The Terrestrial Exalted, usually called the Dragon-Blooded and also called the Princes of the Earth, are the champions of the Five Elemental Dragons. For the last millennium and a half, they have been the unquestioned rulers of Creation itself.
- The Scarlet Empress
- The Scarlet Dynasty
- The Realm
- The eleven Great Houses
- The Outcaste and “Lost Eggs”
The Dragon-Blooded are easily the most numerous of the Exalt types. The greatest advantages of the Dragon-Blooded are the considerable resources granted to them by their noble status and their ability to work cooperatively with each other to create greater effects with their Essence. There are five elemental aspects to the Dragon-Blooded: Air (the Azure Children of Mela), Earth (the Ivory Children of Pasiap), Fire (the Scarlet Offspring of Hesiesh), Water (the Ebon Offspring of Daana’d) and Wood (the Verdant Children of Sextes Jylis).
Today, the Dragon Blooded can be divided into roughly three groups:
- The Terrestrial Exalted of the Scarlet Dynasty, the Imperial Realm, centered on the Blessed Isle and its satrapies along the Threshold
- The Outcastes of the Seventh Legion quartered in Lookshy, a traitorous regiment which rebelled during the Great Contagion and threatens the existence of the Realm itself to this day
- The remaining Outcastes scattered throughout the Threshold, Lost Eggs from lineages scattered during the Great ontagion or descendant from long-lost Dynastic conquerors
The ruling Dragon-Blooded of the Realm are made up of the eleven Great Houses. Most houses were founded by and named after one of the Scarlet Empress’s Exalted offspring, though at least two are descended from the Empress’ late husbands, and three unspecified houses are descended from adopted children of the Empress. Of the 13 former Great Houses, only two, Jerah and Manosque, are remembered in historical texts.
While they are the champions of the Elemental Dragons, the Dragon-Blooded are not truthfully the “Chosen” as the Anathema are. The Dragon-Blooded are not imbued with the Dragons’ power, but rather born with it through descent from their Dragon-Blooded parents and ancestors. The Terrestrials are thus the only Exalted who can pass power on to their descendants. Unlike the Anathema, of whom set numbers exist, the Dragon-Blooded may breed among each other or the masses, with the children of such unions having a chance of Exalting at some point during puberty. The purer the blood is, the more likely a child will Exalt. There are easily more than 10,000 Terrestrial exalts, and there is no absolute force preventing them from growing more numerous.
The Dragon-Blooded have five elemental Aspects, which are functionally identical to the system of castes which the other Exalted share. Each correspond to one of the five elements of Creation, and each is attributed to certain personality and skill tendencies:
- Air: Logical thinkers and intellectuals.
- Earth: Bastions of stability and tradition.
- Fire: Passionate and flashy.
- Water: Determined and patient.
- Wood: Nurturing and sensual cultivators.
Any history of the Empire of the Dragon-Blooded is, by definition, a history of its Empress. She created it from the smoldering ashes of the Great Contagion, sustained it when it was weak and guided it throughout its history. It has always reflected her will and her vision, and it has always been the instrument by which she has imposed both upon the world. While there is no formal cult of personality within the Realm, there really doesn’t need to be one. Any inhabitant of the lands under her sway, from the haughtiest Dragon-Blood to the lowliest slave, knows that, on a fundamental level, the Empress and her empire are one and the same.
Our history begins in a very dark place, both in that it was a time of evil and a time from which we know few hard facts. Most of the knowledge of the Old Realm was lost to the Contagion and the years afterward, and we find ourselves relying on folklore to compensate for lacunae in the ancient records. The understanding we arrived at when we look at these two sources is that the world we now inhabit was originally infested with great malevolent spirits or demons and their insidious thralls, whom we have come to call the Anathema.
The Anathema, it is said, used bizarre and unnatural rituals to steal power from the spirits of the sky – sun, moon and stars – as a means of proving their worth to their hideous masters. Once that inversion of the natural order took place, the Five Great Elemental Dragons realized that the loathsome elder gods and their powerful servants must be overcome if any progress or good were to come of this world. They regarded the nascent species called humanity, sought out the noblest warriors among them and breathed into them power over the elements. In that way were the Dragon-Blooded born. The Dragon-Blooded are the first and, despite what you may hear in certain mistranslated old folk-tales, the only true Exalted. While we may take them for granted, it is important to remember that the Dragon-Blooded are our benefactors, our guides and our defenders.
With the powers of the Dragons, the first Exalted met the servants of the old gods in battle. One by one, the Solar Anathema fell before the power of the Dragon-Blooded. Seeing their warriors fall, those Anathema who had stolen power from the moon and the stars scattered and were largely destroyed. Once their servants were vanquished, the demons themselves became the target of the Dragon-Blooded. They, too, soon gave way to the elemental onslaught, and the Terrestrial made the world safe for the creation of the Old Realm.
With the riddance of the demons and the banishment of their servants, the Dragon-Blooded turned their attention to nurturing the young civilization. The Dragon-Blooded established a society that would protect the common man and foster mankind’s higher nature. Farmers thrived when their crops were protected from wild beasts, merchants thrived when their trade routes were patrolled by the soldiers of the Realm, and under the aegis of the Dragon-Blooded, civilization expanded to cover the face of the world.
Sadly, the Realm, led then by the predecessor to the Scarlet Dynasty, was not aggressive enough in its pursuit of the Anathema sorcerers who fled to the Wyld and to the Threshold. The Dynasty was yet young and had little notion of the ramifications that would follow from allowing the Anathema to survive.
The weird night-magicians, finding protection in the bizarre Wyld lands, continued to hound the distant colonies of the Realm with sorcerous incursions and guerrilla tactics. This approach gained them nothing. However, their worship of malevolent spirits and constant disturbance of the spirit world eventually called down the rage of Heaven. The Realm was held accountable by Heaven for its lax approach in dealing with the subversive Anathema. Heaven’s punishment took the form of the Great Contagion.
The Great Contagion was a virulent disease that killed over 90 percent of the population of the Realm. Whole cities were wiped out to a man, particularly those in the outlying lands. The Dragon-Blooded suspect that some of the beast sorcerers may have worsened the Contagion by sending vermin to spread it more effectively.
At the end of Heaven’s sentence, when all those who would die had done so, the Great Contagion ended. There was to be no peace for the survivors. The maw of the Wyld opened wide and swallowed entire provinces. Swarms of barbarians flooded into the Threshold and the mainland provinces, wiping out many small pockets of humanity that had managed to survive the plague. Great cities of old disappeared, destroyed by sorcerers and monsters, and only the timely intervention of the Empress saved the Realm.
Of those glorious cities, only ruins remain – most are overgrown, covered with woods or jungle, and still infested with the weird creatures of the Wyld. The years that followed the Contagion were spent fortifying the Realm and consolidating the citizens from outlying provinces into the relatively strong bulwarks of civilization on the Blessed Isle.
The Dynasty of the Scarlet Empress grew powerful, both politically and magically, and it was she who prevented the forces of the Wyld from encroaching on the Blessed Isle. With her great elemental magic, the Scarlet Empress was able to defend the island and protect the citizens of the Realm, even as pirates and barbarians tried to launch incursions onto the Realm island itself. From her Manse in the Imperial City, the Scarlet Empress was able to push the Fair Folk back to the madlands where they belonged.
But while civilization on the Blessed Isle grew strong, the magic of the Empress could not reach across the ocean to defend the far provinces, many of which came under the control of barbarians and Wyld savages of all description. Those beyond the reach of the Dynasty developed powerful criminal undergrounds, which used their influence to turn the people against the Dynasty.
Though these Threshold areas were once part of the Realm, most of their cultures are too debased to merit direct imperial rule. Instead, they are governed by their own princes and potentates, who rules with the advice of the Realm and pay tribute to the coffers of the Scarlet Empress. In return, the Realm protects them and allows them to bask in the glory of flying the flag of the Realm higher than their own.
To better manage the growing threats to the Realm, the Scarlet Empress recently placed other members of the Dynasty at the helm of state and entered into a period of reflection, during which she will determine how best to defend the Realm and retake the barbarian provinces. It is expected that the day she emerges from her meditations she will have discerned how best to deal with the new threat posed by the Anathema. Once they have been dealt with, it is expected that she will instruct the Realm navy to retake the impudent eastern provinces, and the Realm will once again begin to grow.
Five years ago, the Empress disappeared so completely that it was as if she had never been. This occurrence, in and of itself, was not necessarily unusual. She had taken brief sabbaticals from the Scarlet Throne before, some lasting as long as six months. Even in her absence in those times, the Realm continued to function smoothly, carrying itself forwards on sheer inertia as the mechanisms of government lurched along with business as usual. None of the Great Houses made a play for the Throne, wary that this could be some trick of the Empress’ to see which of her offspring were too ambitious for their own good. And always, she returned as if she had never been away, with no word as to were she had been or what she had done.
Five years ago, that all changed. The Empress vanished one morning, gone without trace. Almost overnight, the Realm’s empire began to crumble. The government was not built for a succession – there were simply no mechanisms to put a new ruler on the throne. There wasn’t even any proof that the Empress was dead. Weeks of indecision turned into months of political wrangling, until a figurehead regent was put on the throne. The provinces were bled white, as garrisons were withdrawn from the Threshold and brought home to the Blessed Isle. Any attempt to deploy the legions abroad was seen as a maneuver in the struggle for control of the throne – the armies of the Realm were paralyzed. Even the Wyld Hunt has fallen to the wayside, as the contenders for the Throne gather their every iota of power.
Realizing that the Realm’s armies and magical defenses were mere paper tigers, the Realm’s countless subject states began withholding their tribute. But the tributaries are no the only enemies to realize the weakness of the Realm. The barbarian tribes who lurk beyond the pale of civilization have begun to raid more frequently without the Imperial Foot to retaliate against their attacks. From their strongholds within Creation, and from those outside it, the Fair Folk murmur of war. The lords of the Underworld unleash new monstrosities against the living, and everywhere there are omens of war and dark times. After millennia of vigilance, the Wyld Hunt has lapsed. And at this moment of weakness, the Solar Anathema have returned.
The Dragon-Blooded Shogunate that formed in the ruins of the Usurpation lasted over 700 years, nearly as long as the Scarlet Dynasty has now, in Realm Year 768. However, the Shogunate crumbled with the arrival of the Great Contagion, and although the Scarlet Empress rose to power and asserted order on the Blessed Isle, she could not establish a firm grasp on the Threshold, especially the Scavenger Lands. Many of the city-states in the Threshold now act as Realm tributaries, with varying amounts of influence coming from the Imperial City.
The Eleven Great Houses of the Empire claim descent from the Scarlet Empress, with the exception of House Nellens, and share her breeding. These houses field armies, manage commerce, support the Immaculate Order which preaches both the divinity of the Dragon-Blooded and the evil of the Anathema. They are also, by and large, quite decadent—marriages are a political alliance, and it is not uncommon for both partners in a Dynastic marriage to be having an affair. In fact, many Outcastes are born on the Isle (and the Threshold) because of dalliances between a Dynast and a peasant or Patrician, though often an elaborate ruse follows the pregnancy along to pretend that the child is born to a legitimate marriage, if the dynastic parent is part of such a thing. Thus such a child grows up with noble education and upbringing, and if he or she experiences her Second Breath, then she does so not as an Outcaste, but as a Dynast. Other Outcastes are born apparently spontaneously. These Lost Eggs are feted, and then given an option: serve in the Legions, or join the Immaculate Order. While those who chose the former may perhaps one day mingle their bloodline with the dynasty’s, those who choose the latter take the vow of celibacy that all Immaculate Monks do.
While the Dragon-Blooded are most firmly associated with the Scarlet Dynasty, many more exist that are not born into a noble house, or even the Blessed Isle where the Realm makes its home. Lookshy, to the east, is a fortress-city that stands between the Realm and the Scavenger Lands. Further east, the Forest Witches exist in a half-dream world in which they are invincible gods. Throughout Creation, in fact, people occasionally spontaneously Exalt in their teenage years, though this is rare. Such Outcastes are usually better at whatever they turn their hand to than the mortal equivalent, and are thus easily capable of making a name for themselves, and often do.
With the disappearance of the Scarlet Empress, the Realm is thrown into upheaval as the Great Houses try to jockey for position to make a grab at the throne—and claim enough deniability so that if the Empress were to return, they would not suffer the fate of House Iselsi or House Manosque. Currently, Regent Tepet Fokuf supposedly has the power of the throne. He lacks ambition, political experience, or competence in any arena, along with any blessing of the Dragons, making him an excellent pawn: none will weep for him, even his own house, if and when he dies to some power-play.