The Clanborn, by Susan Van Camp ©2004
Seth Skyrider stood at the edge of his world. He trembled, whether with fear or excitement he was not sure. Behind him lay everything he had ever known: The labyrinth of his nursery, with vast caverns where he had learned to fly; the deep caves lit with multicolored light globes; the hall of ancestors, intricately carved with images of his kin. He had been safe there, protected from this world he gazed at now.
Over the lip of a cave mouth he looked down on the foot of the mountain, where a thick forest stretched away to meet the horizon. How many times had he stared at this scene, wondering what lay outside his mountain home? He had longed to see what was out there. Today he would see, but his desire was leavened by fear. He knew what was out side now and it terrified him: Madspawn, Dragon Storms, Necromancers and the prospect of slow, awful death. How could he leave to face that?
Yet how could he stay, now that he knew what had happened: Deathday, the massacre, the corruption of the world. She had told him yesterday. Although she had never said it, he understood what would come next. He would leave her. She would remain here within the Skyrider sanctuary, his beloved ghost mother, tied to these stones by death. he would venture out into the forests and hills, wild lands that she had taught him to love before he had ever seen them. To protect these places he would fight and, if needed, die; but before then he would look on the wilds, breathe their scent, know their beauty.
Morning breezes stirred around him. He unfolded his limbs to cup the wind in his wings. He heard a sigh behind him. Was it the wind or was it his ghost mother? He dared not look out of fear that a backward glance might break his will to leave. Instead he crouched and sprang, riding the winds towards his future, a clanborn dragon emerging into the world.
Rebirth of the Clanborn
Among Valarians, it is common knowledge that Deathday was forseen by Valaria, the werewolf shaman who founded their order. With the help of allies and followers, she planned for the survival of shapeshifters. She conceived of the Storm Seeding, an ingenious spell that used necromancer’s engines of destruction, dragon storms, to create a new generation of mortal born shifters. It was a daring plan and it succeeded.
What most Valarians don’t know is that there was another plan, one that had nothing to do with shape shifters born to humans, elves, dwarves and other mortals. This plan involved only the clanborn: Full blooded dragons born to others of their kind. Thought to be destroyed in the deathday massacre, some of these true dragons survived due to Valaria’s crafty schemes.
Long-lived, short-tempered and aloof, most clanborn dragons ignored Valaria when she warned of a coming massacre. After many years of work she managed to convince a few dragons that there might be trouble coming, but these clanborn remained cautious and skeptical. They had found signs that Valaria’s prophesy might be true, but they were hesitant to believe the scruffy werewolf hermit. In the face of their hesitation, Valaria suggested a compromise to these doubting dragons. She believed that the massacre would occur on an upcoming Deathday celebration, so she asked them to conceal some of their young in hidden nurseries at that time, protected by powerful guardians. If the dragon’s doubts were correct, they could easily collect their young after the ceremony. Should her predictions prove true, some of their descendants would survive to carry on their lineage. The clanborn agreed to this plan. Dragons from each of the major clans hid a small number of infants in distant sanctuaries, under the care of trusted guardians.
After Deathday, all doubt was gone, along with most clanborn dragons. The infants survived, safely hidden away, protected by powerful caretakers. Following instructions laid down by Valaria, the guardians trained their charges in the lore and magic of their clans. They remained hidden from the world until the day of their release: Their two hundredth birthdays, the day of young adulthood for dragons. On this day the clanborn would be sent out to seek out Valarians. They would join the fight to destroy necromancers and they would rebuild their clans.
All clan guardians want the same things; to take back the world from necromancers and recreate their clans. To this end, they have prepared their young as best they can. They have also resigned themselves to the changes that have taken place since Deathday. Old clan feuds have been laid aside. Ancient prejudices against mortals have been banned. Even the most stiff necked guardians have had to bend, telling their charges that other shape shifters are their equals, and that they must seek out and join the Valarian Champions. All old business has been laid aside. All that matters now is taking the world back from necromancers and their Pylos masters.
“Remember that our clan died long before the Deathday Massacre. Our curse and our strength is to be thought dead and go on living.”
Ages before the Deathday Massacre, the Blackwind clan committed a terrible crime against draconic law. Their sin has been forgotten but their punishment is well remembered. They were destroyed, wiped out to the last member of their clan. Their lore was obliterated and their name struck from ancient texts. It was as if they had never existed.
No one knew that any Blackwind dragons had survived until Valaria stumbled upon a hidden Blackwind clanhold. She managed to make friends with the outlaw dragons. She persuaded the Blackwinds to send some of their children into hiding, which saved their clan from annihilation on Deathday.
In the two centuries since Deathday, guardians from different clans have made contact with each other through secret networks. This is how other clans discovered that the Blackwind had survived both Draconic and Necromancer attempts to wipe them out. Only the necessity of unity in the face of shared danger kept the other clans from attacking the outlaw clan. In the years that followed a shaky trust has emerged between Blackwinds and other clans. Despite their past they proved to be useful allies, and turned up secrets no one else could discover.
Blackwind young are trained by mysterious guardians called Shadowtalkers. Rarely does a shadowtalker show its face. Most often it is only a voice that emerges from the darkness, disembodied and seeming to come from everywhere at once. Whether the speaker is a dragon, a spirit or a non-draconic shape shifter is very hard to tell. If the young dragon tries to approach, only darkness is found where the voice was heard.
During training, Blackwind clanborn learn stealth and subtly. In all things they strive to go unnoticed. To draw attention is to attract danger. They are taught to observe everything, to watch carefully and to gather secret knowledge. To see what is hidden and to understand it is a central principal of the clan.
Blackwinds are mysterious but their basic motives are similar to other clans. They want to gain power and defeat necromancers. Unlike more flamboyant clans, they prefer to work from hiding, secretly influencing events with an unseen claw.
“When you’re dead, you’ll understand.” Firewall ancient ancestor spirit
Of all the great dragon clans, Firewalls have the strongest ties to their spirit ancestors. This close relationship began in ancient times, when the ghosts of dead dragons ruled their living kin. In these days the Firewall clan held great power, because Firewall spirit ancestors were immensely strong. The clan’s power was broken when living dragons overthrew the councils of the dead. Still, Firewall dragons remain staunchly devoted to their dead.
Historically, dragons of this clan have been slow to change. With one eye fixed on the physical world and the other on the spirit plane, they tend to take the long view of all situations. They resist any change that would unsettle their ancestors, and their ancestor are easily unsettled. Before Deathday, no proper Firewall dragon would make a major decision without consulting it’s ancestors.
Deathday was particularly terrible for Firewall Dragons. The ritual of communing with their dead was deeply sacred to them, and they were more deeply in touch with their ancestors than any other clan. This caused Firewall spirits to feel the slow deaths of their living kin with a terrible empathy. Maddened by the pain of their dying kin, Firewall spirits attacked the necromancers invading their clanholds with terrible ferocity. Many of them were destroyed in the battles that followed. Most of the surviving spirits went mad with grief. Some of these spirits linger in the Stormlands, mourning kin who died two centuries ago.
Firewall children are trained by clan spirit ancestors. Some of them also have living griffons as guardians. They learn the names of their ancestors and are expected to be able to recite their lineage on demand. They spend much of their time on the spirit plane, receiving clan lore directly from the dead. Young Firewalls are taught to seek out spirits and listen to them carefully. From the ancestors they will learn what they need to defeat necromancers.
Like all dragons, Firewall seek out and kill necromancers; They have a special distaste for death mages who summon zombie and skeletons. Such creatures dishonor the dead. They work to found new Firewall clanholds to carry on their traditions. They are most concerned that their clan have strong councils of the dead; much of their efforts go to searching out powerful spirits and convincing them to join their clan. The wisdom of these ancestors is the foundation on which they are rebuilding their clan.
“Where’s the glory in lurking like a worm in a hole? If you want the world to know your name, get out there and fight!”
The history of the Greatflame clan is a litany of battle. Starting as a barbaric rabble, these dragons fought their way to the top through a series of bloody wars. In the end they became the most powerful clan in the Stormlands. They were also the most feared.
Once Greatflames gained supremacy they hung onto it with an iron claw. They destroyed anyone who challenged them and were especially cruel to mortals who opposed their rule. Greatflames were very touchy about their honor and would attack without warning for the slightest perceived insult. They demanded rich tribute from dragons and mortals alike, and imposed restrictive laws to keep their subjects in line. They commanded great respect and little affection.
Despite their flaws, the Greatflames proved to be valiant warriors in a crisis. Centuries before Deathday, the Pylos sent a huge mercenary army to Grandilar to subdue the world. Greatflame dragons rushed to fight them. Their battles inspired many glorious legends. They also broke the power of the clan; so may Greatflame dragons died that their clan was shattered.
Greatflames never recovered from this disaster. At the time of the Deathday massacre there were less than a thousand Greatflame dragons alive. Though diminished they had lost none of their arrogance. They were the most resistant to Valaria’s entreaties. It was Deathday Eve before she convinced them to hide some of their young.
Strict living dragons guard young clanborn, training them in traditional Greatflame fashion: With discipline, hardship and endless drills. They teach the clanborn to recite the deeds of famous Greatflame heroes and urge them to surpass them in glory. They also teach them that their is no greater glory than slaying necromancers. The honor of the clan depends on hunting down and killing death mages.
Greatflames fight hard to establish new clanholds. They welcome any shifter of Greatflame blood who will fight for the clan. With every new recruit their power grows. Greatflame elders look forward to the day when they clan will be restored to its ancient power.
“Keep your eyes open to what’s around you. Opportunity and power have to be seen to be seized.”
No clan has risen faster or held more power than the Ravenwings. Several thousand years ago their clan was tiny and weak. On the eve of the Deathday Massacre they ruled all of the Stormlands. After the massacre their abilities to understand and use power continued to serve them well, helping them to survive a chaotic age. The rise of Ravenwing fortunes are linked to the philosophy of Kasalorn Ravenwing, a draconic radical born twelve hundred years ago. Coming to age during the reign of the Greatflame clan, he learned to hate the traditions of his time: Contempt for mortals, obsession with past feuds and an adherence to rituals that verged on madness. He began to preach a new philosophy, one that emphasized a pragmatic attitude and a forward looking vision of the world. He wanted mortals to be treated as partners rather than slaves. He said rituals should be abandoned and trade routes explored. He warned that wasting blood and treasure on ancient feuds was suicidal when the Pylos had invaded once and were likely to do so again. Rather than obsessing on the past he told dragons to deal with the challenges they faced here and now.
Kasalorn was reviled for saying these things. The Greatflames were deeply angered by this upstart, whose philosophy stood in direct contradiction to their beliefs. They considered him a dangerous heretic. The Greatflame hyarch declared him rogue, which removed him from the protection of any dragon living or dead. Assassins hunted him. He fled and hid among mortals he had befriended. For centuries he lived secretly this way, until he had spent so much time among mortals that he understood them better than any dragon ever had; and all the while he continued to recruit allies and convert others to his way of thinking, whether they were mortal, dragon or non-draconic shape shifters. Kasalorn’s philosophy spread, despite everything the Greatflames did to stop it.
By the time of the second Pylos invasion, Kasalorn had many allies. As it turned out, he needed all the help he could get. While the Greatflames bravely and stupidly engaged Pylos forces and were slaughtered by them, Kasalorn quickly assembled his allies and convinced them to fight the pylos. Thus it was a mixed force of dragons, shape shifters and mortals who fought the Pylos army and defeated them.
With the Pylos defeated and Greatflames weakened, the Ravenwing clan rose to power. Many Ravenwing dragons had been secret sympathizers with Kasalorn before the war. Now they openly embraced his philosophy and used it as a guide to build a new relationship with mortals. It was under Ravenwing rule that the mortal kingdoms rose: Dozens of autonomous city states, established by mortals, that were allowed virtual self-governance in return for a reasonable tribute. For the first time there was an open exchange of ideas between dragons and mortals. This sparked a golden age of progress and prosperity that made the Ravenwings richer than any clan in history.
While his clan prospered, Kasalorn faded into the shadows. He was too young to become hyarch; a dragon had to be a thousand years old to ascend to that rank. Rumors had it that he continued to manipulate events from hiding. Shortly before Deathday, stories spread that claimed the Ravenwing Hyarch planned to retire after naming Kasalorn here successor. Whether this was true remains unknown. Some people say Kasalorn survived the massacre and continues to live among mortals, secretly fighting necromancers and their Pylos masters.
Living Ravenwing dragons train the young. The guardians are young adult dragons who come and go at unpredictable intervals, leaving the clanborn with enough supplies to take care of themselves until they return. When they are present, they train the young to be aware of their surroundings. Knowing what is going on around you is the first key to staying alive. They also teach the clanborn to keep their mind in the present. Dwelling on the past or worrying about the future prevents one from seeing danger of opportunity.
While other clans rebuild themselves according to ancient traditions or following to wishes of elder spirits, Ravenwings look to the world as it is for guidance. They specialize in wizardry, the most forward looking of the schools of magic. They build their clanholds as near as they can to mortal communities, the better to gain mortal allies. They attack necromancers by undermining their political power, spreading rumors that a death mage has incurable tox, pretending to be rival necromancers to recruit apprentices as spies, Masquerading as advisors to vassal rulers to encourage revolt against death mage emperors. Quick witted and adaptable, Ravenwings plan to rebuild a clan that will survive in this new world and restore them to their former power.
“Tradition isn't everything. It’s the only thing.” Zachtos ancient spirit ancestor
Throughout their history, dragons have been a conservative bunch who spent a lot of time honoring ancient customs. Among these traditionalists one clan stood out as the most orthodox of the orthodox. These were the Zachtos, dragons who believed that all evil derived from deviating from tradition. This view they loudly preached to anyone who would listen and to many who would rather not have heard them.
Zachtos have existed for ages, a small clan that enjoyed pestering others with endless quotations from draconic lore. When the Firewalls ruled they complained that rituals to honor spirits were being performed incorrectly. Eventually the Firewalls wearied of this and exiled them to a distant region. When the Greatflames overthrew the Firewalls, the Zachtos rejoiced. The new rulers were traditionalists who would welcome their advice. This proved to be true only for a short time. The Zachtos’ gift for nit-picking turned out to be more than hot-tempered Greatflames could stand. When a Zachtos scholar went so far as to criticize the Greatflame Hyarch for the unorthodox way she consumed a taur, the hyarch flew into a rage and order his entire clan banished. They ran back into exile with Greatflame warriors breathing fire down their backs.
After this the Zachtos resolved to remain in exile, a clan of hermits devoted to the study and interpretation of draconic lore. This resolve lasted until the Ravenwings came to power, an event that horrified them. The notion of a heretic clan ruling all dragons as more than they could tolerate. They descended on the Ravenwing Clanhold preaching doom if ancient traditions weren’t immediately restored.
Predictably, the Ravenwing Hyarch exiled the Zachtos. Wisely, she made their banishment more lenient than it had been in the past. The clan was not so much exiled as cloistered, sent to a remote area so that they could study in peace. The region of their banishment, Kanchaka Valley, had been newly colonized by mortals who paid rich tribute to the clan. Most importantly (to the Zachtos, at least) Ravenwings valued their work. Emissaries arrived regularly to receive reports on their studies. They were most interested in the Historica Draconica, an immense collection that contained all known clan lore. The Zachtos felt satisfaction. Ravenwings might be heretics but at least they listened.
Deathday deviated the Zachtos less than many other clans; their isolation provided a measure of protection. Still, they suffered terrible losses, among which they counted the loss of the Historica Draconica, which disappeared some time during the massacre. Zachtos cling to the hope that their tome may have survived and that they may someday recover it.
Clanborn Zachtos are trained by ancient clan spirits. The young learn to read and write and are immersed in studies from an early age. They have an excellent grasp of of draconic history, although their knowledge comes with a decidedly Zachtos slant; they are taught that the Deathday Massacre occurred because ruling clans refused to follow traditional practices in the way proscribed by Zachtos scholars.
Zachtos aim to build clans that correctly interpret and carry out draconic traditions. Only in this way to they believe that the evil of necromancy can be extinguished. Their only concession to circumstance is their acceptance of non- draconic shape shifters of Zachtos blood and their adherence to Valarian principals. In all other things they remain orthodox, committed to the past as a guide to future victory.
“Listen to the wind. It is the earth singing to herself. Her lifesong is all around you.” Skyrider Ghost Mother
Throughout their history, dragons have been associated with mountains, the places where they usually build their clanholds. This is not true for the Skyriders. To say their name is to speak of forests, meadows and plains. These dragons fell in love with the natural world long ago, and their passion for wild places have become legend.
Of all the natural world, Skyriders loved the forests best. They spent long hours there learning the names of every insect, the use of every root. Their teachers were elves, a mortal race who loved the forest as much as they did. Over time they grew close to these people, although they kept their affection secret. It was an earlier age, when associations between mortals and dragons were frowned upon. This caused the Skyriders grief because they believed elves to be the most intelligent and spiritually enlightened of all mortal races. Eventually they decided that elves were not only superior, they were deserving of the immense magical power and long lives that dragons themselves enjoyed. They began secretly teaching elves methods to lengthen their lives and increase their natural magical abilities. It was a drawn out process that would take many generations to complete, but dragons had successfully walked this road. The Skyriders believed that elves were wise enough to follow in their footsteps.
In their kindness, Skyriders did not see that they were walking into danger. Some elves found the long road too slow and longed to hasten the process. They resented dragons for standing in their way, doling out secrets a little at a time. They wanted immortality in their lifetimes and their desire for this was so great that it drove them to terrible acts. Delving into secret texts that they had stolen from dragons, these elven renegades learned necromancy, a reviled death magic long banned from respectable schools. With the help of Pylos agents they learned how to enhance simple necromancy, which was disgusting but weak. They became the first true necromancers, using death magic to raise zombies, blast foes and extend their own lives. All this powerful new magic required was the sacrifice of magical creatures.
Odkin were the first victims. Unicorns came soon after. A strange ‘plague’ afflicted unicorns, causing them to weaken and die. Skyriders worked feverishly to discover the source of the plague but they could not see the answer before their eyes. Then a necromancer captured and drained a dragon. So much warp was discharged by this terrible spell that a small storm formed over his head. Skyriders arriving to investigate discovered him in the act of killing the dragon.
At last Skyriders understood that they had been betrayed, but their realization came late. The plan to introduce necromancy to renegade elves had been one maneuver in a grand scheme. The Pylos were launching their second invasion. Within a week renegade elven necromancers, who called themselves Haskalad, had joined with Pylos mercenary armies to hunt down and kill the Skyrider clan.
Skyriders won with the help of Ravenwing dragons and their allies. However they paid a steep price for victory. The elven forest was razed and most elves were made homeless. The Haskalad fled north. Skyriders pursued them, slaughtering all they caught, until they lost the scattered survivors in the desert. The dragons returned to the shattered forest where they grieved for months, then fell into a catatonic state of despair.
There they might have remained if not for the Ravenwings. Ever pragmatic, the new rulers pointed out the uselessness of angst when there were survivors to help. They put the Skyriders to work resettling elven refugees, rebuilding earth temples and strengthening ties with Elethay worshippers. This work restored the Skyriders to their senses, although they never forgot how the Haskalad betrayed them. To this day Skyriders hate warp elves.
Skyrider clanborn are trained by special clan spirits, called ghost mothers. These are spirits of ancient female dragons that were exceptionally good mothers when they were alive. Ghost mothers gently guide their wards towards wisdom. They teach the love of wild places and speak of the beauty of the world. They also explain the Deathday Massacre and the corruption that it inflicted on nature. Skyriders seek to cleanse these corruption's, using Valarian powers and witchcraft, the magic of the earth itself.
As Skyriders rebuild their clans, they strive to regain what they have lost. This clan hopes to regrow the elven forest in its ancient glory. The do this armed with wisdom gained from the Haskalad betrayal and the Deathday Massacre. They know it is not enough to love the beauty of the world. They must fight for it, defending it from necromancers and corrupting dragon storms.
© Susan Van Camp 2004. All Rights Retained.