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The Gold Dragons
The Immaculate Order stands like a bastion across the world, but every bastion has its cracks, and there exists a mirror to the Order. That mirror is the Golden Dragons. Exactly when the Dragons rose is unclear, but until recently, it was a minor and often-surpressed heresy. Over the last few years, however, the Dragons have gained massive ground, spreading across the world and slipping into many areas.
On the surface, the Gold Dragons, or as they refer to themselves, the "Immaculate Order of the Golden Dragon", are much like other Immaculates. The bulk of their doctrine, in fact, is identical to that of other Immaculates, and they teach the proper order of humanity, the hierarchy of Essence, and similar principles. In fact, most Immaculate monks would find themselves very comfortable within the Gold Dragons.
However, the Gold Dragons claim that the Immaculate Order has been subverted by secular concerns, and has committed a grave falsehood. According to them, the hierarchy of Essence continues past the Dragon-Blooded, up to the Lunars, and then to the Solars. Like other people, the Gold Dragons are not aware of the Sidereals, and their texts make no mention of them. Because of these belief, the Gold Dragons seek out Lunars and Solars to learn Immaculate doctrine and to support the world.
According to the Gold Dragons, the reduction in the number of Solar Exaltations over the centuries was because the world is mired in sin. Lunars are forced into non-Immaculate situations by the Wyld Hunt, a corrupt organization that brainwashes and deludes loyal Immaculates, and cannot attain proper spiritual purity. The Dragon-Blooded are ensnared in the sin of the Shogunate and cannot ascend to Lunar souls, falling back into the mire instead. Only recently, due to their own dedicated efforts, have truly pure souls started to return.
Members of the Gold Dragons will refer to Solars and Lunars as Exalts, and use their proper (or even flowery) caste terminologies. They worship the Immaculate Dragons, Luna, and the Unconquered Sun equally, and often preach such to others.
The Gold Dragons are strongest in the Western League, the only area of the world where they can be truly free. It is in the League that they have their headquarters, and from the League they try to spread into other nations.
Outside of the League, however, membership in the Gold Dragons is generally hidden. In the Balmori Republic, it is a popular heresy for young students to join, but they are rarely devout. Instead, it is a way to seem rebellious without going too far outside the mold, and it is generally treated as such. Older Gold Dragons are viewed with suspicion, although they are not actually outlawed. Chiaroscuro has a few Gold Dragons, but if they are discovered, they are generally exiled for heresy unless they can buy their freedom (the exception, as always, is Saridan, where the Gold Dragons thrive by appealing to the poverty and despair of the people). Deheleshen and Pangu crack down heavily on even rumours of the Gold Dragons, considering them to be one of the most dangerous heresies because of their roots in the Immaculate Order and support of the Anathema. New Estasia also tends to surpress the Gold Dragons, considering their policies to be counter-societal, and while Rathess doesn't actively surpress them, they consider them suspicious (ironically, for their support of the Dragons rather than of the Sun). The Deathlords, of course, dislike any Immaculate doctrines, and most minor nations tend to support traditional Immaculates against strange heresies.
Still, there are Gold Dragons in almost every nation, and Solars and Lunars can find surprising support from unexpected sources.
The message of the Gold Dragons is both seductive and familiar. They preach that most of what people are doing already is correct; it is only a corrupt upper power that keeps the poor poor and the rich rich, and it only takes a few changes to make things right. Because of this, most of those who join the Gold Dragons are poor. While this gives them a tremendous population base, their actual power base is much smaller. Many of the rich are not interested in any form of the Immaculate Order, and are certainly not interested in an Immaculate Order that further restricts their capability to become richer. That said, there are a few rich patrons of the Dragons that help to keep the religion afloat.
Dragon-Blooded within the Gold Dragons are taught that they are superior to mortals, enlightened beings, but not quite as enlightened as the Celestial Exalted. They are trained as Immaculate monks, using the Five Glorious Dragon Paths, and exist both as leaders of mortals and, where appropriate, as servants and guides for the Celestial Exalted. Unthinking devotion is not encouraged, however; Dragon-Blooded of the Gold Dragons will try to guide their superiors back on-course if they think that they are drifting.
Celestial Exalted of the Gold Dragons are usually martial artists; however, they are often not practitioners of the Dragon Paths, as they are considered to be above that already. Instead, the Gold Dragons teach two styles to Celestial Exalts: the Sun's Glory path and the Moon's Radiance path. Both of these paths are strange and rare, and Celestial Exalts find special advantages in them. Dragon-Bloods who have mastered at least two Dragon Paths may also be allowed to train in one of these styles, and either Celestial type may learn either path (although they usually learn their own).
The Gold Dragons happily recruit Dragon-Blooded, although they don't get very many. Most Immaculates are not likely to throw aside their religion in favour of one that places them further down the totem pole.
The Gold Dragons also have some Sidereal support, although not much. While the Jade and Steel factions consider the Gold Dragons to be a tremendous insult, the Gold Faction considers them to be incredibly amusing, and have worked to keep the Dragons intact. Now that the Gold Faction is trying to recruit Solars for its own purposes, they are using the Dragons to flush out Solars, and hoping to grab Solars for themselves who do not take to the Gold Dragons' theories.
In addition, some members of the Lunar Undercities consider the Gold Dragons to be a valuable service; they teach humility and deny the value of consumption and sloth. Although the Undercities do not consider themselves inferior to Solars, they previously understood that the Gold Dragons served a purpose, and did not overly agitate to claim Lunars who chose the Dragons as their place in life. Now that the Solars are returning, however, many Undercity leaders are becoming uncomfortable with the place that has been designed for the Lunars within the Gold Dragons, and discussions are beginning to be held about whether this state of affairs should continue.
Finally, of course, there are the Solar members. At the moment, few Solars have found their way to the Gold Dragons, but that state of affairs may change. Those Solars who are within the Dragons are powerful forces, however, pushing the power of the Gold Dragons throughout the cracks of the world.