When AIVAS was found, everyone (or at least almost everyone) thought that Pern would be a better place. For a while, they were right. The dragonriders formed their Weyrholds, and the Southern Continent was settled. Telescopes went up all over Pern, to watch the skies. Technology improved, until books and paper were no longer luxury items, and electricity and running water could be found in the major Holds, which grew to be more like open towns than the fortified dwellings of old. Clocks were an invention that everyone appreciated, and a whole section of the Smitchcraft became devoted to making gadgets out of gears. A few rare steam powered boats, carriages and even a flying machine were built for the very wealthiest. Vaccines kept people healthy and crops could be reliably grown every year. The forests grew back and some dedicated Beastcrafters nurtured earth species long thought extinct. Woodland creatures like deer, rabbits, and wolves now roamed the wilderness. Pern was prospering.
But the dragons, those that had kept Pern safe for so long, dwindled without the threat of Thread to drive their breeding. Every turn, clutches grew fewer, smaller. Queens hatched but rarely. Many believed that eventually the species would go extinct, leaving only the diminutive firelizards behind. Some thought it fitting. It would be Pern as the colonists had intended so long ago.
The remaining dragonriders could only see it as a tragedy, but most of them felt there was nothing they could do. One bronzerider however, didn’t take their predicament lying down. J’rog of bronze Tuncayth had no intention of fading quietly into the annals of history. He believed that dragonriders belonged at the top of Pern’s hierarchy, ruling over the properly grateful citizens. So for turns he quietly gathered followers, until he was ready to take control. Over a period of months, his compatriots took over every Weyrhold, brutally silencing any opposition. Once all dragonriders were under his control, he declared himself Weyrleader. He stopped greens from chewing firestone, and confined them in a single Weyrhold, where only the largest bronzes were allowed near. In less than a turn he had hundreds of eggs on the Sands.
But there weren’t even close to enough youngsters to bond with the new crop of hatchlings in the Weyrhold, so it was time for the next stage of the plan. The dragonriders went to all the major holdings and then the minor, abducting all children between 10 and 15 turns and holding them hostage. J’rog threatened to kill these children if the holders misbehaved.
Thus J’rog solidified his control over the civilian population of Pern. Combined with his brutal takeover of the Weyrholds, the ambitious bronzerider essentially became the master of all Pern. The dragonriders, once more, stood above all.
For fifty turns J’rog ruled with an iron claw. Safe behind the walls of Honshu Weyrhold, he directed squads of loyal dragonriders to burn out any sign of dissent. All dragonrider Candidates, including those from among the hostages taken in J’rog’s rise to power, were indoctrinated to revere him to an almost deific level.
But such power did not come without a price. J’rog grew more and more paranoid with each passing year. He discarded the old dragonrider tradition of electing the rider of the queen’s mate as Weyrleader, instead maintaining his position through personal charisma and the threat of swift retribution against any who would oppose him. Not once did he name a successor, fearing such a move would only encourage a coup.
Whether or not his fears were well founded, J’rog died not from violence, but from fever, mad and ravaged by age. With the loss of its Weyrleader, Pern immediately fell into chaos. Factions broke apart or were wiped out as quickly as they arose. Those riders raised in the worship of the old Weyrleader fought harshly to maintain unity among the Holds. Despite the might of their dragons and their military discipline, the constant conflict took its toll.
After decades of strife, that which J’rog had feared so long ago was now almost a reality. The dragonriders were nearly extinct. Just two Queens and their clutches, plus less than fifty adults remained. A council was called and A’tahk, the surprisingly intelligent and diplomatic grandson of J’rog, proposed an unorthodox solution. A’tahk had been raised in the Starsmith Hall, and had been a protege of the charismatic genius who was master of that craft, Rigel. They had formulated a plan to preserve the dragons and end the conflict, while maintaining control over Pernese society.
The plan, as complicated as it was cunning, was agreed to unanimously, many of the riders felt they had no other recourse. And then one month later, after a period of unusual calm, all the dragonriders disappeared. Master Starsmith Rigel, a trusted and influential man, informed the populace that the dragons had all gone extinct. Furthermore, he proclaimed that the Weyrholds would now be property of the Starsmiths. No one protested; the places were full of evil memories. If those stargazers wanted them, more power to them. As for the dragons, no one was sorry to see them go. Some were skeptical, but after Turns passed with no sight of the beasts, it was accepted that they were gone for good.
Meanwhile, Rigel wielded his influence as deftly as a needle. The Weyrholds, now named Starholds, became more secretive by the day, gradually restricting access until it was an accepted fact that no one ever saw inside a Starhold, unless they were an apprentice. And those children never came back. Master Rigel was so helpful though, always warning them when he saw danger through his telescope, storms, or wild felines or flocks of hungry wherries. If he had to take drastic measures sometimes to ensure their safety, no one blamed him.
Ten turns after the dragons disappeared, Master Rigel made an announcement, an announcement that he claimed would change Pern forever. The destiny of every man, woman, and child, he said, was written in the stars. By adhering to the destiny that was preordained for each person, prosperity and peace could be guaranteed for all. After the turns of conflict, the promise of security and certainty quickly gained adherents, so that by the time of Rigel’s death some thirty turns later, the future of every Pernese child depended on one thing, the Sign of their birth.
150 turns later, the Starhold covertly controls nearly every aspect of Pernese society. No major decision is made without consulting the Starsmiths, and children seeking an apprenticeship can only enter Crafthalls that accept their birth sign. Parents wanting a child of a particular sign might pay bribes or hide their newborns to make sure they had the proper birthdate. But the Starholds would always take children that were unwanted, though they were never seen again. If anyone was skeptical of the validity of the Signs, they certainly never spoke it aloud, more for fear of social shaming than of violence. The Starholds were secretive to be sure, but no one thought they were oppressive, or even sinister really. And dragons were barely thought of, they had been extinct for Turns now, hadn’t they?
The Pernese would’ve been quite surprised to hear that the dragons had never really gone. A’tahk had merely taken the remaining riders 25 turns into the future, a great leap of faith to be sure, for Rigel might’ve betrayed him. But, luckily for the dragons’ sake, it was not so. They arrived to find that places had been prepared for them. So a new life began for dragonkind. A life spent hiding, indoors, or under cover of darkness. Only allowed to stretch their wings on strict schedules or in desolate places. Witnesses were killed, or recruited. Children were taken, some at birth, and some at age seven, to become Acolytes, instilled with cult-like loyalty to the Starhold and strict military discipline. No one had ever thought to rebel…
It is the turn 3401 AL, what would have been the 13th Pass of the Red Star, if Thread had still been falling. A girl runs away from home again, and during a rainstorm, hides in a cave near the long-abandoned Monaco Bay Weyr. There, in a pot filled with still-hot sand, is an enormous copper egg, already cracking. And that is how Keahi Impressed Copper Makedath. Makedath was smarter than the average dragon; she told Keahi that she had all the knowledge of her mother within her. Keahi, of course, had no problem accepting Makedath’s explanation, not knowing anything about dragonkind, and so learned much from the Copper’s wisdom. Together, they made a home in the dusty ruins of Monaco Bay, calling it Astraea Weyr after the dragon homes of old. With a combination of educated guesses and luck they learned to work together, to hunt, to fly, even go between, and all was well, until two Turns later..