Hauntingly beautiful creatures, the Drekh. Yet one should never forget that underneath all of their physical allure and cunning intellect is a rotting foundation of hatred and failed ambition.
The exiled elves from Melanthris didn't wither and die as their surface kin expected. Instead, in the darkness of the Bitter Depths, they were reborn into something new and deeply cruel. Shaped by tragedy after tragedy the survivors of the original outcast caravan have become an entirely new species and a uniquely dangerous threat to all of the surface world.
Unlike the long and winding path evolution uses to shape the creatures of Tairos the changes that outcast elves required to survive were rapid and drastic. Within years of their arrival in the lost city of Sha'Hidun they found the environment to be particularly hostile to their biology. The air was often filled with fungal blooms that strangled their lungs and the waters alkaline to the point of toxicity. Food was scare and nutritional value it offered was minimal at best. In those early days it was a race to see whether starvation, asphyxiation, or severe Alkalosis would be the cause any individual's death.
An organization within the outcast's society known as the Inoculators would come to be the saviors they had prayed for... at first. Using the secrets locked away within Sha'Hidun's deepest recesses they began experimenting on the many species that existed successfully beneath the earth to see what of their nature could be imbued into the rest of elves. While many species presented a great deal of promise it was the mole-like Dutroti that would be the path to adaptation they so desperately sought. These creatures stood several times taller than an elf and posses strength enough to crack rocks with this dense claws. The building blocks of the Dutroti seemed extremely malleable and the alchemy offered to the Inoculators by their mysterious city seemed tailor-made for this type of science. Thus, the Dutroti were hunted down to the point of extinction so that their essence could be studied, broken down, and transformed into an inoculation that would protect the elves from dangers of the Bitter Depths.
This seemed to be the boon they had sought, saving their people from a lonely death in the bowels of the earth. It steeled their immune systems to the ravages of the Depths and allowed their bodies to process more nutrition from both water and food. They were able to sustain themselves for weeks off of a single large meal. Their eyes became even more focused to the dark, extending their dark vision to nearly three times that of their surface kin and allowing that mode of vision to perceive color as vividly as if they were on the surface.
Perhaps most unique is the rogue trait of psionistry that manifests in a small handful of their kind. This too is a leftover from the Dutroti harvesting. Their species possessed this ability in small quantities and with little acumen. When the Drekh began processing Dutroti essence with factory-like efforts this was one of the elements that took root and prospered within their blood. Though the number of individuals it appears in is still extremely spares it is none the less far more potent within the elves-below. Some can even hone these abilities to the same degree a surface wizard or sorcerer might master their craft.
This process had some unintended consequences however. The unparalleled longevity of the elves was reduced to one only slightly more robust than that of a human. Mere mayflies compared to the eternity they were used to. It slowly drained the color from their flesh, leaving them as pale as fresh snow. Their hair darkened to hues of deepest black or ruddy red. And, perhaps most insulting of all, it made any return to the surface impossible. Their skin and eyes became deeply allergic to the sunlight of Tairos. It also left their bodies vulnerable to the elements within to surface air as well. A few moments in the sunlight would generate painful rashes and hives. Their eyes would ache with pain and capillaries quickly burst; mixing tears and blood into streams down their cheeks. And, after only a few hours of breathing surface air they'll be wracked with wheezing, painful, coughing fits.
These factors combine all justify the notion that the elves-below have become a species unto their own.
While their biology is distinctly divergent from their surface brethren the way of life the exiles had chosen is both very alien and yet darkly reminiscent of that which exists in Melanthris. They chose to dig deep into the early history of the elven people and reclaim traditions that had long since been forgotten even by the most venerable of their surface-kin. The tribal days of elf-kind were a legendary and lonely time when no other civilization reigned. Elven tribes were scattered, competitive, and deeply distrustful of one another yet, certain traditions bonded them. The notions of the Vrakhari, Jhitaxis, Dactyi and countless other roles from antiquity suddenly resurfaced. Each rewritten as needed yet holding enough of their old meaning to ring true to new ears. In this way their culture is comparable to that of Locklanders though the purpose behind it is very different. The Locklanders rewrite history to fit the narrative of their rulers. The Drekh resurrect history and give it new life so they may have an identity all their own.
Thus, a new culture was woven for a people desperately trying to differentiate themselves from the people of Melanthris. While it has difference to focus on when trying to justify that conclusion the truth of the matter is that they allowed entitlement, jealous, and scorn to taint that effort. Melanthris has its lords and princes who and Sha'Hidun has the Dactyi. The notion of being robbed their share of the rewards the old masters enjoyed has made them hyper-focused on indulgence, creativity, and punishment. In fact, punishment is perhaps the cornerstone that binds all the otherwise fractious Dactyi together.
Exotic and entertaining forms of public punishment are often presented as grand attractions that draw large crowds. Forcing the condemned to battle alien beasts, expertly trained Akhali or Vhrakhari, live vivisection by the inocculators or even to be seasoned and served by one of the celebrity chefs of the Bitter Depths to a wealthy Dactyus looking for an exotic thrill. While death by arena is extremely popular these houses of violence are in constant competition with the many Shosentarkhum or Houses of Scintillation. These are similar to theaters on the surface save that these plays focus on tales of passion and punishment. The protagonists are popular actors all across the Bitter Depths. The Antagonists are often criminals condemned to very real and very brutal deaths on stage.
Right Hand of the Devil
The Drekh surviving today do so under a paradigm they vowed never to be part of again. They are slaves. Slaves served false notions of freedom by their captors but slaves none the less.
In an effort to find a means of seeking revenge against their surface kin they began experimenting with the functional gate they found within their city. Psionics seemed to be the key to operating its systems and forging pathways to realms all across the planes of reality and the sea of stars. Much of what they found were ruined worlds left to decay beneath their own silent skies. The cause of death for some of these civilization stood out as particularly unique. It appeared as the foundation of these old cities split open and from below them exact duplicates of Sha'Hidun seemed to have rose up, crushing everything in its path. Stranger still... wherever a version of Sha'Hidun was the cause of death the sky above was host to a star of embers and ash. Just as dead as the city it once shined on. Whatever Sha'Hidun was, it was built by a people with weapons capable of crushing Melanthris. This became the purpose behind their ventures through their own gate and gates they found. This obsession would cost them everything.
What they found instead was the Xikhani. A species of highly advanced eel/arachnids who's culture was divided up into powerful corporate entities all based around genetic-modification and slavery. The Xikhani saw within the Drekh an opportunity and they are not a people to let such a thing slip by. They earned the trust of the elves-below, shared with them secrets of the cosmos and introduced them to some of the few remaining civilizations beyond Tairos. Eventually, these aliens were invited back to Sha-Hidun to officially treat with the Dactyi and form a permanent alliance. It is on that day they Drekh learned the true nature of their partners. They learned the creatures they were dealing with were not representatives of an entire people but just profit-hungry merchant lords from one of the Xikhani's most expansive companies, Black Mark Acquisitions. The other fact they came to realize all to soon is that they didn't want a partnership but rather a footprint within an untapped market.
A very brief conflict followed and would only last a few short days. The weapons and science of the Xikhani were far beyond anything the elves could have imagined. The Dactyi quickly gave in to their more base nature and chose capitulation rather than extinction. Sha'Hidun surrendered to their former partners immediately. The Xikhani had little interest in enslaving or harvesting the Drekh. Their biology was both fragile and "clumsily altered" in their opinion but the value they did offer was as vassals. The surface of Tairos brimmed with life in quantities unseen on any other world for ages. The profit potential was staggering yet one complication stood in their way, a lack of functional gates. They would not be able to move their forces here in one staggering swoop, instead they turned to other trusted methods. Manipulation, infiltration, blackmail. The ultimate goal being to weakening the stability of nations, turning allies against one another and paving the way for an invasion from above. The Drekh had the potential to be invaluable assets in this effort. Once the war ended the Xikhani allowed their defeated foe a measure of dignity in the form of self-governance, freedom to pursue their traditions and even access to many of the boons their new masters offered.
The only stipulation to that freedom was strict control over those who manifested psionic potential. During the brief war it was this talent that acted as the only obstetrical to the Xikhani advance. Yet, more than just wanting to stamp out a potential weapon of resistance, allowing it to run rampant risked awakening the Architects. The original builders of the gates, Sha'Hidun and other such cities and the species responsible for the great silence across the stars that now exists. The Xikhani were well traveled enough to know the history of the Architects and that long term psionic manifestation was something that could cause the ancient enemy to stir. Such brief awakenings have left dead worlds, dead stars and even dead gods in their wake. Those with psionic talent are controlled by the Xikhani directly and often shipped off-world to fates unknown.
The Drekh now serve their occupiers as vassals. They help to further their goals on the surface, solidify their hold of the Bitter Depths and serve the many cosmic merchants that now visit Sha'Hidun to do business with Black Mark Acquisitions. The Inocculators have fully embraced the worlds beyond Tairos. Their obsession with body manipulation, gene-sciences and alchemy have made them students of the Xikhani and citizens of the stars. They have no loyalty toward their conquered kin nor any animosity toward Melanthris. Each Dactyus serves at the pleasure of the Drekh Regent and ultimately, the Xikhani "ambassadors". For some of these lords service is a profitable exchange for comfort, wealth, and an assured position of power. Others are reluctant to obey these aliens and secretly back resistance efforts to break the yoke of the Xikhani. The matriarchal Vhrakhari reside in the hidden place within Sha'Hidun and in the subterranean wilderness. They have become a militant group of insurrectionists who go to any lengths to punish race traitors and aliens. These punishments are often swift, bloody, and very newsworthy affairs all enacted in the hope that the Xikhani will lose interest in their occupation. The average Drekh citizen will fall anywhere between those many extremes and each side is always actively trying to recruit these undecided elves to their cause.
Very very few Drekh have ever ventured to the surface and most of those that have are agents of the Dactyi, the Regent or the Xikhani. The rest are made up of a small handful of Drekh that have made their own way out of the darkness to escape the nightmare that is the Bitter Depths. They would have made the journey through uncharted tunnels and unfathomable dangers only to face a surface that is toxic to them. These Drekhari would almost certainly have breathing apparatuses, alchemical agents to soothe their skin, as well as smoked goggles and heavy coverings to ward off the damaging light of the sun.
These elves would be truly alien to all the surface races, even the elves of Melanthris. Someone from a cosmopolitan city like Ghal Pelor or Frial might hardly notice them where as isolated peoples like the Frostmerites, Duergarians and Ghal Ankharans would likely assume their appearance to be an ill omen. Demonstrations of psionic abilities would probably been thought of as magic and elicit the same response.
Such a Drekh would likely have no people of their own and would live a very solitary existence unless they could find a trusted coterie of friends. If they found such a group they would be fiercely protective of them; knowing that finding another group of allies would be an impossible feat.
Dark Elf by Antti Hakosaari
Genetics and Reproduction
Sexual reproduction with a six month gestation period. This current gestation period is much shorter that prior to the genetic manipulation conducted by the Inocculators.
Growth Rate & Stages
Young Drekh grow at a similar rate to humans but because of their slightly increased longevity those growth rates slow in their early twenties
Ecology and Habitats
Dietary Needs and Habits
Thanks to the modifications to their biology they are able to sustain themselves off of single, large meals for sometimes weeks on end. However, their gastrointestinal system is very fragile and struggles to process much of the foods from the surface. Consuming foods foreign to their typical diet can result in stomach pains, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and even intoxication. It is well known that certain seasonings such as cocoa, cinnamon, anise, and sugar can cause an effect similar to an overindulgence in alcohol. Some particularly juice-filled fruits like melons, grapes and similar can have the same effect.
With the tweaking done to their biology Drekhari are able to enter roughly month-long periods of hybernation. This is a trait possessed by the Dutroti and some residual traces of it still exist within the Drekh. It is rarely used outside of explorers venturing into the Bitter Depths who are looking to conserve their food stores.
Drekh are extremely social and value an adherence to their customs, traditions, and pursuit of passions. Groups will often be centered around those that share the same passion with the hierarchy based upon those with the most knowledge of that passion. An example would be the Inoculators who's passion is the study of science and applying that knowledge to the physical body. Other typical social structures would be the Dactyi Houses which are focused around the ruling Dactyus, their court, and the delights they share with each other in exchange for loyal service.
Geographic Origin and Distribution
Almost exclusively within the Bitter Depths
Perception and Sensory Capabilities
Enhanced Dark Vision, keen hearing, some possess psionic abilities that offer extrasensory advantages as well
Civilization and Culture
Names in Drekhari society are old, often originating from the tribal prehistory of the species. Unfortunately, they lack a complete accounting of these ancient times and often, for the sake of variety, new names are crafted in the old style. With the coming of the Xikhani and other aliens it is becoming more and more common for parents to select names with extraterrestrial origins.
On the surface, survival of a newly born child is a near guarantee. Below, that is not the case. Names are not traditionally selected until at least six months after the birth. Prior to that time the child is often just referred to as Shedhli (Daughter) or Ghedla (Son). These are also terms used by adults outside of the immediate family to address children until invited by the parent to use their proper names.
Common Traditional Male Names: Gedde, Sourakh, Aruhtan, Kholisis, Lolthen
Common Traditional Female Names: Hess, Lolth, Behk, Ehdren, Phedras
Vhrakhari- Female warriors that were once the zealous elite guard of the city but are now insurgents determined to to free the Drekh
Inoculators A cult-like group of Drekh obsessed with flesh crafting, science, and traveling the stars. They are disdainful of the Drekhari that resist the occupation
Akhali- Another tradition based of a prehistoric piece of the elven people. These are elves that take oaths to serve the most privileged Dactyi champions. They are seen more as prized possessions than people and cared for as such. They often act as body guards, concubines, assassins, and spies.
Dactyi- These are the noble lords of the Drekh so have ruled since the Night of the Red Promise (the slaughter of the old masters). They are powerful figures within Drekh society and command their own private forces and territories within Sha'Hidun. They are loyal only to the figurehead of the Xikhani, the Regent, and to the Xikhani themselves.
Physical beauty is exceptionally important to the Drekh. The old masters denied much to their servants including concerns over appearance. In the rare cases they were allowed to look beautiful it was only to satisfy the whims of these masters. Now, fixation on physical beauty is seen both as a source of attraction and as tradition of rebellion against the old ways they suffered under. The exact nature of that beauty is generally left up to the individual. Typical standards of physical shape and the allure they create are common. Equally common are Drekh that take a more abstract view of physical perfection. That may mean alterations to their shape, skin color, hair, and other simple changes to extensive tattooing or even changes to bone structure. The Inoculators are an example of this ideal taken to an even more extreme level.
Expertise in a passion is also a marker of beauty in their culture.
Much like the elves of tribal prehistory gender is not an indicator of social status nor expected norms. Opportunities are open equally to both male, female and elves whom have discarded gender entirely. The only exception to this is the Vhrakhari which is an entirely female organization. This tradition traces its roots back to the ancient elven Spider Goddess and favor of female warriors.
Most courtships involve hedonistic excursions to the arenas, popular Houses of Scintillation, hunting expeditions or galas thrown by a local Dactyus. Drekh courtships are also known for becoming sexual often during the first excursion as carnal experiences are one of many ways for the couple to share an experience together. Connecting through a shared passion or experience is an expectation of most courting events and while that notion may be common with other races the difference for the Drekh is the level of intensity expected. Its not uncommon for one or both members of the couple to perish in the face of the dangers they seek out on their first date.
Once a couple becomes an official relationship the expectation is equality and freedom for both partners. They are expected to share all things and work diligently toward the ambitions of their partner. It is rare for secrets to be kept between members of a relationship (be it a pairing or even larger and more complicated quantities) as partners are expected to take little ownership over each other's freedoms. This, for example, is why sex is freely pursued with whomever a partner may desire without eliciting jealousy. A partner would likely experience jealous and bitterness if not invited to participate in the hedonistic pursuits of their mate though. A true betrayal would be to find out that one's partner has a secret lover for whom they share more passions and experiences with.
Average Technological Level
The Drekh had access to the same level of science and technology as their surface kin prior to exile. However, now that they are occupied by Black Mark Acquisitions they are able to make use of wonders far beyond their wildest dreams.
Common Etiquette Rules
Hospitality among the Drekh generally takes the form of sharing. There are many traditions and expected displays of etiquette based around sharing with guests, with enemies, with one's kin and with strangers. Most of these displays of sharing have to do with offering up objects or services designed to evoke pleasure. Narcotics of one kind or another are the most frequently shared. After that food and beverages that either possess truly unique flavor combinations or induce certain kinds of intoxicating effects. The sharing of sexual interaction as well as offering up of favored prostitutes (paid for by the host) are uncommon but not at all rare. The youth, known for their reckless and brash behaviors, are often developing their own traditions around etiquette. The sharing of surface food or food from alien worlds is a very common and extremely dangerous practice due to the fragile biology of the Drekh. This is a tradition that many, including the Xikhani, are trying to stamp out. It is more easily said than done however as young adults and even some eccentric Dactyi are starting to practice this as well.
Common Dress Code
Due to the nature of where they live it is difficult for them to create clothing with much color. They do consider dark reds and deep blacks to be particularly favorable and also the only colors they are really able to produce from local resources. However, most Drekh are adorned with brilliant jewelry made of precious stones, gold and silver. A Drekh without such accessories would be considered a truly poor and miserable soul in need of charity.
Restriction of freedom is really the only taboo known to the Drekhari. This can take many forms but at its core any law that takes away personal agency is considered abhorrent. It is for this reason the Xokhani have to tread very carefully with their occupation so as not to fully trigger this cultural taboo.
Interspecies Relations and Assumptions
Aliens from beyond the gate who visit Sha'Hidun tend to have one of two views on the Drekh. Either they are seen as as servile people and property to the Xikhani or they viewed as dangerous but elegant and insightful civilization unto their own. Most extraterrestrial species tend to treat the Drekh with respect or at least neutral indifference regardless of whether they see them as slaves or blood poets. This is because of the influence Black Mark Acquisitions has. Allowing visitors to mistreat the Drekh in any way could quickly lead to events spiraling out of control and ultimately deciding to liquidate their pets... or worse. A conflict that mighty draw the attention of the Architects.