The Dragon Kings, an ancient race of demons, were once worshipped as earthly gods. Centuries later and facing extinction, they fight at the whim of human cartels for the privilege of perpetuating their bloodlines.
The World of the Dragon Kings
The Great Dragon
Millennia ago, the Great Dragon was born high in the Himalayan Mountains, gave birth to its children, and dove back into the fiery Chasm of its birth. In the years since, those children coalesced into the Five Clans and spread across the globe, influencing, aiding, and shaping human civilizations. The clans have their own representations of the Dragon’s physical traits and conduct different means of worshipping their maker.
The Dragon Kings
In appearance, they can pass as human. However every Dragon King possesses almost ethereal beauty, and their skin shimmers with a subtle golden glow. In times past, that difference was enough to enrage superstitious populations that would overpower and cripple unwary Dragon Kings. For centuries, however, most have stood in awe of the Dragon Kings’ prowess, physical perfection, and undeniable authority. With that authority dwindling, most Dragon Kings live modestly or in hiding, when once they ruled as earthly gods.
Dragon Kings have a natural lifespan of approximately two hundred years. Their gifts manifest at a young age–roughly the age of human adolescence. They can only be killed by beheading with a sword forged in the fires of the Chasm, but a variety of injuries that can leave them crippled for life. Brain damage, skin branding, the loss of limbs and other body parts, or exposure to the elements are just some of the ways they can be damaged for life. Their bodies and even their minds can remain in permanent disrepair and pain, while they live out the natural conclusion of two hundred years, or until they are put out of their misery by beheading.
The Five Clans
The Five Clans inhabit different regions of the world, have their own systems of government, and possess supernatural gifts unique to their clans. Many can be identified by appearance.
Clan Garnis: Known as the Lost, Clan Garnis spread north and west of the Chasm, crossing the Bering Straight. They are the only clan known to have actively inhabited the western hemisphere. Because their territory extended from China to South America, the Garnis became scattered, fractured, and lost among human populations–hence the clan’s nickname.
Although two members of Clan Garnis sit on the Council, few other Dragon Kings know if the clan has a centralized government, or if the population has dispersed into small, autonomous communes. Most believe them extinct. Their powers include extraordinary speed, reflexes, and senses, and they are the most physically imposing of all Dragon Kings.
Clan Indranan: Every Indranan is born as either a twin or triplet, with their gift of telepathy fractured between siblings. They are known as the Heartless because most kill their twins upon the manifestation of their powers. The power of their telepathy is united and made whole, but the shrieks of their dead siblings haunt them for the rest of their lives. Their telepathy is limited to the ability to probe one mind at a time.
Thousands of years ago, the clan itself split because of violent raiding parties. The Northern Faction lives among the craggy foothills of the Himalayas and the deserts of northern India, even extending northward into China. Their religious practices greatly influenced the Hindu traditions of gods and goddesses. The Southern Faction makes its home along the South Asian seashores and have been known to venture as far south as Australia and Oceania, where they influenced indigenous cultures.
Clan Pendray: Derisively called the Reapers, the Pendray inspired the legendary Valkyries and Berserkers from Norse mythology. They possess extreme strength and ferocity when in the grips of a trance-like fury that reduces higher thought to primal, animalistic impulses. This unpredictable gift is dangerous and destructive, but it is ridiculed by clans with powers considered more cerebral and refined.
Although great adventurers–having sailed the oceans and braved the mountainous terrain of northern Europe, the British Isles, and Scandinavia–the Pendray never achieved the dynastic power of the other clans. Instead they were divided and defeated by Tigony-aided Greek and Roman societies. They are very focused on family and keep to tight tribal groupings that eventually influenced human civilizations such as the clans of the Scottish Highlands.
Clan Sath: The Sath are the keepers of secrets. They covet knowledge and artifacts, and are resented by the other clans for hiding generations worth of information about the whole of Dragon King society. Living in the Nile River valley of Egypt, their was the first of the dynastic empires to shape human cultures in the form of godlike pharaohs.
However, without the aid of their fellow Dragon Kings, the Sath may as well be human. Their gift is to temporarily steal powers members of other clans. As such, they are bitterly referred to as Thieves. Because the Egyptian dynasties were eventually overshadowed by Greek society, the Sath consider the Tigony their most despised rivals.
Clan Tigony: Currently the most powerful of the Five Clans, the Tigony have influenced some of the most lasting traditions of modern human society. They were responsible for myths of the gods of Mount Olympus, and eventually their counterparts in the Roman Empire. Because of their penchant for slick negotiations and easy charm among human beings, they are known as Tricksters, more apt to talk their way out of a situation than to use their Dragon-given gift.
But that gift is not to be underestimated. The Tigony gather electricity form the air–even impulses as minute as static–and use their bodies as turbines to amplify the energy. Some cannot control the bursts of electricity they produce, while others can pinpoint blasts as precisely as Zeus hurling a lighting bolt. Their fortress is in the Greek mountains, where the current Honorable Giva makes his home.
All of the Five Clans are led by the Council, headed by the Honorable Giva. The Council is made of ten members, with two chosen from each clan by their own methods. One such member is an elderly woman, known for example as Sath Wisdom. The other such member is a young man, known for example as Tigony Youth. The five experienced, cautious women and five eager, more bellicose men are intended to balance the Council. They become members of the Council and leave clan distinctions behind. They meet at least twice a year in the Fortress of the Chasm in the Himalayas, as close to the Chasm as possible.
The Honorable Giva also abandons clan loyalty when he or she is elected. The process is thus: When the old Giva dies, the Five Clans each send two children who stand at the edge of the Chasm and look into the flaming depths where the Dragon was born and died. As one, they scream out the name of the new Giva. Long ago, sending one’s child to select the Giva was a great honor. They go half-mad after looking directly into the Chasm, but live a purposeful life as the Dragon Kings who defend the Fortress of the Chasm. Now, when bearing children is nearly impossible, the tradition is considered a waste or even a curse, not an honor.
That newly chosen Honorable Giva heads the Council for the rest of his or her life. The most recent Giva, Malnefoley of Tigony, has ruled for twenty years.
Each of the Five Clans has its own Leadership, chosen and organized according to long-standing traditions that may or may not be known to the other clans. The Leadership chooses representatives to sit on the Council. The Northern and Southern factions of the Indranan have their own Leaderships, while Clan Garnis may not have one at all.
Cage warriors are the most highly skilled of the Dragon Kings, through finely-honed use of their physical abilities and Dragon-given gifts. Some are born into this underground world of violence. They are bound to one of the three human cartels to fight in monthly Cage matches. The monthly matches are staged for the benefit of the rich and powerful, who are invited to watch mighty, unbelievable beings spar. Betting is rampant and provides a huge source of income for the cartels.
Most Cage warriors voluntarily choose to participate in enslaved combat, hoping to win the chance to conceive a child. Others are raised for the Cages from birth, while still others are dragged into the lifestyle because of debts owed to the cartels. They are kept in communes that serve as living quarters and training facilities.
Cage warriors who win monthly matches are rewarded with prestige and the possibility of fighting in the annual Grievance, where conception is the prize. Dragon Kings who prove victorious after a monthly match are also offered their choice of sexual partner. The warriors fight in pairs, two on two, until a victor is declared. Monthly matches can results in maiming and injury, but rarely death.
Bathatéi: The worst curse word in the shared language of the Dragon Kings. There is no known equivalent in human languages.
Cage: An octagonal fighting arena bounded above and on all sides by damping wire that can be activated or deactivated at will. Cages used for practice are half as small and have padded floors. Those used for monthly Cage matches have concrete floors covered by a layer of slippery clay that wears away during fighting.
Cartels: Any of three human mafia organizations that profit from Dragon King enslavement. The Asters became the most powerful of the cartels after they discovered the most reliable means of Dragon King conception. Their territory is vast as a result. The Townsends of London and the Kawashimas of Hong Kong can also offer the prize of conception, but their methods are far less reliable.
Collars: Worn by all Cage warriors, the collars were invented by human cartels as a means of enslaving Dragon Kings. They are permanently fused around a Caged warrior’s neck, with damping properties that nullify their gifts. Only when in a Cage can those gifts be restored, when the damping wire can reverse the collars’ restrictive properties.
Dragon-forged sword: Rare blades forged in the fires of the Chasm. They possess a distinctive golden gleam. These are the only weapons that can behead, and therefore kill a Dragon King.
Grievance: An annual event that was once a means for the Five Clans to come together and dispel any bad blood through friendly combat. Eventually they devolved into death matches, and have since been co-opted by the cartels. Human and Dragon Kings who have displeased the cartels are first executed as a means of amping up the crowds. The matches that follow are one on one–and to the death. The secret location of each Grievance is chosen annually.
Knife branding: If a Dragon King slated for execution at a Grievance fights well, he or she may be allowed to live. The survivors are branded on the forehead as a mark of remembrance, that they were criminals and only allowed to live by the whim of a human.
Lonayíp: A curse word that serves as an adjective to intensify an insult, ie “a lonayíp bastard.”
Mask: A technique that places a telepathic layer over an Indranan’s true personality, as a means of disguise from one’s twin. Too many Masks can force an Indranan to lose touch with his or her genuine self. Those who install Masks are known as Masquerades, and are generally shunned from Indranan society despite their usefulness.
Neophyte: A new arrival to the Cages, who is trained by a more experienced Cage warrior. They are only considered true Cage warriors after their first win.
Nighnor: The traditional weapon of the Sath. Each one is thousands of years old, made from a human skull encased in forged iron.
Pods: Communal groups formed by Indranan without families. The most fortunate pods keep a dragon-forged sword between them, as protection from murderous families.
Saex: The traditional weapon of the Pendray. These short, brutal swords are usually worn in pairs. Each is etched with a family history and contains an inlay of gold to be sold or traded in extreme emergencies.