When the Elemental Dragons stir, Creation is rocked by their efforts; the time of tumult is no different.
Creation is threatened on all sides, and from within. The Deathlords rise from the underworld at the head of armies of the dead wielding necrotic magic that eats at the heart of the world. The Raksha gnaw at the edges of the map, ever hungry for the dreams of the living and desperate to unmake the solidity of the world. The demon princes of Malfeas extrude their alien essence into creation through the influence of demons, akuma, and now the Green-Sun Princes. How long can it possibly be until one of these foes, or perhaps a combination of all of them, causes irreparable damage to the fabric of Creation?
Gaia, oft away from the shores of reality but inextricably linked to it all the same, feels these threats. Even those secrets that are hoarded by her one-time siblings, now the Yozis, press upon her consciousness as an impinging threat, even if she does not know the details. After all, Gaia’s essence flows throughout every inch of Creation; how can any event happen there and be truly unnoticed by her, at least on some level of her soul hierarchy?
The all-mother has turned her vision towards her Creation, and begun to turn the larger extent of her being away from its distant journeys in the Faraway and begins to return to the shores of the world on the comet Gnosis, but she fears it will not be enough. Will she return in time to truly make a difference? Or will she come back only to find her greatest work irrevocably damaged?
It is with this threat in mind that Gaia has turned to what parts of her remain within Creation; her children, the Five Elemental Dragons. The Dragons form at least a part of Gaia’s higher soul-hierarchy; third-circle souls she wove into Creation’s matrix of being when she and the other Primordials forged it from the wyld. It is through the Dragons that Gaia is eternally bonded to Creation, and it is they that act as a conduit for her limitless essence to replenish the world and feed the life within.
The Dragons are prevented from personal action, their own power being so great and interconnected to the elements of creation that their deeds would inevitably cause untold natural disasters, but they may still act as Gaia’s agents amongst the inhabitants of Creation and, more importantly, conduits for her primordial power. In much the same way the Dragons can channel essence into the dragon-lines of Creation, they may also do the same for individuals, at least those chosen few who can handle such a blessing.
It is possible that such a thing has happened before during times of need or danger, where Gaia foresaw a doom for Creation that she felt compelled to try to prevent. Sidereal scholars who observe this new change theorise that the Immaculate Dragons, the legendary iconic Dragon-Blooded embodiments of elemental power that the Bronze Faction based the Immaculate Philosophy on, may have been such beings. Or perhaps this is something entirely new.
Regardless of the truth, the fact is that some few of the Dragon Blooded host have been called for service. They hear the call of their aspect element and the roar of their draconic sire in their souls. They are compelled to travel throughout the wilds of creation to places of great elemental essence, uncapped demenses and other, stranger, places, and there to meditate upon the pull upon their soul.
Some seem to have been found wanting, their meditations answered with nothing but silence and further questions. Others have not been heard from again, and seem to have completely disappeared, perhaps utterly annihilated by the failure of some test, or truly blessed with some union with their draconic patron. However, some portion of the called return changed, their elemental essence enhanced to an untold degree and capable of wielding strange new magic. Their aspect markings are written clearly upon their skin, often to an unseen degree, and it seems to many that they are as the original Dragon Blooded of myth, their blood completely unsullied by that of mortals.
The truth of the matter is currently unknown to the world at large, and even most of the Graced, as they are known, as yet do not truly understand what has happened to them or that they are not alone in their new duties. In reality, the changes wrought upon these chosen are similar, but altogether different, to the process of creating an Infernal Akuma; the bonding of Primordial essence to the already existent power of an Exaltation, but instead of a torrent of alien power, the gaian infusion, filtered through the medium of the Elemental Dragon, harmonises and reinforces the power that already exists.
From the perspective of the Graced, this is a powerfully religious experience. Their meditations culminate in a sudden explosion of elemental essence, as the dragon line they sit atop cracks open and the coils of their draconic forebear embrace them. They come face to face with the being that originally blessed their ancestors with its power and are judged by their ancient wisdom; it is unclear exactly what standards the Dragons are working to, however Gaia requires warriors to defend Creation and so, at the least, that potential and drive must exist within the called Exalt.
Time has no meaning during this exchange, as the Exalt is entirely subsumed within the elemental infinity of the Dragon, often reliving parts of their past seen through different views and lenses, or slightly altered, perhaps for the Dragon to judge how they will react. Regardless, at the conclusion of the exchange, if the Exalt is found to be worthy, he finds himself face-to-face with the draconic immensity of his patron who explains that:
“You have been called to serve Creation. The mother-of-all requires warriors to defend her children and the world against dire threats that would destroy, corrupt, and unravel it; will you serve her? Will you serve the mother of dragons before all others?”
In this instance the Exalt must make a choice, truly free of any unnatural mental influence, although the Dragons see no need to employ it; to serve or not? While many Terrestrial Exalts are unaware of Gaia, or the spiritual significance she represents as their divine “grandmother”, so to speak, very few who go through this experience are able to doubt the words of the Elemental Dragons themselves. Perhaps some die-hard Immaculate monks, so devoted to the letter of their teachings as to ignore the evidence before their eyes, might refuse such a call, but to most the transcendent experience is undeniable.
Of those who refuse this offer there is little to be said. Perhaps it is left to the whims of the Dragon in question, and they are allowed to leave unharmed. Perhaps their worthiness is recognised, and they are simply absorbed by the Dragon. Perhaps they are destroyed for their impudence. The Dragons do not say.
Those who accept are changed. The Dragon parts its coils to reveal the presence of one of Gaia’s humaniform jouten, most often appearing in one of her more terrifying aspects, a powerful warrior-woman composed entirely of elemental fury and power. The all-mother extends her hand to her grandchild, only to tug him into a rough embrace and render him down completely to his elemental components, with only his souls and the very core of his essence remaining. Then, between them, Gaia and the Dragon rebuild the Exalt, now one of the Dragon Graced.
How may are there?
The Terrestrial Host numbers over 10,000, but how many of these heroes can be empowered in this manner? After all, if all of these warriors can be raised to primordial potency they will surely be unassailable as a force by any foe.
The truth of the matter is unclear, but it seems that the answer is “very few”. Possibly, each Dragon can only empower one Exalt at a time, and therefore must choose their Graced with great care. Perhaps, each Graced acts as a focus for one of the Dragon’s virtues, and so each Dragon can produce up to four such beings? Perhaps their creation requires the committment or expenditure of a dot of willpower, limiting their creation to numbers similar to that of Green-Sun Princes? Or perhaps there is no upper limit, but the requirements to undergo the process are so restrictive as to limit their numbers?
Either way, it seems that the Graced number between 5 and 50; until enough time has passed that all reports of these beings can be properly documented and catalogued, their true numbers may remain unclear.
The Realm’s Reaction
So far, the world at large has no idea what to make of these beings. To many in the Realm, they are heretics. To a one, the returned confirm that they have personally met an Elemental Dragon, the spiritual forefather/mother of their aspect, something which the Immaculate philosophy considers impossible. Worse still, they all claim that the Dragons are not the highest powers to exist in the world, and that the true progenitor of creation is a greater being they call the Mother of Dragons.
To many lay-people, or more liberally minded Immaculate devotees, the Dragon-Graced are to be admired. It is impossible for many to admit that these Exalts are different from the rest of the Terrestrial stock; they are capable of learning higher orders of magic, impossible for a normal Dragon-Blooded, and their facility to learn and practice enlightened martial arts far exceeds that of even the wisest Immaculate. They are universally recognised as honoured lords by the Terrestrial Bureaucracy, far beyond the deference usually given to a Prince of the Earth. And most importantly, their actions speak for themselves.
Each Dragon Graced seems compelled to serve Creation, pushing back the forces of corruption and destruction wherever they go. They roam Creation, seemingly homing in on trouble-spots and disruptions, destroying demons, banishing raksha, and annihilating the living dead. They push back shadowlands and restore wyld-distorted regions. Able to operate openly as Terrestrial Exalts, the Dragon Graced seem, to many in Creation, the iconic example of an Exalt, a great hero, devoted to protecting the world from any and all threats, and they are loved for it.
In Yu-Shan, this development has the Five-Score Fellowship in uproar. Since the end of the Primordial war the Dragons have never taken such overt action, and Gaia’s involvement in the affairs of Creation is regarded as completely unacceptable. Unfortunately, no matter the feelings of the Sidereal host, technically no laws of heaven have been broken. No formal restrictions were ever placed upon Gaia’s activities, nor those of her children the Elemental Dragons, after all with Gaia remaining withdrawn from Creation and the Dragons dormant, it was not necessary. Furthermore, the Dragons and Gaia are inextricably linked to the continued existence of Creation, so how much can even be done to limit them with harming that which the Sidereal try to protect?
The Dragons have made it clear, through heralded proclamations delivered to each bureau, that their new champions are to be afforded rights in heaven equivilent to those of a Celestial Exalt (although they have taken great care not to refer to the Dragon Graced as Celestial Exalts). Formally, they are regarded as senior delegates of the Terrestrial Bureaucracy, which has placated many in the various bureaus who can now comfortably look down on them as provincial visitors, regardless of the fact that no Dragon-Graced has yet actually visited heaven.
Gaia refuses to be drawn out on the subject; when asked, she simply agrees that anyone the Elemental Dragons feel worthy of respect is surely to be honoured, and points to the good deeds of these new heroes as a mark of their worth.
The Bronze Faction is somewhat split on the matter. They see great potential in these heroes as more-powerful tools in their war to preserve Creation, but worry that their power may render them more difficult to control. And, of course, no Sidereal has yet realised the difficulty in persuading one of the Graced to act in a manner contradictory to their Duty.
Mechanically, the Investiture of Elemental Glory functions very similarly to the Investiture of Infernal Glory. The details of its application are as follows:
- Only Dragon Blooded are capable of receiving the Investiture, due to their existent elemental nature.
- Dragon Blooded can only receive the Investiture from the respectively aspected Elemental Dragon.
- The Dragon Graced receive Inheritance 5, representing the infusion of elemental power, Patron 5, representing the authority over the Terrestrial Bureaucracy instilled in them by the Dragon, and Breeding 6 (the Legendary Breeding merit), as their elemental nature is supercharged by the direct essence of an Elemental Dragon.
- Gaia and the Elemental Dragon may convert any of the Dragon Graced’s traits into XP and use that XP to purchase any new traits as desired, in addition to the XP granted as part of the Inheritance background. It is worth noting that far fewer changes are wrought to the Dragon Graced than are usually granted to Akuma, as the Dragon Graced are selected for desirable attributes.
- The Dragon Graced are capable of learning and using Spirit charms as per an elemental of the relevant aspect.
- The Dragon Graced learn Celestial Martial Arts as a Celestial Exalt.
- The Dragon Graced are capable of learning Sidereal Martial Arts as a Solar/Abyssal Exalt, although they are exclusively restricted to styles that represent aspects of Creation (such as Prismatic Arrangement of Creation Style). Styles that represent essence, beings, or creatures from outside of Creation are beyond their understanding.
- The Dragon Graced may only learn sorcery through the Gaian primordial initiation charms, losing access to the normal Dragon Blooded Terrestrial Circle Sorcery charms. They may learn Terrestrial and Celestial Circle Sorcery as a Celestial Exalt, although they may not cast spells which conflict with the essence of Gaia or Creation, such as any charms which summon or bind demons.
- The Dragon Graced may learn Solar Circle Sorcery, however they may only learn and cast spells which resonate with the essence of Gaia or Creation, such as Benediction of Archgenesis.
- With regards to any other effects, such as resistance to the wyld, the Dragon Graced are treated as a Celestial Exalt.
- Dragon Graced gain a second Motivation, known as a Duty, as well as an Elemental Limit track.
- Their Duty is initially set by communion with their Elemental Dragon patron, and is always a task which preserves or defends Creation in some manner (i.e. Purge the city of Thorns of the influence of the Mask of Winters, Drive the Winter Folk from the lands around Whitewall, etc…)
- Once complete, their Duty always becomes “Return to a confluence of dragon lines and commune with [Elemental Dragon patron]”, so as to receive a new Duty.
- The Dragon Graced gains Elemental Limit any time they act against their Duty, and also gain a point of normal limit due to the psychic dissonance of disobeying this soul-sworn oath.
- They may discharge a point of Elemental Limit by making a great stride towards their current Duty at significant personal risk.
- Completing a Duty completely removes any Elemental Limit, and their patron Dragon may also choose to automatically remove any amount of limit at any time, although they are unlikely to do so.
- Upon reaching 10 points of Elemental Limit, the Dragon Graced is punished by an explosion of elemental fury; their anima swells to full for one day per dot of their essence rating, and this furious anima will damage anything within its radius, including personal effects not as indestructible as a magical material.