Bestiary of Zenith
There are a great many strange creatures in the world of Zenith, in addition to many that would be familiar. Some are fantasy standards with a twist, others are earth-like creatures displaced from time or given a new flair, and many are fully unique to the setting.
The dragons of Zenith are long-lived psuedosquamada, six-limbed lizard worms. They begin life as small, slippery, snake-like creatures hatched from leathery eggs about the size of a human head. These hatchlings are often (but not always) highly venomous and always voracious. In seasons where large clutches of dragons are hatched, it is not unusual for livestock or even people to go missing in areas where dragons have nested, taken and devoured by the limbless hatchlings.
After the time of about a year hatchlings grow into drakes, sprouting six limbs and usually losing their ability to produce venom. (Though some varieties grow a pericing, dagger-like structure at the end of their tails, capable of injecting deadly venoms into their prey.) Their fore-limbs and hind-limbs terminate in taloned grasping claws, used for hunting, climbing and burrowing. Their middle-most limbs end in a single long talon shaped like a scythe, these talons are typically used for slashing at their prey, capable of decapitating an ox in a single swipe. Their slimy skin dries and they grow tough, chitinous scales that are as incredibly hard as they are flexible and lightweight. They can be anywhere from five to twenty feet long and maintain the feral viciousness present in their younger siblings, dragons stay in this stage of their life for a substantial portion of their lives, decades at the least. At the end of this stage of their life, they shed their tough outer skin and burrow deep into soft-earth and coat themselves in a mucus cocoon.
In this stage dragons are known as worms, and are completely defenseless as they hibernate beneath the ground in their cocoon. The cocoon itself becomes a part of their body and branches out much like the roots of a plant into the soil from where it extracts nutrients and water to sustain the maturing dragon within. During this stage, dragons are extremely vulnerable, and the presence of a cocooned worm is often given away by dry areas in the landscape. More than one farmer's harvest has been ruined by a wormling maturing beneath his crop. This stage of the dragon life-cycle can last for a few dozen years- the length of this stage and the vulnerability of the creature have led to a sharp decline in dragon populations in the years since the Dawning (pre-dawning records are unavailable), as local communities and adventurers often take it as a public service to seek out and destroy maturing dragons.
Dragons hatched from the same generation all climb from their cocoons within days of one another like clockwork, in great events known as "flights." Human populations usually regard these times with great fear or superstition, as the mature dragon is a powerful creature indeed. Finally emerging from their decades long slumber, the mature dragon finally has grown the sparks of intelligence, along with the mid-limbs being transformed into great leathery wings. Their skin is like the chitinous coating of the drake, but lighter and slightly less durable, parentage and the soil conditions around their cocoons lend to the coloring of their scales. Certain generations of dragons (also called "flights") may gain a reputation based on this coloration. No dragon ever encountered has maintained the ability to produce venom from earlier in their life-cycle, but nearly all dragons develop the ability to discharge flames from their mouths- speculation continues as to weather this is a magical or purely natural ability (of if dragons are capable of performing magic at all.)
The mature stage of the dragon is short, at most a year, and is the only time in their life that they are capable of reproduction, which takes place high above the earth in elaborate in-flight matings that have only been witnessed by man from a great distance of by means of magical scrying. Dragons, gifted finally with intelligence, are also granted the memories of not just their own maturation but also the entire life histories of every direct ancestor. Though the mature dragon is an individual, their memories are a gestalt of their direct ancestors, encompassing the time from hatching to the moment of conception, this memory is both patrialinial and matrialinial, providing the dragon with a clear and focused memory unmatched by any creature that has ever lived.
Since dragons live and dye by exact cycles and rarely overlap, individual flights develop their own cultures and language, transferred to the next generation by inherited memory. Some dragon flights have developed cultures that are extremely hostile to humans, others tend to respect human boundaries and live far from human habitation. It is rare that a dragon will deal with a human, though most are capable of human speech, few know the languages of men and are usually too concerned with mating before they die to learn. In the rare case that two flights overlap, the outcome is uncertain, the two flights may treat each other with hostility, indifference, or even appear to greet each other as long-lost friends and siblings.
Some research has been done trying to map out the schedule of dragon-flights, but in the sunlit lands the Silverfist have discouraged this practice, and have been known to pay high bounties for proof of killing a dragon before full maturation. Their reasons, as always, remain their own.
Two notable dragons are the twin "golden dragons" that guard the temple of the sun in Zenith. The official doctrine of the Pater Dios states that these two dragons, deeply in love and terrified of their mortality, prayed to the Sun-King for immortality in exchange for eternal service. Their wish was granted and their scaled turned golden as a sign of their loyalty, and they now guard the Sun-King's palace. They are rarely seen by the residents of Zenith, though they can be seen every year during the Day of the False Sun flying away from Zenith together, always returning before the Smoking Mirror yields to the will of the Sun.