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Freestian Vampires, also known as Freethinker Vampires (Draconis Vampyrus Sapiens), are large, sentient reptilian carnivores of the Draconi subclass of the , ranking as perhaps the most infamous residents of the Freethinker Commonwealth. Possessing an ability to change between a humanoid 'humanform' and their natural, dragon-like 'combatform' at will and possessing incredible strength and longitivity (both many times greater than that of homo sapiens), they have become an integral part of Freethinker culture and society, forming a distinctive and unique minority in the country. Despite their name, they are not related to the demonic vampires of other cultures.

Although living day-to-day as part of the human community, fully-fledged vampires are in fact part of an autonomous 'nation' within the Commonwealth, with their own laws, customs and (domestic) government quite different and seperate from that of the human society in which they live alongside. The official vampire 'head of state' is the current Lord of Navarrok (presently Clodius Maxilimus, patriarch of the Maxilimus Clann), but effective rule lies in the Council of Navarrok, made up of the great Clann Patriarchs and Matriarchs. At the last census there were approximately 12 million Freestian vampires in the Commonwealth, along with a further 320 million ghouls (human/vampire half-breeds), which make up the bulk of the Freethinker non-human population.

PhysiologyEdit

The evolutionary origins of the species appears to have been a split from a common ancestor of the Freestian vampire and Freestian Wyvern about one-and-a-half to two million years ago. A much more carnivorous (and aggressive) derivative, the new species evolved a shorter, more powerful neck and jaw muscles, a thinner pelvis designed for both quadrapedal and bipedal locomotion, even denser musculature than their ancestors and, most importantly, a larger, more complex brain capable of communication and complex problem solving. They also possess other adaptions that have evolved over the last million years, including a more complex set of vocal chords (to the extent they can imitate human language patterns), powerful and complex hands capable of tool manufacture and manipulation, and, of course, the ability to transform between their reptilian and human forms.

As such, the appearance of a combatform vampire tends to be an almost anthromorphic version of the larger Wyvern. Although still recognisably reptilian, they retain some features thatwould appear more akin to human than Draconi anatomy. A broader body, articulate hands, a greater though still limited ability to regulate internal temperature and a number of other adaptions seem to indicate an evolutionary path similar to humans, though this seems odd in the light of the much more ferocious nature of the Freestian vampire's origins. However, the ability for both improved communication and coordination as well as primitive tool use has obvious evolutionary advantages.

An individual vampire reaching adolescent maturity (about one hundred years old) will mass around 400 kilograms and stand ten feet (300 cm) at the shoulder.

In humanform, a Freestian vampire is reminiscent of his demonic counterparts, though they tend to have a far darker tone then the deathly pale skin that marks out demonic vampires. Both males and females tend to be taller than the human average, with males standing on average at about 198 cm and females at 190 cm. Their weight remains, however, constant with their larger combatforms, with the mass believed to condense into denser musculature which may also explain the relatively constant strength between human and combatforms. This can lead to some problems, both physical and social, and visitors to the Commonwealth may be taken by surprise to see such features as steel reinforced cafe chairs as common.

Freestian vampires are well known for their physical strength, and the amount of direction force and momentum their limbs and jaws can generate are several magnitudes larger than any human equivelant. Although the significant size differential explains this in part, the problems of returns to scale with regard to muscle cross-section and skeletal strength still leave a number of questions in this regard. It is know that muscle concentration is greater, given the larger density of muscular tissue, and that like all Draconi reptiles the skeletal structure is significantly different to that of most vertebates in construction and build, incorporating a dense, mineral reinforced fibrelike structure replete with hollow, arched spaces, to ensure sufficient support for the compacted musculature whilst still remaining lightweight. The high degree of internal biological control has been touted as well, with the ability of vampires to flood their bodies with performance enhancing hormones and chemicals almost at will providing additional physical boosts at certain times.

The huge wingspan (generally three times the bipedal height and twice the total tip to snout length) is necessary to provide sufficient lift for the limited ability of flight Freestian vampires possess. Indeed, like the Wyvern, the wings are used far more for temperature control and to aid stability when running or jumping than for actual flight. It requires significant muscle strength and either a large run up or elevated position to take to the air, and only very loads can be carried whilst airborne. In the air, the vampires are gliders, using thermals like other large airborne creatures to remain aloft without major expenditures of energy. Nonetheless, most flight times are measured in minutes.

Unlike many of the Draconi, Freestian vampires are pure carnivores in terms of their preferred eating habits, a habit they share only with the great Sand Dragon within the genus. Because of their limited ability to store body fat whilst maintaining an active lifestyle, Freestian vampires need regular and large sittings of food to satisfy energy needs. A carbohydrate and fat intake of around 12,000 to 14,000 calories a day is considered the recommended intake for a fairly active vampire. Vegetation can theoretically be digested by the powerful stomach acid, but the jaw size and tooth shape of the combatform make it nigh on impossible for such foodstuffs to be eaten given the lack of pre- and molar teeth. Humanforms can make sufficient changes to their jawline to allow for grounding whilst eating, but meat is still generally prefered.

The pre-contact diet mostly considered of other arid and desert animals, larger beasts hunted in packs being the main prey hunted, though most creatures were eaten depending upon relative abundance.

Bloodlust is a condition that results from overfeeding of fresh, oxygenated blood by an adult vampire, resulting in an feeling of extreme elation accompanied by haloucinations and an almost uncontrollable desire to further feed.

TransformationEdit

The capacity to transform between the humanform and combatform is a revered capability, indeed, the generally accepted definition of what makes a Freestian vampire (compared to a well developed Freestian Ghoul) is this capacity to move between forms. The actual biological origins of this transformation are unknown, as are most of the specifics of the process itself. What is known is generally considered to be woefully incomplete, but actual testing during the transformation itself can can awkward and sometimes disastrous results for the vampire involved, vastly hampering efforts to understand the process.

There are, however, a few things that are certain about the process, details which have been gathered by passive observation and records. Importantly, it has been concluded that magical or psychic power or processes do not influence or drive the procedure, leaving it a purely natural mechanism, even though many speculate that the creation of a such an incredibly specific and unusal mutation in the genetic code may have had some direct influence by the pyschic powers inherent in the species. Indeed, the shapeshifting mutation is often heralded as evidence of the Great Fall theory, (the extended explanation for the relative stagnation of vampire culture in pre-contact days) as the level of genetic manipulation required would have necessitated a great understanding and potential control of biological processes. Legends in the vampire's own mostly oral historical tradition seem to support, at least in some translations, which cite examples of 'magical' influences that allowed the original vampires to acquire this skill.

The capacity to transform generally comes into play at around five years of age for a young vampire, and the ability must be coaxed gently into a young sireling as the first few experiences can be immensely traumatic. The pain inherent in the procedure can cause distress and generally it takes several years before a vampire becomes fully comfortable conducting the transformation by themselves. Although the pain remains throughout each transformation, this generally wears down to a dull ache. Transformation is energy intensive and physically tiring, and even the fittest Vampires will require a rest after a series of quick transformations between forms. The process is said to burn sufficient stored energy to meet a male human's entire energy intake requirement of two days. This massive expenditure of calories causes a significant albeit temporary heat rise in individuals, as much as 3 degrees (Celcius) in the largest specimens. This heat is quickly siphoned off through either excessive sweating in humanform with the addition of increased radiation of heat through extending the wings and heavy panting by a combatform. Multiple transformations in a short space of time can lead to the vampire equivelant of heatstroke, causing the creature to fall unconcious for a period of time.

Freestian vampire transformations therefore, though technically a controlled shapeshift, are when conciously directed long and extremely painful procedures. To counter this, a vampire trains him or herself up with a single standardised humanform, usually created in the image of an athletic ideal of the culture around them, and in doing so can quickly develop a subconcious muscle memory and significantly reduce the time and therefore pain of the transformation, and this form tends to become the vampire's image in their shapeshifted state.

Interestingly, this transformation, though not fully required often, acts as a reset for the body and indeed most minor cuts, as well as much wear and tear, is repaired during the transformation crossover. This explains in part why the scars carried by vampires tend only to be larger ones, and, for the more sensually orientated observer, why certain parts of the anatomy remain youthful despite age. There are several important side notes as well. One is a tendency of older vampires to a myriad of different hairstyles, and also of body piercings and encrusted jewelry in fangs and talon-nails, as evidence of their skill in being able to transform quickly but still compensate for the changing body shape beyond such modifications. Tattoos, and other body art meanwhile, are generally done in combatform, where the greater amount of inks and designwork are more easily shrunk onto the humanform body than vice versa.

Tweakers in turn in a derogatory label applied to younger vampires who, with practise, alter their humanform transformations on afairly regular basic, making minor changes for mainly aesthetic reasons, deleting older scars, retaining youthful looks, and in turn tend to be viewed with derision by older members of the race. Tweakers generally elongate their transformation times by only a few seconds, meanwhile to carry out the work. As such their modifications are generally unnoticable by most humans and other observers.

Overall, with time the standard humanform becomes as recognisable as the combatform itself, and as clothing, vehicles and other possessions are generally suited to this size, alongside the vastly reduced transformation times, a permenent appearence becomes entrenched. With rpactise, this transformation sequence can be reduced to a couple of seconds, whereas new practitioners generally take several minutes at best on the first few attempts.

Although not magical creatures by default, an extremely small number of female vampires are born with a genetic adaption that allows a limited manipulation of pyschic force. Similar to ethereal manipulation or the use of plane or dimensional magic it allows limited, aimed effect upon the physical world through concentrated mental thought.

Reproduction & Life CycleEdit

Vampires sexually mature at around twenty-five to thirty years of age in both sexes. Unlike many creatures, Freestian vampires do not begin becoming reproductively capable until attaining their full adolescent growth, an ancient evolutionary adaption that arose from the advantage given to smaller males from being crippled by unmatched fights between suitors and ensure females are sufficently large and strong enough to carry eggs, especially given the often highly seasonal levels of food supplies in the vampire's home climate.

Actual gestation takes place over a eight month period, and like most reptiles the female lays hardened-shell eggs, usually a single or very rarely a batch of two or three hatchlings. Eggs were incubated in sand nests watched by both parents for a period of two months, one of them feeding and bringing back food and the other maintaining a watch on the young. In modern times vampires will generally house their eggs in specialised hospital units which cater for them, though it is still traditional for both parents to spend significant amounts of time with the developing eggs.

Health Concerns & DiseasesEdit

Notable Diseases

  • Pythoras Disorder: A thankfully rare mental condition that causes subconcious feral traits to surface, especially during sleep. This is considered the vampire equivelant of sleepwalking, but because the subconcious traits rising to the surface are generally linked to hunting and threat recognition instincts, there is a significant danger that an affected individual can put many nearby civlians at risk. Luckily the condition can generally be diagosed fairly early on (due to the common habit, in the early stages of the diseases, to simply damage a localised area such as the room a vampire is resting in) and can be treated surprisingly effectively with a prescription sleeping drug course, though in some cases some higher physciatric help may be needed.
  • Shadow Curse: An increasingly common genetic disorder that affects adult vampires and their capacity to absorb oxygen from excess feeding into their own bloodstream. It is most commonly distinguished as an inability to experience the condition known as Bloodlust, as the hallucogenic properties associated with increased blood consumption do not manifest themselves. Other problems can include a shortness of breath (especially during physical exercise), and, in more extreme cases problems digesting other nutrients from food and an increased risk and susceptability to many gastro-intestinal diseases. In its lighter forms, however, the disease may be considered an advantageous mutation, as generally during Bloodlust a vampire looses a lot of self control and becomes increasingly enraged and aggressive. In many modern hunting and fighting scenarios self-control is a necessary and much more important attribute than the beserker life fury of the Bloodlust, providing an advantage to afflicted individuals.

Society & CultureEdit

The society of the Freestian vampires is dominated by the 'Clann' system of twelve large, aristocratic blood-related families, the heads of which still hold the largest concentration of power and wealth within the vampire nation. Almost all living Freestian vampires can claim to be, geneologically, part of one of the great Clanns, though only the immediate relatives of the two heads of each Clann are considered as part of the actual, power-wielding families themselves. Although an ancient society in terms of its origins, the basic values and practises of vampires are surprisingly liberal, with casual attitudes to relationships and tolerance towards other sentients the norm, so long as such considerations are returned in kind. There is notable practical equality with regard to gender in vampire culture and history, believed to be based on the physical equality between males and females in terms of strength and fighting ability as well as intelligence.

The de facto official language of vampire society is English/Common, though the traditional vampire language known as Draconis is still spoken by a majority of older vampires as well. The main "religion" of Freestian vampires is a form of ancestral worship known as the Reverence. This is considered more an article of pure faith rather than a rigid belief system, however, as the Reverence itself holds surprisingly few tenets at its core. The principle practise is simply a stylised version of ancestoral worship, with the core article of reverence one's behavior and how one's ancestors would view one's actions, an important message taken to the heart of the complex code of honour that permeates vampire society.

Vampire relationships can seem extremely unusual in comparison to most human societies, especially to more conservative nations. By and large the notion of gender is fairly irrelevant in vampire society, in part due to the lack of major physical capablities between the sexes. As such the idea of masculinity and femininity are fairly alligned in vampire society, affected only by material concessions brought in from human society.

The concept of monogamous relationships between vampires and vampire/human pairings is common but nither enforced by tradition or law. Like the human population (which indeed inherited its own values from the vampire community in the first place) vampires are happy to form various intimate relations regardless of the sex or current status with regard to their partner(s). There is no direct equivelant to marriage in vampire society, though there are ceremonialised 'bonding' rituals which do occur fairly often but are considered more a powerful declaration of friendship as opposed to the traditional concepts of marriage.

The Navarrok Guard and The Syrens Of The SpireEdit

These two elite Orders form the official armed forces of the vampire nation.

See Main Articles: Navarrok Guard and The Syrens of the Spire

The Order of the Navarrok Guard (also known as the Pathfinder Corp) is the main 'Armed Force' of the autonomous vampire nation. A male-only elite unit, acceptance into this Order is considered one of the finest honours a vampire can achieve and recruitment is widely sought (though obviously incredibly hard to obtain). This powerful unit is tasked with guarding many important military and government institutions and personnel in both the vampire and human communities, and also provides key military forces for the human government when necessary. The actual subservience to the human government is somewhat limited, and as such it must be noted that these actions are undertaken as an act of friendship and unity as part of the Navarre Blood Pact to which both races are party to.

The female-only 'counterpart' to the Navarrok Guard is the Syrens of the Spire, an elite set of bodyguards (and attendents) for the Priestess of the Reverence and also serve as guardians of the Spire of Navarrok itself. The Order carries a similar weight of honour and duty for all those accepted as for the warriors of the Navarrok Guard, but it contains far fewer personnel than the male Order and has a much smaller range of combat duties, being limited to defending the Spire of Navarrok and the Priestess herself. Unlike the Navarrok Guard, the Syrens do not generally undertake outside military operations (with one or two very notable exceptions), and also do not perform tasks or missions for the human government unless specifically ordered by the Priestess. Contained within this order are many the gifted female vampires imbued with limited psychic powers, used during ceremonies of the Reverence and as part of their personal arsenals.

Interaction with Human SocietyEdit

Human society's view of vampires is somewhat a mixture of awe and respect but also jealousy and minor resentment, dependent upon which demographic is tested.

Half Breeds and Feral SightingsEdit

Humans and Ghouls

See Main Article: Freestian Ghouls

Ghouls are the result of a human/vampire mating. These metahuman offspring are physically stronger and tougher than normal humans, but lack the capacity to transform that is the hallmark of a true Freestian vampire.

Demonic Vampires and Sempyra

See Main Article: Sempyra

Sempyra are 'sired' Freestian vampires bitten by their demonic namesakes. Dangerous and animalistic, they are widely hated and feared despite there being only ever confirmed case.

Feral Varients

There are occassional reports from outback ranchers and hunting parties of strange creature sightings, disturbing howls and sounds and animal mutilation across the great undisturbed wilderness of the Freethinker deserts. Many theories have been put forward for these events, the idea that some feral variety of Freestian vampires roaming the great deserts is one of the more popular ones. Historically, there are some oral stories about 'wild' Vampires roaming the desert in the vampire histories, and many ranchers and hikers (with significant knowledge of desert species) often reported being shadowed by creatures 'not of the recognisable types of desert predator', especially in the Great Southern Desert. The most popular version of feral sightings is a slightly smaller, thinner version of a standard Freestian vampire with a light coating of dark brown fur and an 'emancipated' figure. Encounters are as a rule always short and a distance, with these sighted creatures retreating almost as soon as they detect the presence of the intruder.

There have been many counter-arguements and suggestions about the 'Feral Vampire' sightings. Many alleged sightings have been put down to other members of the Draconi family, notably, physical sightings of 'thin vampires' may refer to adolescent Freestian Wyverns on the hunt, or even standard vampires on a long Pilgrimage, the strange howls attributed to the various mating calls of desert species, and various animal attacks to desperate Sandwyrms and large desert insects. Sceptics also point out the actual lack of physical evidence for such creatures aside from a few grainy photos, with no blood or skin samples, for instance, found on the supposed victims of feral vampire atacks.

However, regardless of the actual status of 'Feral' vampires, they are not considered a major threat even if they were to exist, as Professor Steve Hodruss, head of Vampiric Studies at the Gothabia District University wrly noted: In an environment boasting such proven dangers as truck-toppling Sand Trolls and whale-sized Dragons capable of ripping apart armoured vehicles, the actual new level fo threat posed by a theoretically small population of feral vampires is negliable at best. Most people working and travelling the desert already take considerable armed protection and precautions as a matter of necessity, and so the only real interest in such wild varients is from a biological curiosity rather than a security concern.

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