The Aezkul are a mountain-dwelling species of Threan dragon, spending much of their lives near or above cloud level or in the sky. This expansive territory and harsh terrain has shaped these kul into masters of the sky. Unlike most kul, Aezkul are slender and comparatively elongated with long tails and an elongated torso. Their tail ends in a whip-like thin end. Their skulls are more elongated as well, with a thinner snout and a smoother tip to their head than most other species of kul. Their forehead is also less pronounced, giving a more elegant look to their overall form. This physical shape lets the Aezkul cut through the air easily with much less wind resistance than other kul.
The thickest part of an Aezkul's body is its chest, which boasts a powerful host of wing muscles. Their musculature is highly specialized for keeping these dragons aloft for extended periods of time to allow them to traverse the mountain peaks they call home without having to descend to a far lower altitude to rest in between different mountains. Overall, they are of average size, varying between 2.0 and 2.5 meters at the shoulder.
Almost all of their form is covered in the same sort of scale - a small, circular, and thin type that doesn't offer much physical protection but allows a lot of flexibility. Aezkul undersides are the only place without this simple scale, covered instead by semi-flexible large plates that protect their vulnerable undersides.
Due to physical seperation in the past, the Aezkul evolved three distinct and genetically mutually exclusive wing shapes. Known to the Aezkul, these are the kra, lan, and zier wing types. They specialize in nimble, soaring, and speed flight respectively. Kra wings are the shortest of the three types and are more rounded, with digits of equal length and a membrane that extends a fifth of the length of the tail. These evolved from the ancient Aezkul that dwelled in the more broken rocky cliff sides in western Threa, bordering the sea. As distance between the peaks is less of a problem in this region, the ability to maneuver between spires of rock was selected for more by nature.
Similarly, lan and zier wing types evolved from the more central and eastern mountains respectively. As these peaks are spaced much further apart, soaring and speed comes in far useful. The latter split from the former during an evolutionary pressure in which the eastern Aezkul faced the need to hunt down aerial prey over ground-based prey, which required different adaptations to strike them from the sky. Zier wings are the longest of all the wing types, but also the most narrow, allowing the dragon to put on bursts of speed when flying forward or when diving. Lan types are in between kra and zier sizes, but are very broad, with a membrane reaching nearly a third of the way down the kul's tail. Lan wings are the original shape that all Aezkul wings evolved from, taken from their Blazkul ancestors.
As Aezkul originally descended from the Blazkul, they are the only other species outside of the Blazkul to breathe fire. However, their ability to breathe fire is very limited by the large amounts of space required for their specialized wing muscles and large lungs.
Aezkul flame is nearing the point where it may be considered vestigial. While Blazkul have large organs for the storage of fire-producing liquids, Aezkul have very small ones, situated beneath their lungs and up against their breast. A healthy adult Aezkul with full fire organs can breathe their most intense flame for only about five seconds. This leads Aezkul to only ever use their flame in small bursts in self-defense rather than displays of intimidation or in offensive means.
Aezkul flame works in the same fashion as the Blazkul's. The storage organ within their body holds two fluids - one is a catalyst while the other is a fuel. The catalyst reacts with oxygen to produce a flame, while the fuel is a highly flammable substance. When the Aezkul flexes specialized muscles around the organ, the two fluids combine in a pipe that leads up to the rear of their tongue and is ejected forcefully from the mouth, thus contacting oxygen and igniting. A valve prevents the fluid or flame from moving back down the tunnel and harming the interior of the dragon.
The jaws of an Aezkul are simple outside of the flame exit valve. Their tongue is flat and rounded. Their teeth follow a general carnivorous pattern - sharp incisors in the front, large canines behind the incisors, followed by a row of serrated teeth that angle backwards towards the throat, meant for slicing flesh. A very small set of semi-molars follow behind those teeth right before the back of the mouth.
Due to having a flat and nimble tongue as well as lips, the Aezkul have developed their own language spoken with a mix of the two. Their voices are higher-pitched than most kul due to the lack of resonating space in their chest cavity and somewhat thinner vocal cords. Outsiders describe their voices as sing-song due to the tunes and pitches they alternate between. Despite this, Aezkul can emit a loud roar using a burst of air from their lungs that can cause momentary deafness at close range. Their deepest roar is near the regular pitch of other dragon roars. They can alter the pitch to nearly a metallic screech rather than a roar. Their lungs, large and developed for siphoning oxygen out of high altitudes, provide them with a lot of air to work with when speaking, which leads them to string many sentences together before requiring a breath.
Other defenses of these dragons include the five claws tipping the digits on their forepaws (four digits and one thumb) as well as the four claws on each hindpaw. These claws are kept sharp for use in self-defense or hunting and can easily rend flesh given enough pressure. As Aezkul need to carry prey items aerially, each paw has a relatively tight grip for its overall size and can be very hard to break out of.
To see prey aerially, Aezkul have sharp eyes that can spot small movements or shapes from a long distance away depending on the clarity of the day. The most limiting factor on their eyesight is light, as Aezkul do not have the best night vision, and weather conditions that pull back on visibility.
At night or in bad weather, these dragons rely more on their keen sense of smell, which can pick up unique scents and identify them as easily as most other kul. As they are usually aerial predators, Aezkul generally are unpracticed with following scent trails, however, and rely on it more for sensing proximity to whatever they may be tracking down than actually physically tracking it.
Also due to their primarily aerial nature, Aezkul evolved coloring that mimics the sky to mask their large forms from possible prey below. The most common colors include blues, from a deep ocean blue to light sky blue, and indigo colourations. Splitting off from these common colors are more deep purples and pinks, which are very uncommon for those descending from central or western Aezkul, but much more common to those in the east, as camouflage proved less important than speed and ambush tactics. Descendents of ancient western Aezkul introduced more colors to the spectrum as well, which are comparatively rare - seagreens, blue-green, and a near forest green. The rarest colors of all are greyscale, barely preserved from the common ancestor of Aezkul and Blazkul. Grey to near-black scales are nearly one in a million, but do exist on occasion. See the image below for examples of coloration.
To break up the monotony of the primary scale color and thus break their outlines against the background, all Aezkul tend to sport patterns of some description. The variety is astounding and there seems to be no set common pattern, with each individual race and kul sporting any variety of spots, stripes, and swirls. Colors of these markings, on the other hand, do have a rarity. The vast majority of markings are a lighter color of the base scale color, shifting hues slightly to neighboring values on the spectrum, but otherwise staying similar. On occasion, an Aezkul may sport markings that are very different colors from their base color, giving them a unique look that stands out from the crowd. Some Aezkul may sport white markings instead of color ones, but no Aezkul ever have black markings or similar dark colors.
This marking color also applies to their racial marking. Each Aezkul has a particular racial marking on their tail tip, paws, and on the edges of the dorsal side of their wing, depending upon whether they are an Aezrik, Aezkiel, or Aezser. See the race section for more information on racial markings and differences.
The undersides of Aezkul wing membranes are always a light color - be it the marking color, a lighter version of the marking color, or white. The scutes on their underside share this color without any exceptions.
Eye color varies in multiple bright shades of blue, green, yellow, and orange.
Aezkul life starts as one out of one to four mottled grey-and-brown eggs laid into a nest of animal furs and other soft materials. It is the mother's job to keep the eggs warm and protected while the father provides - in the case of society, a male will work while the female incubates the eggs. When the male returns to the nest, the female will usually be relieved of incubation and free to eat, stretch, or do other leisure activities. During periods in which both parents are free, they will alternate incubation and breaks.
Eggs hatch after approximately 150 days in incubation, following a 60-day gestation period. This long incubation time leads to a lot of dangers during early development, such as cold snaps or heat waves. Eggs are in the fall, incubated over the winter, and hatch in the spring when food is plentiful. This cycle is enforced by the fact that Aezkul are only fertile for a short period of time each year in the summer.
Once an egg hatches, the newborn hatchling is somewhat helpless but at least can see, hear, smell, and vocalize. Within a few hours, the hatchling can walk on its own and after a day it can run. Speech and other complex topics, however, take a long time to come. Physically, they grow swiftly, reaching half their adult height at age five. Around this time, the fire breathing organs are developed enough to produce a small flame and the juvenile will have learned to fly.
Growth begins to slow down until the dragon reaches its max height near sexual maturity at fifteen years of age. From here, growth still occurs, but is at an excruciatingly slow rate.
Aezkul can live until four to five hundred years of age if unhindered by disease or other non-natural deaths, which is rather rare. Most Aezkul will succumb to some cause of death other than old age far before the end of their lifespan. The eldest of their species are massive in scale, however, and may even be up to three meters tall in their final years. Aezkul view these elders as wise protectors of their ways and honor their ability to defy the odds and live past the average age of 100-150.
The Aezkul have three races, known as the Aezrik, Aezkiel, and Aezser. Each race originated from a different section of the mountain range in which Aezkul evolved, causing differences in their morphology. Due to interbreeding and race mixing, these three races have blended together over time. While they all have their tendencies, the only true holdover from the original three distinct races is the racial markings on their paws, tailtip, and wings.
The Aezrik originate from the mountainous western coastline of the Aezrikka Zule. Their ancestors lived their lives dodging between the large rocky towers and slipping between sheer cliffs when hunting for their prey, leading to them evolving the Kra wing type as it is known today. These ancestral dragons were often seagreen or dark in color, matching the wet black rocks and sea that they often flew around.
The colors and wing type hold over to this day, with most Aezrik leaning towards greens and Kra wings for their physical appearance. Interbreeding has given them a possibility of the other variety of colors and wing types, but the touch of their history still lives on.
Most notable, just like all races, is the racial marking. Aezrik developed fading markings on their paws, with all their appendages tipped in their marking color after a lead-in gentle fade. It's not uncommon for Aezrik to also have an extra racial marking on their snouts, with a gentle fade of color expanding towards their eyes from the tip of their muzzle.
Aezrik are usually on the smaller end of the spectrum as the tight quarters they once inhabited didn't favor larger sizes, leaving most of this race a little stunted compared to others.
Aezkiel are the most common Aezkul race as their ancestors once laid claim to the largest central stretches of the zule where lush valleys and herds of prey are common. Most Aezkiel still possess Lan wings as a holdover from the ancient need to soar for hours when searching for prey or following packs across valleys.
While they can display all colors in the Aezkul spectrum, Aezkiel more commonly lean towards blue hues, matching the sky. Their markings are also the least pronounced of all Aezkul - while other races may have bright striking markings, Aezkiel tend to have more muted colors that are closer to their base scale color.
The racial marking Aezkiel possess is a stippled rippling marking, looking like water breaking against a cliff. Aezkiel are of average height in the spectrum usually, unable to grow massive in Aezkul terms but certainly taller than the average Aezrik.
Despite being the least common, Aezser are oftened considered the 'model' race when one thinks of an Aezkul. Living in the most dangerous conditions in the eastern Zule, Aezser evolved to be larger than their racial kin and possess strong speed- and diving-focused Zier wings that allow them to zip between peaks in mere hours.
Aezser ancestors were often ambush predators, striking large prey out of the sky and grappling it until it either died or broke on the ground below. Fighting and hunting semi-intelligent creatures often spelled trouble for the ancient Aezser, leading them to become brighter and bigger to scare off possible attackers or those who wanted to usurp their territory.
As part of this, the Aezser markings are often extremely bright in color. Whites on striking purples is far more common in the Aezser than in the other races, a hallmark of their ancient days scaring off competition. In fact, their behavior is even slightly altered compared to the other races; while both Aezkiel and Aezrik are often patient, Aezser are known to be more haughty and aggressive.
Their racial marking is another holdover from their days defending territories; they formed into striking swirls and stripes in evolution's attempt to warn off predators or challengers.
Aezkul are highly social, relatively peaceful, and very intelligent beings. They are among the three civilized kul species, alongside the Hozkul and Blazkul. They have forged their nation on the slopes of the Aezrikka Zule, a mountain range that splits Threa's northern forests and southern deserts.
Aezkul value knowledge above all else and will seek it out extensively to satiate their thirst. Their society lends itself to this, offering schooling and opportunities to leave the nation and 'study abroad' so to speak. Many Aezkul will busy themselves with their own personal studies, observing or experiementing with things of interest.
Due to this experimentation and drive for knowledge, Aezkul have learned to be relatively peaceful in contrast with most creatures in Threa. They have learned that knowledge comes from peaceful negotiation far more often than war. Aezkul are not known to outwardly attack other creatures or nations for territory, preferring to keep within their mountainous borders. Despite this, they are very territorial and see attempts at taking their land as the highest form of insult and threat as they have never acted against others in aggressive ways in recent history.
While living in society has the benefits of not requiring every individual to hunt, Aezkul do still have distinctive hunting patterns that are embedded into their instincts. Aezkul with ancestry of Kra wings will know how to maneuver through tight spaces to drive prey into a corner and take it down either aerially or on the ground. Those with Lan ancestry soar far above the ground and keep an eye on movement on the floors of valleys, then swoop at high speeds to pick it off the ground and kill mid-air. Zier have a knack for diving at aerial prey and taking it out of the sky with their sheer weight hitting its back, or grappling it to the ground.
Aezkul are active all year round, despite the harsh winters that plague the peaks of the Zule. Their habitat includes regions below the harshest peaks within the treeline, allowing them to stay active without migrating away from their societies.
Aezkul are very social dragons, requiring contact with each other to remain psychologically healthy. They can form strong friendships and intimate bonds with not only their own species, but that of other sapient beings if it pans out in a way that allows the individual to interact with another species. Friendships, once formed, tend to last a very long time with the Aezkul as companionship is highly valued. Losing a friend is akin to losing a loved one to these dragons and can send them into a depressive state.
Familial bonds are also very strong within the species, with siblings often keeping touch with each other throughout their lives and at least being aware of the current status of their parents, if not more. With the long lifespan of the Aezkul, keeping track of long generations of children isn't truly possible, and thus the Aezkul tend to only value immediate family such as parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings rather than grandchildren, grandparents, and so on.
Within a group, Aezkul are naturally diplomatic beings and prefer to defer to their friends for advice before making a decision as an individual or a group. They understand the value of logical input from others, even if they do not always use it, and prefer to make an uneducated decision with the help of others than an educated one alone. While this social reassurance can be seen as a strength, many may see it as a downfall as a singular Aezkul is prone to hesitation before its actions without a group around it to defer to.
This sort of behavior likely calls back to ancient wild behavior in which sibling groups of Aezkul would stick together after leaving the nest, working together to keep each other alive in dire situations and protecting each other's backs. Females often stick together more closely than males, who, in the wilds, used to split off from their siblings sooner to seek their own territory and mates.
When interacting with other species, Aezkul are naturally far more cautious than within their own kind. They have a habit of thinking twice before divulging any information to an outside species for fear of causing upset or instigating a fight. Outside species to the Aezkul are often considered untrustworthy as nearly every other nation or tribe has a habit of using information against its neighbor in warfare, which the Aezkul direly want to avoid within their own borders. Therefore, Aezkul can be seen as secretive, if helpful, beings. There is no short of medical or intellectual help to outsiders who cross paths with an Aezkul, but an attempt to learn the 'why' or the 'how' of their actions usually ends up in a brick wall.
Aezkul courtship behavior is usually initiated by a male of the species. While no elaborate displays are made, males subconsciously tend to show off their mental and physical strengths to females they feel an attraction to when they are able to. Males also display protective behaviors towards a female of their desire and attempt to call off other males from pursuing her.
Within a society, this behavior manifests as attempts to impress a female either consciously or subconsciously. While females also have the chance to approach a male, it's simply not ingrained as much in their behavior for this opposite to occur. Therefore, many females often end up confirming a relationship over initiating it.
What is considered attractive to an Aezkul varies between individuals, but many value mental competence over physical strength, a hallmark of a civilized species. Personalities come into play as the most important factor, but physical shape and looks will also influence a decision. Once an Aezkul finds a mate, they will mate for life barring the usual exceptions.
The Aezkul live primarily in the Aezrikka Zule, the large mountain range spanning between the coasts of Threa. Here, they make their homes below the tree line, on the slopes of the tall mountains that make up the range. Their population spikes around river-fed valleys and other fertile sections of land, though there are Aezkul that live far off near the coasts in the black spires of ancient rock or to the southeast near the Savannah in the dry more rocky peaks.
The common river valleys are lush and covered in thick green deciduous forests in the lower slopes, fading out to evergreens before the treeline hits. Rain is common in the northern side of the mountain range, getting dryer the further south you are, leading most Aezkul to live in the northern half of their range. Prey is expansive in this area, from small herbivores to big-time game nearly the size of Aezkul themselves foraging on the verdant slopes.
Aezkul are predominantly carnivorous, meaning meat makes up nearly all of their diet. Their gut is able to process some vegetables or fruits, but many can make them ill due to lack of ability to pull nutrients from the food.
The primary source of food of Aezkul varies depending on which section of the mountain range in which they live. In the far east, hunting parties usually take down large wyverns to feed nearby settlements. The central mountains provide various sources of food, from small game to large herbivores, that the Aezkul prey on equally. The western Aezkul have a knack at fishing off the coast, picking up large fish or other aquatic animals straight from the water.
Aezkul have no direct predators, but they face competition from large predators in their region, such as wyverns or gryphons, that often band together to fight for the common food sources. Old caves in the region are inhabited by Blindseekers, which are a threat to any creature that may cross their path, leading the Aezkul to avoid these tunnels like the plague.
Aezkul split from a common ancestor with the Blazkul thousands of generations ago. This common ancestor settled across the deserts and mountain peaks, breathing fire and using its flight to assert dominance in the region. While the southern ancestral species found its way with flame in the desert, those that stuck to the mountains in the north found life in the skies. Over time, the blackish scales of this common ancestral gave way to the more lighter, sky-like hues today through the process of natural selection.
As this species spread out over the mountains, individual populations found different ways to take advantage of the environment. Ancient Aezrik fished the coast and made use of agile flight to hunt prey. Ancient Aezkiel soared the skies in the central range, picking off prey with swooping attacks from above while the old Aezser boasted their dominance in the east, fighting and hunting down wyverns and gryphons from the sky.
These individual subsets of the ancient Aezkul found themselves becoming genetically distant from their cousins, forming races of the same species. However, genetic mixing at the edges of these territories kept the races from becoming far enough apart to speciate. As society began to form, these races formed their own nations protecting their ways of life, claiming the highest peaks as their own in a sense of power. The history of the Republic of the Zule tells the tale from then on.