In a study of the modern Tzaltec Dragon Cult, one fact above all must be made clear - the Dragon Cult is Tzalteclan. Since before the great Cataclysm it has played a major role in the lives of every Tzaltec, and the Tzalteca have come to internalize its teachings to such a degree that any attempt to argue its righteousness runs the risk of provoking a physical confrontation. So long as that unwise course of action is avoided, however, the Tzaltec fanatics are easy enough to live with. Possessed of an undeserved sense of mastery, perhaps, but decent enough.
- Professor H. Cheswyn, The Religions of Modern Telluris
Creation Myth Edit
In the beginning, as in all beginnings, there was darkness. A darkness so profound as to defy imagining, a black void of endless silence. Then, as always, there was light! A fire sparked, and the darkness burst into tatters. In its place was the first Great Dragon, Tzetultep. His eyes suns, his blood molten magma, his skin the jagged stone of the mountain. He roared, and in his roar was birthed the first sound. Yet so mighty was Tzetultep that his voice carried with it the song of creation. Unguided, uncontrolled, it sought out the tattered remnants of the old darkness and created the Kokotzitzimi, the Creeping Void. Given awareness, the Kokotzitzimi lashed out against the creature that had destroyed it, and the sky was filled with fire and the sounds of battle.
Kokotzitzimi was strong, but its strength was a borrowed strength, its anger merely an echo of what had passed. It could not best Tzetultep, and so it sought to maim him. Locked in each others' embrace, Kokotzitzimi struck out with three barbed stingers, carving away three strips of Tzetultep's being. Yet even as it did, it fell fully into Tzetultep's grasp, and was banished from his sight.
Tzetultep's light dimmed as he tended to his wounds. And though he was alone, three voices joined him in the songs of healing. For Kokotzitzimi had struck well, and sheared away mighty portions of Tzetultep's strength. Mighty enough that separate from Tzetultep they retained a life of their own, and grew into Great Dragons themselves even as he was diminished. So it was that even the vilest creation of Tzetultep served its purpose, for their combined harmony of their song outstripped even the power of Tzetultep's first mighty roar.
With their combined voices, the Great Dragons breathed life into the empty sky, giving birth to land and sea and star. The light of Tzetultep shone down on the land, and for a time things were good. Yet Kokotzitzimi was forever restless and hated the creation of the Great Dragons, and so each day Tzetultep would fly to the outmost reaches of creation to battle its first creation. Yet the other Great Dragons grew to despise the darkness, and so fashioned a second light to fill the sky when Tzetultep was embattled.
For a time the Great Dragons were pleased by their creation, but as time passed they grew dissatisfied with the endless cycle of their perfect seas and untouched continents. They desired, more than anything, life, and while the three Great Dragons torn from his flesh bore within themselves the crucible in which to create life, only Tzetultep himself possessed the fire. And so they gathered clay from across the vastness of the world and baked it in themselves into the fashion of living beings - fish, birds, beasts, and the plants of land and sea. And for a time they were pleased, but soon they discovered their children to be simple creatures incapable of understanding their songs. So they tried again, taking stone from the earth and firing it ever hotter, and created the manifold races of mortalkind. And for a time the Great Dragons were pleased, and taught the mortal races their songs. Yet they grew dissatisfied for a third time, for none of the beings they had created bore the power of their forebears. So it was that Tzetultep divided up an equal portion of his fire to the other three Great Dragons, and built for himself a kiln of purest diamond. Each of the Great Dragons then scoured the world for the material that best suited their needs - gold and silver, iron and mercury. And in this final forging the chosen peoples of the Great Dragons came to walk the earth, and multiplied beneath the watchful eyes of their progenitors.
In the beginning, Tzalteca were not a unified people. Though they made their homes in and around the great mesa that would become the foundation of modern Tzalteclan, they were divided into six tribes, each one vying with the other five in all things. In those days there was no Teotlkan - indeed, the high priests of the faith, the teotlcade, were subservient to the six chiefs. And where the teotlcade preached the glory of the Tzalteca as a whole, the chiefs heard them less and less with every generation, each one discarding the trappings of faith to better pursue their venal ambitions. Hundreds died in purposeless wars, and the tribes of the forest began to lose their fear of the bronze warriors in the south. Eventually, the Tzalteca were forced to guard against attacks from without as well as within, as the jungle tribes emerged from beneath their branches under cover of night and stole crops, tools, even children. Yet the chiefs were untroubled, so consumed were they by their ambitions, and so the teotlcade came together and formed a plan.
For the teotlcade were the most trusted of all Tzalteca, so much so that their presence went unquestioned even in the longhouses of the chiefs. The greatest of their number in that dark time was a man named Senakhtenre, and he realized that the teotlcade had strayed from their purpose, and allowed the chaos of Kokotzitzimi to corrupt the hearts of their chiefs. So excoriating was his appeal that the other teotlcade submitted to his will, and in a night of blood slew the six chiefs and all their progeny. On the dawn, confronted by the warriors of the six tribes, they repeated the words of Senakhtenre and the sharp spears were lowered. The people flocked to the mesa of Tzalteclan to hear the great priest speak, and in his words found a unity of purpose. Senakhtenre was crowned first Teotlkan of the Tzalteca, while the six tribes were abolished and united into a single Tzalteclan.
The years that followed were both great and terrible, for as prosperity returned to the Tzalteca so too did ruin descend on their neighbors. For while they may have put aside the internecine feuds that had torn them apart, the Tzalteca had not forgiven the trespasses of the jungle tribes. Raiding parties were formed, wars were conducted, and for the first time Tzaltec warriors returned home with lines of captives trudging behind them. Senakhtenre pronounced that these prisoners were not worthy of compassion or mercy, being from barely human stock, and so they and their children were bound in eternal servitude. Within three generations, not only had the Tzaltec population recovered, but their workforce had nearly doubled thanks to the endless labor of their slaves. The first foundations were laid for stone buildings atop the mesa, and Tzalteclan proper began to take shape.
Modern Dogma Edit
Prior to the cataclysm, Tzalteclan existed in a state of near-perpetual war with a number of sister cities spread along the coast of the eastern continent. While the Dragon cult made some inroads, they would inevitably be set upon by the deviant faiths of these enemies, leading to an increasingly martial stance on the part of the Cult's leaders and the founding of the Dragon Knights as protectors of the faith. However, this same militancy and the city's reliance on its slave population only exacerbated Tzalteclan's wars, and eventually they had been stripped of their holdings outside Tzalteclan proper, barely holding the line against a coalition of states allied against them.
Then came the Cataclysm.
As one, the mountains along the coast burst into fiery ruin, a great eruption that swept through the cities of Tzalteclan's foes and scoured them clean of life. Yet Tzalteclan itself, nestled in the crater of a dead super-volcano, was left unscathed. It was seen as the ultimate proof of Tzetultep's dominance, the eradication of all things not Tzaltec, and while the city sent the occasional scout into the blasted wastes the Tzalteca primarily turned inwards. Unwilling to abandon their tradition of slave-taking, they allowed a select few slaves to escape into the jungle, there to found tribes allowed to exist solely to suffer the Tzalteca's ceremonial conquests. Great shafts were sunk into the surrounding mountains, and Tzalteclan became Holy Tzalteclan, promised land and eternal paradise of Tzetultep's people. This state of blissful ignorance to the outside world persisted for nearly three centuries, as the Tzalteca and their Dragon Cult descended ever further into the vices of domination and cruel opulence.
Eventually, though, the infrequent scouts began to return with news. Signs of great civilizations thriving beyond the former wasteland, talk of war and strife and great calamity from captured travelers with strange complexions who still somehow knew the Slave Tongue. The Dragon Cult reeled, and for a time refused to believe. Eventually, though, Teotlkan Chephren IV decreed the Holy City must be made ready to accept the huddled, ignorant masses. This led to a sweeping renovation of the city overseen by a young Nezetkhamun, and the fumbling beginnings of a renaissance of philosophy in a religion so long stagnant.
Today, the Dragon Cult remains undaunted in their certainty of the superiority of the Tzaltec and the Blood of the Dragon. However, they have begun to recognize that the other Dragons may yet live in some form, and have moderated their scornful dismissal of other religions. What is more, the confirmed power of some of these false gods has raised the question in the most radical of debates that the Great Dragons may have birthed some new powers while Tzalteclan slept in the bosom of Tzetultep's protection. Regardless, one thing remains as true as it was millennia ago - the Dragon Cult will spread, and it will thrive.
The Pantheon Edit
Tzetultep: Lord and progenitor of the Great Dragons, Tzetultep is the only one considered male among their number. Fire and the Earth are his spheres, in addition to the lesser domains of War, Civilization, and Craft. His blessings can be felt every day through the sun that is his palace, while his wrath is felt primarily through earthquakes and volcanoes. He is the patron of Summer, and its solstice is his highest annual holy day. Sacrifices to Tzetultep almost always include blood, for it was his blood that gave birth to the other Great Dragons and through them the world entire. Among the four, he is credited with creating the animals that walk upon the land, as well as the Tzaltec who are his chosen people. The sole Great Dragon to emerge from the Cataclysm with his memories intact, his teachings urge patience with the wayward ideologies of the other Great Dragons who are his partners and mates. However, to all others Tzetultep's commandments are unyielding, pure as gold and stern as iron. Those religions seen to venerate Kokotzitzimi are regarded with particular venom, and most adherents require very little coaxing to commit violence against their priests or places of worship. Notably, Tzetultep is also the source of the Tzalteca's religious devotion to the practice of slavery, as they believe themselves the apex of Tzetultep's creations and worthy of mastery.
Yphine: The Great Dragon now known as Yphine embodies Air and Cold, and presides over domains such as Storms, Travel, and the Stars. Her blessings are seen in the momentary calm that leads travelers home, while her wrath is the vicious storm that shatters ships and leaves men for dead. She is the patron of Winter, and the winter solstice is her high holy day in the Tzalteclan. The Frost Moon is her cathedral in the sky, while the stars around it are her gift to Telluris, peppering Kina's darkness like the flakes of the first snowfall. Sacrifices to Yphine demand blood, for it is the warmth that endures her cold, trickled over snow or ice. She is given credit for shaping all that flies in the skies of Telluris, and in her role as Queen of Winter is seen as the most diametrically opposite from Tzetultep. Her chosen people are the Catfolk, in whose image she chose to present herself after the Cataclysm.
Kina: Youngest of the Great Dragons, Kina embodies both Death and Darkness, while her domains include Motherhood, Judgement, and Deception. Her blessings, frightening though they may be, are found in the birthing bed and in the peace of night, while her wrath is felt in the screams of the dying and in miscarriage. She is the patron of Autumn, and the fall equinox is regarded as her highest holy day by the Dragon Cult. The Dark Moon is regarded as her palace, and on the rare occasion it is seen it is viewed as a blessing. Sacrifices to Kina include blood as a symbol of birth, typically soaked in a veil to represent both her sightless justice and the fall of night. Among the four, she created neither beast nor fish nor bird, instead imbuing all three with the gift of pregnancy and birth. She is regarded as the most wounded by Kokotzitzimi's attack during the cataclysm, her warring aspects the manifestation of Kokotzitzimi's lingering corruption and her own pain. In her proper role, she is judge of the souls passing on to the manifold heavens, and is partner to the Silver Lady's psychopomp. Her chosen people are thought to be the Quill.
Silver Lady: Eldest of the Great Dragons born from Tzetultep's wounds, the Silver Lady holds power over Water and Life. Beneath those are domains such as the Harvest, Dreams, and Spirits. Her power is felt in the calm that comes before sleep, the gentle rolling of the tide, and the rich glow of verdant fields. She is the patron of Spring, and the spring equinox is regarded as her highest holy day by the Dragon Cult. The Silver Moon is seen as her palace, forever watchful for the departing souls of the dead. Proper sacrifices to her call for blood as the water of life, poured into a silver cauldron of salt water and black earth. She is responsible for the creation of all things that live in the sea, and in artist's depictions often possesses more aquatic traits than the other Dragons. In her proper role she is psychopomp to the dead, leading them along Yphine's road to be judged in the court of Kina before moving the heavens of Tzetultep. Her chosen people are believed to be the Salterri.
Radurja: Seen as the direst threat to the world at large, Radurja is regarded as nothing less than a massive mystery cult to Kokotzitzimi. In the doctrine of the Dragon Cult, most of the Radurjan faithful are nothing but useful dupes for the ruling hierarchy of true Kokotzitzimi worshipers, headed by a hungry wraith that feeds on mortal bodies to prolong its own blasphemous existence. Their attempts to unify all faith in Telluris under them is in fact a grand scheme to rob the Great Dragons of their faithful, and in so doing empower Kokotzitzimi until it is able to devour the world.
Ashmar: Much like Radurja, Ashmar is seen as a cult of Kokotzitzimi, preaching inclusion and balance to disguise their true motives. However, unlike the whispering threat that is Radurja the followers of Ashmar are rabid dogs, seeking to hasten the destruction of the world by tearing it asunder themselves.
Jaaku Na: Perhaps surprisingly, the Jaaku Na are not considered to be pawns of the Kokotzitzimi. Their goals, destructive though they may be, are too blatant for the hungry void. Rather, the leading theory among Tzaltec scholars is that the Jaaku Na serve some isolated, mad fragment of one of the Great Dragons sheared from its greater whole in the Cataclysm. However, this should not be mistaken for a desire for reconciliation and mercy - so divergent and heretical a sect deserves only purification in the fires of Tzetultep.
Lord of Fire: One might think that the similarities between the Lord of Fire and Tzetultep would give the Dragon Cult pause, but that would be a mistake. As soon as they became aware of the Lord of the Blazing Temple, the Dragon Cult concluded him to be some perversion of Tzetultep's image. After all, was blood sacrifice not among the church's most ancient rituals? One of the Dragon Cult's loftiest goals is the reintegration of the scattered faithful of the Lord of Fire back into the fold.
The Dragon Cult recognizes a strict hierarchy among its attendant members, from the highest authority to the meanest slave. However, the authority vested in each progressive tier is fluid - the highest ranked among the fourth tier, for example, are seen as holding greater authority than the average member of the third.
The Castes are organized as follows:
The Blood of the Dragon Edit
Imbued with divine purpose, this Caste is seen as the direct expression of Tzetultep's favor and might.
The Godhead of the Dragon: Occupied by Xiutlatec Nezetkhamun, the metaphysical embodiment of Tzetultep on Telluris, the position of Godhead is the highest found in the Tzaltec Empire. His authority is supreme, his dictates unchallenged, his might terrible to behold. On his order, thousands would gladly die for the glory of Tzetultep.
The Body of the Dragon: The position filled by the Teotlkan, this was the highest rank in the Dragon Cult before Nezetkhamun's ascension. The Teotlkan still acts as the political and military leader of the Empire and the Cult at large, and it is almost inconceivable that their word would contradict that of the Xiutlatec.
The Scales of the Dragon: The Tlapepentli occupy this position in the hierarchy, each one chosen specifically by the Teotlkan as a potential successor as the physical embodiment of Tzetultep on Telluris. Though the competition is fierce between the Tlapepentli, it remains civil by necessity, for they know their time will come in the Great Trials.
The Blood of the Dragon: Occupied by the remainder of the Teotlkan's bloodline, the Blood of the Dragon live lives of unmatched opulence and splendor. The more ambitious among them occupy positions of great importance in the Empire, but most are content to live as kings once they are passed over for Tlapepentli. Importantly, the Blood of the Dragon are only considered legitimate if they can trace a tie to the Teotlkan within three generations of themselves - if not, they descend to the next Caste.
The Will of the Dragon Edit
A step lower than the physical perfection of the Blood, the Will of the Dragon comprises those seen as carrying out the will of the Great Dragons in a more general sense.
The Glory of the Dragon: This position within the Caste is filled by the Tzaltec as a whole, their tribe seen as divinely inspired to pursue the virtues of the Great Dragon Tzetultep. Throughout the Empire, they are given the most favorable legal standing, but are expected to serve as an example to all the lesser Castes.
The Wrath of the Dragon: Occupied by the Saroc, this position was created when Tzaltec theologians proposed that the vast power of METAL had been guided by Tzetultep to safeguard the Empire's eastern frontier and test that the Tzaltec were worthy of emerging from their paradise. Their failure to face the Saroc of Nezetkharras is indeed seen as the reason Tzetultep cursed Tzalteclan with the treason of Guilder. Regardless, the Wrath are regarded as mighty warriors of the faith and true partners to the Glory.
The Vassals of the Dragon Edit
Beneath those chosen by the Great Dragons directly are those who have chosen to willingly serve, thus gaining the glory of true enlightenment.
The Acolytes of the Dragon: Occupied by the fickle people of Valasharix, this position was created to recognize the immense wisdom in Valasharix's casting off of its foolish hatred of the gods and acceptance of the Dragon Cult.
The Wards of the Dragon: The largest caste by far, the Ward represent those free tribes still bound to the Dragon Cult and the Empire. Fealty is their duty, but it is the duty of the Empire and cult in turn to provide for them as they would any loyal servant. Meeting love with love, and defending them as one would defend one's own home.
The Attendants of the Dragon: Encompassing the Monto, the Attendant Caste encompasses those pressed into the service of the Cult who have embraced it fully into their hearts. Higher than the Thrall Caste, they are nevertheless expected to serve the higher echelons of the Empire in most ways. However, importantly, they retain ownership of themselves and must be compensated for their toil.
The Thralls of the Dragon Edit
This Caste encompasses the manifold slaves put to work throughout the Empire. They are the property of the Cult itself, and thus are paradoxically held in high legal standing despite lacking any rights themselves. After all, damaging or destroying state property is a serious crime. Each distinct Caste is marked with their own tattoos once they are assigned at the age of eight.
The Dragon's Blade: Known to the wider world as the Unmarked, these slaves are given unprecedented autonomy and trusted with the lives of the Blood. Of course, such trust must be earned, and those children selected for the Blade undergo a decade of murderous training and a regimen of indoctrination several times more severe than that visited on the average slave. By their eighteenth birthday, only one in four remains, but those few have been molded into living weapons who view death in the line of duty as the ultimate sacrifice they can offer for Tzetultep's favor.
The Dragon's Feast: The willing virgin brides of the Great Dragon, these slaves occupy a strange place in the Empire. As the handmaidens who will lavish music and devotion on Tzetultep in his High Heaven, they are relatively well educated and uniformly bred for their beauty and grace. Marked with a rectangular band that crosses from cheek to cheek over the bridge of their noses, their lives are strictly regimented by the Cult until their go to meet their master, typically between their 16th and 21st birthdays.
The Dragon's Stylus: These scribes can be identified by their cheek tattoos that curve along their jawlines. Trained from their selection to serve a specific branch of the Imperial Government, they are the army of loyal, faceless bureaucrats tasked with the most menial tasks in keeping the Empire functional and healthy.
The Dragon's Pillow: Prostitution is a government institution in the Empire, one carried out by these slaves. Chosen for their comeliness, they are marked with two strips that fall from their forehead over their eyes to meet at the edges of their mouths. Theirs are lives of constant service to the worst vices of the Tzaltec, though compared to the street walkers of other locales they remain fairly safe beneath the watchful eye of their priest handlers.
The Dragon's Hammer: Marked with tattoos ringing their wrists and covering their necks in a broad band, these slaves are responsible for the routine upkeep and maintenance of civil services.
The Dragon's Scythe: Marked with tattoos that stretch from the backs of their hands to meet in a ring around their necks, these slaves form the agricultural backbone of the Empire. Overseen by well trained gardener-priests, they conduct the planting, cultivation, and harvest of the vast fields that surround the mesa of Tzalteclan.
The Dragon's Chattel: These slaves, marked with tattoos that stretch over their torsos from neck to waist, are also uniformly bald. They are expected to see to the random mundanities not better suited to another caste, including cleaning, serving as porters, and tending to the city's vast array of streetlights.
The Dragon's Maul: The most miserable and shortest lived caste of slaves, the Maul fill the dark mines that draw gold and iron from the stone. Shaved bald and marked with full face, arm, and leg tattoos, they are immensely strong by almost totally devoid of education beyond the proper excavation of ore.