Under Dead Stars

Here Be Dragons

Ancient human cartographers drew dragons to designate unexplored areas. If they only knew how right we were. The second planet from the primary was a terrestrial world with a small diameter than Earth. The world might have passed for Earth's cosmic twin, but for billions of years of Earth specific evolution, it was a very alien world.

Life emerged from organic molecules brought by the world's frequent meteor bombardment. The world had continents that emerged from its rising seas, which became populated by lichen-like organisms. The dominant flora of this world, thus, resembled both mundane fungi and vegetation. They proliferated in the many craters that dotted the landscape, first feeding off the nutrients in the ground, and later the rainwater that gathered in each. Around these oases, intelligence emerged.

Meteor impacts carved a sort of violence into the world's landscape. The crater ecologies were like isolated islands, at least until animal analogs evolved. The first of these were hexapodal salamander-like creatures, organisms that fed on the algal forests along the coastal seas. They migrated between continents, seeking verdant oases around other craters, after exhausting each. Things evolved to chase the, which were the direct ancestors of the thrask.

They were big, but not the largest predators on their world. The first carnivores grew small, medium, large, and extra-large. That last was possible due to the reduced gravity of their world, allowing the native life to reach sizes that would dwarf the dinosaurs. Even among this world of treading titans, the thrask were able to hit above their weight. Even if placed on Earth, with its stronger gravity and unfamiliar environment, they'd be a formidable force.

The thrask stood a head or so taller than an average adult human. They were coated with a scaly hide made of tough bio-metallic proteins. In practice, it functioned like organic chainmail, which protected them from the claws and fangs of things far larger than them. Substantial muscle moved behind them, allowing their limbs to act independently when necessary. As exotic as it sounded, it was analogous to a human pulling their hand away from a hot stove.

The name thrask came from a reptilian hiss they made when encountering a potential rival. The species was sexually dimorphic, although far more dramatically than humans. The female developed eggs, and the males were small, non-sentient chameleon-like beings that gathered in packs around the females. Afterwards, they were often eaten and consumed.

The strongest packs formed early settlements. They developed metal-working, utterly sidestepping bronze due to the many alloys that reigned down on their world. Their entire world's ecosystem adapted to regular, world-shaking meteor impacts, so mass extinctions were far less frequent. The thrask seemed positioned to rocket beyond their homeworld, especially with their homeworld's light gravity.

Physically, the thrask were imposing. They had a distinctly draconic appearance, despite their six limbs. Their skins were like ancient chainmail, colored green, gray, and drab earth tones that assisted their simpler ambush predator ancestors. They were bipedal, with two primary arms and two vestigial ones that fell off after hatching. When they warred with others of their kind, heavy bludgeons and slashing blades were favored over piercing weapons, like spears. The sole exception to this was the spiker, a heavy metal pole with three heavy points jutting out at a perpendicular angle to the shaft. It was hoisted over the wielder's head, and then dropped. The weight was sufficient to punch through the hide of its target, and it was used alarmingly fast by an adept user in the world's light gravity.

The thrask warrior-queens never had their chance to dominate the galaxy. Despite having the beginnings of urbanization and written script, the ire of the universe descended upon them. While their world was adapted to cataclysmic events, it was not immune from them. What wiped out life on the planet was a gamma ray burst, originating from a nearby system. It was a narrow cosmic margin, but enough to spell doom for life on their homeworld.

The chroniclers and cartographers were right about dragons being out there, but were unaware of the correct place. The galaxy would have been a vastly different place, had the thrask reached the stars. Their physical attributes made them well-suited for the relevant physical rigors. However, they were never given the chance, until now. Based on recovered genetic samples, we will restore the thrask. Instead of an epitaph, this is an epigraph.