The KessRith (alternately spelled Kess'Rith or Kess Rith) are a reptilian alien race that can be best described as half-iguana, half-rhino centaur and all agression. The KessRith have a warrior society that is loosely allied with the Renegades. It is rumored that the KessRith acquired FTL travel from the S'sora and used slow sub-light generation ships before their encounters with the S'sora.
Build a burly centaur from the body of a rhinoceros, add the head of a Tyrannosaurus, cover it with the skin of an alligator, and you've got a KessRith. Bony plates cover him from head to tail, including his back, breast and arms. Dark gray to green in color, his smile is lined with shark-like teeth - making this incredibly strong creature very fearsome to look at. From a clan-based society, KessRith are warriors who adhere to a code as strict and strange as the Japanese code of Bushido. They are consummate warriors and fierce enemies of the Empire.
For the first three thousand years of Human/KessRith contact, the KessRith were implacable foes who neither granted quarter or expected it. Since that time, they have also proven powerful and loyal allies to the Commonwealth. Their fatalistic outlook on life colors everything they are and do, but their sense of humor mocks this more serious side of their nature.
Like the duckbilled platypus, the KessRith have been put forth as proof that God has a sense of humor. Centauroid in configuration, they combine the body of a rhinoceros with a powerful tail and a torso that makes human gladiators look weak. Their head rests on a strong bull neck and their gaping mouth is lined with teeth that look and function much like those of a terrestrial shark. Their hands have four fingers and an opposable thumb, but their four feet have only two toes apiece.
Thick, fleshy plates cap their tail and protect their torso, arms, neck and skull. While KessRith appear to most non-KessRith as gray in color, the KessRith claim they can detect racial differences among themselves. Their eyes are red and tend to take on a crimson glow in the backlight of a monitor or flashlight.
The KessRith are built for heavy combat. They are, without a doubt, the strongest of the sentient races and they value physical strength. In fact, struggle is so noble, for all but pregnant females, that few KessRith actually reach the 100 years of age their physiology would allow them. Most die 20 to 30 years prematurely, though no KessRith would use that term if an individual died in battle.
Pregnancies last for 23 standard months (which is approximately one year on Sovi' KessRoth, the KessRith homeworld) and calves are capable of locomotion within two hours of birth. While female KessRith have no breasts and do not lactate, they are regurgitate a thick, nourishing mucus with the color and consistency of warm caramel to feed their young. The young reach maturity in 15 years, and the average female will bear children from that time to the age of 40.
More than one calf at a time is unusual, because KessRith females are able to control their rate of pregnancy. From a single impregnation a female can retain enough genetic material to fertilize as many as a dozen eggs. This means a KessRith warrior can continue to provide genetic material for over a decade after his death.
Female KessRith can induce pregnancy if they have a store of sperm, provided the local conditions are appropriate for gestation. The female's hormonal balance is dependent upon the availability of food and water. The male/female ratio of 1 to 5 is similar to that of migratory herd animals. The development of a partially upright posture has been seen as a survival trait for surveying the local area for predators. (The mind boggles at what could have eaten the KessRith, and the fossils in the KessRith Museum of Natural History make terrestrial dinosaurs look like salamanders.)
3214 was the year in which a mixed Human/Naram taskforce ran afoul of a KessRith clan fleet over the Naram world of Tloca. The initial engagement should have been, at best, a draw for the KessRith, but they kept coming even when their largest cruiser was falling apart. The humanoids managed to destroy it, but they took severe casualties on their flagship in doing so. The KessRith fleet vanished into T-Space, but within 5 months was back to contest the world again.
The second battle of Tloca went better for the humanoids, but again the KessRith seemed to prefer death to surrender. It was only later that the humans realized the Clan was on a Fr' chakti-gcog – a Clanhunt – because they had been driven from their old home by a clan schism. Their choice was to find a new homeworld or die. Most of them did die, and the remaining leaders asked for a truce so they could repair their warships and join the battle again.
The Naram Grand Elders of Tloca finally realized why the KessRith clan was fighting so hard. They offered to let the KessRith land in peace and join them. The KessRith commander was so angered by this offer, he took his destroyer into the atmosphere and strafed the ruling council complex. The destroyer itself was destroyed, but the KessRith reply to the Council's offer was understood.
The KessRith discovered T-Space technology about the same time the Naram and Humans met. While they claim to have made the discovery on their own, evidence suggests they co-opted the technology from the Ssora. The KessRith had undertaken interstellar colonization using generation ships - giant biospheres designed to provide a home for generation after generation of KessRith while they traveled across the vast distances between stars. Ssora raiders found one of these ships and made the mistake of opening what turned out to be a Pandora's Box.
While it may be true that the KessRith got T-Space drives from the Ssora they, like Trajan, did more with Ssora technology than the Ssora ever did. Being powerful and warlike, they swept through space like barbarian hordes. They worried less about finding suitable worlds to colonize than they did about finding foes to fight. For a short time it looked as if they would devote themselves to wiping out the Ssora, but Rlarka GosKler, the leader of All Clans, deflected them. In what became the ruling sentiment from 2650 to 3214, he asked, "How is it better to pursue an inferior foe than to accept the challenges of besting a world?"
The KessRith threw themselves into transforming worlds, creating hot, arid savannahs. Clanhunts became a way to split off a portion of the population to find and prepare another world. These fragmented clans remain allied despite the trauma of being forced off a homeworld by brothers and sisters.
Before Tloca, the KessRith had met no species they considered to be worthy foes. (KessRith historians begrudgingly admit that the Ssora were an annoyance, but they hasten to point out that Alexander Trajan accomplished more in three years using Ssora ships and tactics than the Ssora had in the three millennia they had battled with the KessRith.) With the discovery of mankind, KessRith philosophy began a slow transformation.
KessRith incursions into Human and Naram territory increased, and the KessRith frenzy for battle became something mothers used to frighten bad children. If the KessRith lost a world with a 10-ship taskforce, you could be certain a 20-ship taskforce would soon show up. Efforts to appease them only angered the KessRith and provoked them to commit what Humans viewed as atrocities.
Then, the quick and deadly course of the Snow Plague allowed KessRith forces to sweep over the Naram, Human and Commonwealth worlds. The virulence of the opposition that still faced them surprised the KessRith, but it did little more than slow the juggernaut Those Humans who could escaped. Those who could not were enslaved. So it remained until the rise of Alexander Trajan.
The Human revolt surprised the KessRith. They had not expected Trajan's move in splitting them from the Ssora. KessRith society also hampered them because of the way that an individual KessRith warrior saw himself within that society. His loyalty was, in this order, to his family, his homeworld, his profession and finally the ruling Quoqa Clan. When the revolt in the Commonwealth drove the troops out, many remaining KessRith identified with their homeworld and local family. They came to look upon the Commonwealth as their new ruling clan, and the quick alliance between the Commonwealth and the KessRith Empire helped assuage whatever guilt might have remained in Commonwealth KessRith.
The KessRith are organized into extended polygamous family/clan units that generally include thousands of individuals. Each male has one to five wives - the number determined by the Dominator as a sign of the male's rank within the family. The Dominator is the senior male of a family, and his tenure in that post is still often decided by combat, though political and occupational skill make it a good idea to leave a physically weak but otherwise powerful male in charge of the family.
The typical family unit consists of a Dominator, his wives, his sons and their wives. Female KessRith leave their family and join that of their husband. Family units combine into herds based on related Dominators. The Patriarch is the strongest of the herd's Dominators. Herds form clans, the largest social group.
A Dominator is subject only to his Patriarch. He allocates the number of wives any individual may have and can even order one male to surrender a wife to another. The Patriarch can do the same, even moving someone from one family to another. The Clan Patriarch has the same power on the clan level; no one questions unless he is prepared to battle for rank and domination on that level.
With sentience, the KessRith have realized that brute strength is not the way to decide Domination. A Domination battle takes place in three parts, a survival challenge (to pit the candidates against the world), a mental/verbal challenge (to test their reasoning ability against each other) and physical combat. Because of the importance of the first and second tests in deciding dominance, a sharp but physically inferior KessRith may become a Dominator and will be accorded all due respect for that position.
This also allows the KessRith to recognize superior ability among other species in the galaxy. The KessRith often enjoy malavoqa – "sweatless combat" is a rough translation. This is a form of verbal sparring that involves intricate wordplay, and the human affinity for punning has made them favored malavoqa contestants.
Because inheritance and descent are figured paternally, and because it is a polygamous system, it would appear that women are little valued and have no importance beyond raising children. This is not true. The KessRith are egalitarian about the position of women in society and they accept them into the military on an equal footing with males. Women are limited in politics, but "puppet Dominators" are not unknown. More importantly, women keep track of bloodlines (since they know for certain who the father of their children is) and make sure that marriages do not combine poor genetics. As marriage partners generally come from herds within the same clan, genetic compatibility is constantly overseen.
Battles between clans are common, though civilization has changed things from the days when two clans would array themselves on a dusty plain for a fight to the death. Now Banker Clans wage financial war with other Banker Clans, and so forth. One human historian characterized these battles as mixing the worst parts of corporate raiding with organized crime wars. Dueling is still legal, however, and rare is the KessRith who allows himself to get very far from his sword.
The KessRith respect no one who does not value combat above all, but despite this emphasis on conflict the KessRith are capable of artistic endeavors. Granted, they do tend to martial expression in their art, swordmaking, armoring and the like are highly valued skills and artforms. Fighting a duel with a treasured clan sword, then, becomes a performance and is likely to spawn yet one more tale to be passed from Dominator to child.
KessRith governmental organization isn't, and is cited as the overwhelming reason the Ssora and KessRith do not get along - the Ssora cannot abide disorganization. (The KessRith maintain the Ssora hate their government because the little lizards don't know who to betray to whom.) Each clan is an entity unto itself, although most are related to a half-dozen other clans because of a blood link somewhere in the past. (These larger clan groupings are called meta-clans or Unities.) When a unity includes a financial clan, a manufacturing clan, a political clan and a military clan, why would it need any outside help?
Only if a clan has been defeated in combat with another clan does it defer to that other clan. The dominant clans on a world select two representatives to a loosely defined Diet within the Province where their world is located, and that Diet then sends representatives to the Council of Champions on Sovi' KessRoth to select the Thirteen Clan Leaders who rule. The Thirteen choose one of their own as the Great Dominator and since the time of Z'tac (around 5000), the Grand Dominator has always been from the Quoqa clan. The current Grand Dominator is Tvarqi Quoqa.
The first major difficulty with the whole system is that no terms of office are set for any of the governmental structures. Someone from within a clan group could challenge and battle his way up through the Diet and Council to become a Clan Leader. Z'tac did exactly that. Granted, a radical turnover is rare, but what happened once could happen again.
The other problem with the system is that decisions are passed down from on high, but are ratified or rejected all the way down to the clan level. Most decisions are upheld, but the law of perversity always comes into effect. This means that most clans respect the rights of Ssora to live in peace on worlds, but others occasionally go raiding against the Ssora on a whim. A clan battle and domination may result to keep such a rogue clan in its place, but the phrase "house rules" takes on a new importance when among the KessRith.
The dominant philosophy among the KessRith can be summed up simply: a bull is defined by the challenges he has accepted and exalted in the struggles he has won. It is simple yet eloquent. KessRith do not bear grudges because they respect those who are able to defeat them. As with the initial battles between the KessRith and Humanity, a defeated KessRith will always strive to fight once more, this is seen as homage paid to the victor.
Without doubt, the KessRith see TOG as the greatest challenge they have ever faced. They know that to lose the struggle against TOG is to be exterminated as a race. This they refuse to accept and fight on to prevent it. They recognize, value and respect the abilities of their allies in this struggle.
The KessRith have a very strict code of honor that binds them to family, homeworld and Dominant Clan. It governs everything from forms of address for all manner of family, herd and clan rela-tions, to the proper way to kill oneself to expunge a spot on your honor (generally by doing whatever you can to take as many of the enemy with you). This code specifies 1296 different shades of dishonor and 432 different acts that will atone for those dishonors. Over 90 atonements involve dying.
Physically imposing, the KessRith are superior combatants. They can be good and loyal friends, but their ties to family, homeworld and clan can supercede and destroy friendships if they receive a command to that effect from their Dominator. Personal honor and respect of peers are vitally important to the KessRith, but fawning over them angers them.