Monday, August 3, 2020

Mars and the Drakuu

Mars and the Drakuu:

Mars was always the planet closest to Terra, the best candidate for terraforming. Its history is in many ways longer than Terra’s, with relics and ruins from before the Fall still being easily searchable. The Fall scoured Terra, left very little remaining, but on dry cold Mars, history endures.

Mars always was, and always shall be a desert world, but liquid water returned to its surface millennia ago. The desert flows through a dozen shades of xerosere, from dense scrubland and wiry bush, to dry savanna and dusty plains. Still a severe world, Mars has relatively limited large wildlife, and what there is tends to be mammalian or avian. The cold climate is a barrier for many exotherms, granting their warm-blooded competitors a significant advantage. 

Even what appear to be reptiles are often bird-descendants, who have traded flight for the ground once more. These neo-avians share certain characteristics. They tend to have plate-like scales like a pangolin, evolved or engineered from feathers, as well as long front limbs whose thinness hides impressive strength. In some, beaks are now internal, with lips sealing over what are now specialised teeth-like cutting plates. 

While most neo-avians are lizard-like, some are serpentine, and some have traits of both.

The largest of the neo-avians, the drakuu, certainly do.

The drakuu stand taller than a human, but not wider. They do not weigh much more either, the hollow bones of their ancestors still granting them an impressive lightness on their feet. Their scales flow over their bodies like iridescent armour, varying from fingernail to palm in size. Their heads in particular are protected by a cowl of scales, much like their parrot-ancestors, and their colourful genetic antecedents also show themselves in the actual feathers that form their expressive eyebrows and crests.

The drakuu have great manual dexterity with their long, strong fingers, and fantastic eyesight. They use spears when hunting, their long arms and sharp eyes making them deadly at any range. Though frail under their scales, they can count on them to cushion the rare blow they don’t dodge.

Drakuu live in close-knit communities scattered throughout the Martian desert. Land fertile enough to support a village is rare, and establishing a new village community is difficult, but new villages seem to occasionally establish themselves overnight, to the surprise of outsiders.

When they ask about it, they receive a cold reception. Drakuu are happy to welcome guests, especially if they bring food or other supplies, but they are an insular people for the most part, preferring to keep to themselves. It is a rare outsider, even another drakuu, who is allowed to become a permanent resident.

The reason behind this lies in the drakuu’s reproductive cycle. Though most drakuu engage in remarkably human-like reproduction, involving two partners, a glass of wine, and an egg several months later, some drakuu do not.

Drakuu are neotenous, living, breeding, and dying in what is technically an infant form. In times of great plenty however, some drakuu become restless. They begin to eat more, and begin to grow larger. They also become combative against any others undergoing the same change, and eventually there will only be one, the rest beaten to submission, their bodies stopping the change. This is also a method of drakuu population control, with the changing drakuu simply dieting until their urges subside. Control over the self is an important part of many drakuu cultures for this reason.

The victor, provided they can indeed get enough food, becomes stronger and bulkier, and has the scales along their back fuse together. Their restlessness grows, until eventually they leave the village.

They may wander for years, testing their strength against others and amassing resources. It is during this phase that many become adventures of one sort or another, and indeed most drakuu not on Mars are wanderers. Their bodies do not stop changing, though much more slowly, and the penultimate change is the development of wings.

However, evolution does not go backwards, only forwards, and so drakuu do not have the wings of their avian ancestors. Instead, the fused scales on their backs split open, forming a beetle-like wingcase. Heavily modified and oversized feathers fan out, their bases anchored in new dense muscle. 

Drakuu fly like dragonflies, their long thin wing-feather blurring as they lift off. It takes another year for them to be able to fly properly, but they can glide only a week after their new wings emerge.

After their maiden flight, the final change begins. The wanderer finally feels the need to settle down, and bids goodbye to their friends and family. Taking as many goods as they can, they find or make a cave near a suitable site, and sleep. They wake only to feed on their stored food, or to hunt in a dream-like state, and they do not stop growing.

Their legs shorten, and they and their arms change orientation. The scales thicken, becoming a dense plate. Their wings grow in size, and their bodies lengthen. And lengthen. And lengthen.

Finally, the drakuu assumes its adult form, becoming a dragon-like coatl many meters long. The new adult spends its time in isolation, preparing its nest, hunting, and ruminating over its life. Most modern coatl make sure to include books in their hoards, even if they never had an interest previously.

It may take decades for the next part of a coatl’s life to begin. Spurred by favourable environmental conditions, coatl are drawn to each other across great distances, their buzzing roars travelling for miles through air and rock.

It is usually a group of 5-20 coatls who meet, many having been waiting most of their lives for this moment. Coatl, whatever their sex before their change, are hermaphroditic, and after the resulting mating ball, have both fertilised and been fertilised by many partners. 

Returning to their nests, the coatl lay clutches of eggs that have a variety of parents, some sneaky genetic tricks ensuring that not all of them are related directly to their egg-layer. The coatl cares for the eggs, and when they hatch, raises the new-born drakuu in the nest until they are old enough to help build a new village.

The nesting site of a coatl is always a good spot for a new village, and their hoard becomes the supplies and funds needed to start the village off. The knowledge the coatl has collected in its long life is imparted to its children, and its fierce protective instincts guard the new village from any dangers.

When the second generation is born, the coatl finally begins to age, but will generally live long enough to see its great-grandchildren. The village will mourn its death, and some drakuu traditions treat their lost coatl like a god or ancestor spirit, and speak blessings and curses in its name. Other traditions simply remember it as a parent, and a great figure from their history, and build smaller secular monuments. 

Most drakuu villages have semi-unique cultures descended from the deep philosophical musings, personal preferences, and life experiences of their coatl. While this produces a wide array of highly diverse subcultures among the drakuu, lines of descent can be traced back through the coatl-drakuu-coatl line, dividing them into several major cultural groups that most likely descend from the original coatl.

Almost universally, drakuu enjoy bright colours and complex geometric designs. Both their modes of dress and architecture reflect this, with painting, stone carving, and embroidery being well-practised pastimes. Drakuu art is in high demand among other races due to the detail produced by their great dexterity and eyesight, but drakuu food is almost universally reviled. Their avian genes mean they have few taste buds, and tend to love extremes of taste that would curdle most other race’s tongues. They also prefer texture over taste, and most of their food requires crunching or cracking to eat.

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