The Skargh are a brutish, warlike reptilian race of techno-barbarians found in the home universe of the Imperium of
Sidhae. Best described as alien Mongols/Vikings in space, they thrive on war, violence, bloodshed and plunder, believing it to be a religious obligation to battle and shed blood to appease their bloodthirsty gods.
The Skargh Empire is the largest power in the Imperium's home galaxy in terms of sheer numbers and worlds held, and holds a bitter long-standing rivalry with humans and Sidhae, who make up for this advantage with technology and more sophisticated economy somewhat.
Appearance and physiology
The Skargh have many characteristic reptilian traits in their appearance, such as tough, scaly skin with bony scutes. Bipedal and vaguely humanoid in stature, the average Skargh stands roughly 2.5 metres tall, though this stature is somewhat reduced by their slightly slouched posture. Skargh have two arms that have four digits with opposable thumbs terminating in sharp claws, and a stout tail of average length. As could be expected from a race of highly-martial character, the Skargh have a powerful, muscular build, and are considerably stronger and faster than the average human. Males have prominent tusks, and are shorter but more muscular and massive than females. Skargh skin is dry, tough and scaly, having the texture of sandpaper. The Skargh have two eyes with vertically-slit pupils similar to cats. They have excellent night vision, and while their ability to see colour is somewhat limited compared to humans, they can also see in the ultraviolet spectrum. The Skargh also have a good sense of smell, though nowhere near that of dogs or sharks. Anecdotal evidence indicates they can also sense the presence of electric current and magnetic fields with their skin in close proximity. Skargh can hear roughly in the same frequency range as humans, though their lack of external ears makes it harder for them to pinpoint the source of sound.
While the Skargh have no body hair whatsoever, they often fashion improvised "hairstyles" by cutting and arranging strips of skin from their own scalps into brightly-coloured dreadlocks, braids or mohawks, each caste having it's own distinct "hairstyles". Due to having nothing to hide (Skargh genitals being internal for both sexes), and their preference for warm habitats, Skargh usually wear little clothing in their native environs, that too being worn mostly for practical purposes (such as armor or toolbelts and vests) or display of status (caste and class-specific attire).
As could be expected from a reptilian race, the Skargh are egg-laying species, the females laying up to 4 eggs at a time. The hatchlings are capable of walking shortly after hatching and mature rapidly, reaching adolescence in roughly 8 years. Hence it is not uncommon to see a Skargh accompanied by his considerably-taller wife and surrounded by a brood of squeaking, hyperactive Skarghlings.
The Skargh usually mate once a year, having a window of roughly one month when the females are fertile and receptive to intercourse. Unlike humans and Sidhae, the Skargh do not derive any particular physical pleasure from sexual intercourse, their enjoyment of mating being mostly a psychological one deriving from the knowledge that their bloodlines will continue. Consequently, most Skargh are baffled by human obsession with sex and sexuality. For this reason, the Skargh often derisively liken humans to q'wong, a small and notoriously-promiscuous mammal native to Skaara (the expression being equivalent to "shagging like rabbits"). After two months of gestation, females lay their eggs that incubate for another four months before hatching. During this period, they would guard their nests viciously in earlier times. In the present day, the incubation is mostly done in communal hatcheries, the females retrieving their eggs home only when they are about to hatch.
The Skargh are generally monogamous. Because of a lack of pleasure aspect in their reproductive lives, and general unfamiliarity with the concept of romantic love, the Skargh do not have any real incentives to cheat on their mates. In addition, since marriages are a form of legal contract between families for the continuation of bloodlines, marital cheating (or divorce without valid cause) would constitute a breach of contract and an insult to the spouse's family - with potentially lethal consequences, given how blood feuds over real and perceived slights are still very much a thing in Skargh society.
While the Skargh are capable of digesting a broad variety of foods, they are preferentially carnivorous. Since the contemporary massive populations are simply impossible to supply with meat, Skargh diet has also changed to be predominantly-herbivorous in the present day, consisting mainly of high-protein plant matter and artificial meat. That said, Skargh will still consume meat over plant-based foods whenever available. Skargh warriors have no qualms about devouring enemy casualties (and even their own dead in the absence of better food sources), a habit that strikes horror and disgust in their human and Sidh adversaries. The Skargh themselves find such squeamishness baffling, regarding burial or cremation as a waste of perfectly good meat, at least as far as the enemy dead are concerned. While Skargh have no specific taboo against cannibalism, it is rarely practiced in present times, since the point of eating a slain enemy is also to insult him by turning him into excrement. Hence eating a fellow Skargh that was not one's enemy while alive would be perceived as extremely disrespectful, even a worthy enemy usually being deemed to deserve better.
While the Skargh generally dislike cyber-augmentation in the (somewhat correct) belief that implanting machines in one's body makes one overly reliant on technology and the help of others for maintenance and thus makes one weaker. However, their experiences with humans and especially the Sidhae have forced them to grudgingly revise their views, so it is not uncommon to see Skargh with various cyber-augmentations. Genetic enhancement, however, has long been part of the Skargh life and is common throughout the species.
The Skargh homeworld
The Skargh effectively represent what sapient life on Earth might have evolved to look like if the dinosaurs hadn't gone extinct. Their homeworld Skaara, slightly larger than Earth, resembles the cradle of Mankind in the Cretaceous period in many respects. Like Earth, much of the planet's surface is covered with water. Unlike Earth, however, the majority of the landmass is joined in a single super-continent, also called Skaara. This continent is deeply penetrated by inland seas in places and surrounded by large islands close to the coast. The interior of Skaara is an inhospitable desert with only a few oases scattered throughout, and further divided in three regions by mighty mountain ranges taller than the Himalayas. Along the coasts and the rivers that flow from these mountains, however, lush jungles teeming with life grow, a belt of savannas separating them from the inland desert.
The atmosphere of Skaara is denser than on Earth, and richer in oxygen (around 150% of present-day Earth) as well as in carbon dioxide. This accounts for both an overall warmer climate and for increased growth of native lifeforms. The abundance of oxygen means that most oxygen-breathing life can attain significantly larger sizes than on Earth, native equivalents of dragonflies reaching the size of hawks, and the planet's predominantly-saurian fauna growing to sizes comparable to those of the largest dinosaurs. The abundance of carbon dioxide in turn accounts for the planetwide warm climate, polar ice caps being non-existent and snow or ice only being seen at the heights of the tallest mountain ranges. The average temperatures on Skaara are overall 7-8 degrees above Earth's. This climate and the abundance of atmospheric carbon dioxide also facilitates rapid plant growth, the trees in Skaara's jungles dwarfing Earth's largest sequoias. However, the warm climate also means that storms and other weather phenomena are far more frequent and violent than anything encountered on Earth, terrifying hypercanes ravaging Skaara's world-ocean at the height of the summer to name but one.
Skaara also lacks a protective ozone layer, at least one anywhere as effective as Earth, given how it's sun is a larger and more energetic star than Sol. Although increased UV radiation effects are somewhat offset by the thicker atmosphere and greater distance of Skaara from its sun, incessant bombardment by ultraviolet radiation has thus led the native life to adapt - most Skaara's plant life has thick, waxy leaves typical of desert plants, and most creatures of the Skargh homeworld have thick, scaly hides or other specialized adaptations against UV radiation.
All these circumstances have made Skaara an evolutionary crucible, one that kills the weak, punishes the slow and rewards the swift, cunning and vicious. Unsurprisingly, this harsh and unforgiving world has given birth to an equally tough and unforgiving people.
The Skargh have been a technological civilization for a considerably longer time than humanity, the first Skargh civilizations with writing and city-building dating back at least 20 thousand years. However, unlike humans, the Skargh have, at least until recently, also been slow and reluctant innovators - innovations that took centuries for humans to accomplish often took millenia to adapt for the Skargh. Unlike humans, however, the recorded Skargh history hasn't been plagued by periods of technological regress like the Dark Ages. The technological development of the Skargh civilization can generally be described as a slow, steady upward curve rather than the human jagged line, with peaks of accomplishment followed by centuries-long setbacks.
A considerable advantage the early Skargh civilizations enjoyed over their human counterparts was an early discovery of ironworking. Copper and tin are mostly found in the innermost regions of Skaara, then inaccessible, but iron ores are abundant throughout the planet, leading the Skargh to start off in the Iron Age immediately with little if any transitional Bronze Age phase. By the time of the first human civilizations, the Skargh already had well-established empires using technology comparable to Classical Antiquity.
The harsh living conditions that gave birth to the Skargh race have always involved merciless competition for resources. Until the invention of black powder (around year 0 CE), the most common cause of death among the Skargh was "eaten by predators". Afterwards, it changed to "killed by gunshot". Different clans, tribes and later empires would wage war almost incessantly, the very notion of peace being difficult to comprehend to the Skargh mind. However, two important factors stifled these wars from becoming excessively destructive.
The primary reason was geographical - due to inhabitable lands being located mainly along the coast, and there being no distinct climate regions throughout the world within these inhabitable zones, which were never out of reach of other Skargh tribes, civilization spread gradually along the coastline and never really diverged into the plethora of races and nations like humanity did. Hence, while the Skargh did identify with different clans and tribes, and viciously so, they still ultimately saw each other as the same people who spoke the same language, the linguistic differences between Skargh dialects separated by an entire hemisphere being roughly that between two or three mutually intelligible human languages. The Skargh never developed diverse religions like the humans, zealously clinging to the worship of the same pantheon of gods, only their hierarchy and minor elements of mythology differing between the different tribes. Consequently, the Skargh simply lacked many of the social factors that would drive humans to commit some of the worst atrocities on record.
The second reason for the relative lack of destructive wars despite warfare being endemic was, ironically, the Skargh mentality itself. The simple opportunity to do battle is a reward in it's own right to a Skargh - to completely exterminate a worthy enemy would mean having one less opportunity to have a good fight, a loss that no amount of land, wealth and slaves can truly compensate. Hence the Skargh empires of old never really made the effort to conquer and subjugate their enemies entirely, defeating and humiliating them (along with extracting a hefty tribute, of course) being deemed sufficient.
All that changed when the clan that would become the Royal House of the Skargh Empire discovered how to split atom in 764 AD. Realizing early on the potential for apocalypctic destruction that nuclear proliferation would have in a society so driven by warfare, the elders of the future Royal House determined that the only way to ensure the survival of Skargh race was to unite it by force. After a few spectacular demonstrations of their newfound knowledge that annihilated entire clans most resistent to unification, the rest grudgingly accepted the supremacy of the Royal House and acknowledged their suzerainty over all of the Skargh race. In order to maintain peace and stability against the deep-ingrained violent instincts and warrior culture of the Skargh, the first high kings of the newly-founded Skargh Empire devised elaborate codes of conduct - Thagr and Herpatra - which regulated resolution of personal and inter-tribal disputes, and personal conduct expected of reputable citizens in general. Warfare would become highly-ritualized, feuding tribes or smaller groups of Skargh fighting in pre-arranged battles within a strictly-limited geographical area under strictly-specified rules. An impartial force of enforcers loyal only to the High King would see to these rules being complied to, non-compliant tribes being threatened with nuclear annihilation.
The following centuries would become a Golden Age of Skargh culture and learning as the Skargh were now free to direct their energy towards more productive ends than trying to defeat each other in a perpetual low-intensity war. During this time period, the Skargh faced many of the same problems that would later plague Mankind, such as widespread industrial pollution and global warming. The ever-increasing population and dwindling resources consequenlty prompted the Skargh to look towards the stars, a place they had thus far lacked any interest in despite having had the technology to construct space rockets for several centuries.
Skargh technological progress has always been more evolutionary than revolutionary, following a gradual curve of improvements on existing ideas leading to new ones, as opposed to the human approach of periodic radical innovation followed by periods of relative stagnation. This was also the case with spaceflight. As opposed to humanity, the Skargh were fortunate to have several habitable worlds in their star system, including a habitable moon to their homeworld. Where humans had for centuries argued in vain over whether they were alone in the universe, the Skargh had always known there was more life than their homeworld's around, and sought to make use of it as soon as technology allowed. A wave of space colonization began already shortly after the development of the first rockets capable of interplanetary flight in the 17th century. It took 200 years, however, before the principles of FTL travel were discovered, the first practical star drives being produced around 1900 AD. As a result, the Skargh only had little less than 150-year technological advantage over Humanity in terms of space travel when the first contact was made, and lagged considerably behind Mankind in many other fields of science.