowing beasts.
These are not the only times a desert caravan must be watchful of shalkeshkas. The creatures grow most aggressive when far from fertile soil, and a train of packed camels and their riders driving across the desert serves as an enticing meal for shalkeshkas in nutrient-poor lands. These attacks inspired the saying “claimed by the shalkeshka,” which is used to describe someone who has gone suddenly missing or a caravan contract that never pans out.
Pathfinder Adventure Path #81: Shifting Sands © 2014, Paizo Inc.; Authors: Richard Pett, with Benjamin Bruck, Adam Daigle, Thurston Hillman, Michael McCarthy, Patrick Renie, Amber E. Scott, and Russ Taylor.