The cliffs of Besis were bathed in a shine of fortunate sun, clear for once of low cloud. It glittered off the scales of thousands of colourful dragons on the mountainside perches carved in the shapes of screaming birds and strange devils, and illuminated the valley floor far below in punishing light. There, on the bare stone, a dozen dragons in as many colours stretched their wings and peered up into the sun for a hint of the challenge ahead of them.
For a moment the sun was eclipsed as green serpent crossed it, suspended by a shimmering jade glow. It blinked slowly, and turned one gigantic eye towards the hovering form of a pink dragon hidden in the shadow of one of its whiskers.
Its voice echoed across the canyon as it spoke. "In the name of the Nameless, our god and maker, we gather for the Wingraces. May luck and the wind be with our brave competitors! On your mark, Your Majesty . . . ."
The pink dragon nodded gracefully and rose higher, the light glimmering through the translucent panes of its wings to cast a rainbow on the cliffside. "Blessings to all. Begin!"
A hush fell across the canyon, and every eye turned down. As the last echo faded, a small dragon that glittered like crystal spun upwards, darting towards the sun in the distance. A further eleven dragons in a great number of shapes and colours followed momentarily. The last rose slower, but the first beat of its wings clapped off the walls like a gunshot. Intelligent black eyes almost six feet across glinted as it tracked its smaller kin. As the smaller dragons ahead darted and dodged, it ignored the rocks cast down from above that shattered on its scales, and rose ever higher.
The Wingraces are the most prestigious competition of Dragon
kind, taking place every fifth year of the calendar. They have been held for nearly sixteen thousand years, making them the oldest continually running event on Macalgra. The only interruption to them in history was following the Massacre of Sarirpala
The Wingraces are presided over by the Dragon King
, and they are part religious ceremony, part public entertainment. The races also serve as method of honouring the Nameless First Dragon
and fostering racial pride. Admission is free and all guests are provided free food and drink by the Dragon King. Alcohol strong enough to make dragons drunk and high stakes betting are some of the major attractions, so much so that the Divines themselves regularly make a point of partaking.
The Wingraces are run by six teams of twelve dragons. The competitors are chosen in a series of elimination matches over the preceding year. The right to run the race is extremely prestigious, and the same dragon may only run it once a century. For the week before the match the competitors meditate in solitude, believed to bring them into closer contact with their god-father. During the race, contact between competitors is strictly forbidden, as is the use of breath weapons or magic.
The objective is to reach the top of the cliff, as fast as possible while traversing the magical obstacles - visible and invisible - that have been placed between the valley floor and the sky, and evading a great Steel Dragon.
Each team runs the race individually, creating six rounds. The twelve dragons start on the valley floor. To begin the races the referee sounds a magically amplified siren, and the competitors launch. A moment after, the Steel Dragon takes flight in pursuit.
Up to 20 points are awarded to each dragon, decided by speed and grace. A point is subtracted for each obstacle hit. If a dragon fails to reach the top within two minutes or is captured by the Steel Dragon, they receive no points. Teams are ranked by points; if there is a draw, another round is run where the two teams race at the same time.
The winning team receives a large monetary prize, and use of the Winners Caves - known for their opulence - for the following five years, as well as prestige and positions of command within the flying corps of dragonkind.
The Wingraces were founded by the Dragon King Savahe around 13,000 RC, before humankind had even achieved magic. Primitive forms of the races have been run since almost as long as dragons have lived in Sarirpala. They were initially simple races through the gorges of Sarirpala's neighbouring mountains, and later evolved to include magical obstacles for the entertainment value. They were encouraged as a rite of passage and maintaining fitness in peace times.
Savahe adapted these races into a ceremonial ritual, wherein competitors race to prove their mettle in the eyes of their god-father. At this time the tradition of meditation was established, and progressively more complex race-regalia was developed. Competitors began to wear jeweled collars, which are given as tribute to the Nameless First Dragon after the race. These evolved into extremely ornamented harnesses.
Today the most daring designers and jewelers are commissioned by competitors to create their harnesses, each trying to prove their uniqueness and wealth.
The Wingraces are the most prestigious event of Sarirpala's social calendar. Every notable member of dragon society is expected to be present. In addition, notable guests are invited from afar, such as the leaders of the human clans of the north. However the most prestigious guests of the Wingraces are the Divine.
Many of the Immortals visit the races; it serves as the largest regular gathering of gods. The tradition was started around 5000 years ago by Ramio, who adopted Dragonkind as his surrogate species after their god-father's hibernation began. Ramio is joined regularly by the Divines of Fire, Beasts, Magic and assorted others that vary by year.