Biology and appearance
Normally between 5'10" and 6'4" (1.78 and 1.93 meters), Zykeds had muscularly thin builds, though their arms and legs were evolved to provide strength disproportionate to their bulk. They had mottled skin than usually featured at least two colors; common shades among Zykeds were green, gray, black, red, and brown, with blue and some shades of yellow as less common but extant variants. Their bodies were entirely hairless.
Zykeds had no noses, but could "smell" using their forked tongues. They also had no external ears, but had ear holes through which they could perceive sound. They had large, bulbous black eyes with two layers of eyelids. The inner eyelid was used for normal blinking and clearing away foreign particles, as well as providing a layer of defense during hunting or combat, and it was translucent; the outer eyelid was closed only during sleep and was opaque. Their mouths were wide and featured all sharp teeth; humanoids tended to describe a wide Zyked smile as "unnerving".
Zyked hands had two fingers and a thumb opposite; the thumb wrapped between the two fingers for a grip. Their feet were digitigrade pads, closer in biology to feline or canine species than most reptiles. Zykeds had tails which they used for balance, though a Zyked could learn to walk without one if it was severed.
Zykeds had the ability to regenerate body parts, though larger parts took more time to recover. Interestingly, Zyked tails did not regenerate, even if only partially severed. Zyked scientists theorized that this evolved from ancestors whose tails were entirely disposable in the first place as a defense against predators.
Zykeds reproduced sexually, with females laying eggs; eggs hatched within three months of being laid. Laying one to three eggs was common, though up to five was not unheard of. Hatchlings were raised by females in a communal creche-pod, having several "mothers". Zykeds reached physical maturity by the age of sixteen standard years.
The Zykeds evolved in small, competitive clans which could be as small as a large family unit or as large as hundreds of Zykeds. Clans would sometimes band together in temporary alliances against a common enemy, but full and permanent unifications were rare except by conquest and acquisition. After centuries of this gradual unification, Zyked nations emerged.
It was unknown from which Zyked settlement the caste structure emerged, but the concept spread through trade and warfare and soon became the standard worldwide. Young Zykeds were selected from their creche-pods by elder members of a caste, with the approval of the Leadership Caste, and spent the next many years learning their work. In decreasing order of prestige, the Zyked castes were:
- Leadership Caste: Zykeds chosen to govern the territory. Looked for hatchlings with a competitive and clever nature and the ability to form alliances with creche-siblings.
- Warrior Caste: Zykeds chosen for defense of the clan's territory, and eventually defense of Deshad as a whole. Looked for hatchlings with aggression, ferocity, judgment, and fighting ability.
- Trade Caste: Zykeds who conducted economic dealings and made more complex things, such as weapons. Looked for clever hatchlings who were willing to trade position for desired food, or vice versa.
- Worker Caste: Zykeds who performed the most menial work, including construction, along with making more simple objects such as tools. Most remaining hatchlings ended up in this caste.
- Slave Caste: Zykeds could not be born into the slave caste; only conquered Zykeds from other territories were relegated to this position. Eggs from slave Zykeds were deposited in the communal creche-pod, and hatched slave eggs were treated the same as any other hatchling. While this would give the appearance of a fair and egalitarian outlook, in reality the Zykeds wanted to bolster their own numbers without creating generations of resentful slaves who could undermine them from within.
Female Zykeds had their own caste. They did not take part in the work of any other caste, but had complete jurisdiction over the raising and nurturing of Zyked hatchlings until they were claimed for a caste. Zyked female hatchlings stayed with their communal mothers as their creche-brothers were taken away and learned to perform their duties.
Over time, territorial wars produced larger and more cohesive Zyked nations, assuming control of more and more of Deshad's territory. By the third century before the Battle of Yavin, the caste structure had begun to break down due to numerous uprisings by the Worker Caste, which sometimes rallied the Slave Caste to back it. Weight of numbers could threaten the Warrior Caste, who in turn pressued the Leadership Caste for concessions. Eventually, the entire caste structure disintegrated except for the warriors, who were still chosen from youth, and the females, who were still tacitly excluded from most occupations.
Deshad was annexed by the Tetrarchy of Mezlagob in 12 BBY. The introduction of hyperspace technology to the Zykeds helped them far more than their conquerors; Zykeds could now export their ferocity offworld, and they became famous as pirates, mercenaries, and soldiers. Ostensibly to make themselves more easily governable, the three Zyked major nations united under a single government. In reality, they had done so to better fight their conquerors. Zyked uprisings occurred in 13 ABY and 57 ABY, and though both were put down forcibly, the Tetrarchy gave Deshad more leeway with self-governance rather than risk constant insurgency.
In 101 ABY, Rin Sakaros helped the Zykeds throw off the yoke of the Tetrarchy permanently in exchange for their participation, on equal terms, in her Golden Empire. After the war was concluded the next year, many Zykeds found their way into the Royal Army. Rin finally ordered that female Zykeds be allowed into any occupation, and while this faced some resistance from the entrenched male bureaucracy, Rin's massive Army left little choice but for the Zyked males to comply. She also disbanded the slave caste.
Society and culture
Zykeds were raised by a group of "mothers" and without any male presence worth noting, and thus formed no particular attachment to their biological parents. While decently cared for, Zyked hatchlings were nonetheless allowed and tacitly encouraged to compete with one another for food and prime positions in their creche-pods. This was done to sort out potentials for the Zyked warrior caste.
Zykeds prized physical strength and a competitive demeanor in their males, especially in their warriors. The weakest of hatchlings were sometimes killed in their creche-pods by their siblings; this was tolerated by the Zyked mothers because it ensured a strong breeding stock for future generations.
Zykeds mated mostly out of physical and pheremonal attraction, and though such pairings could last for years, decades, or even a lifetime, they could also be dissolved at the desire of either party.
The first component of Zyked names were assigned at birth by the consensus of the creche-mothers. The second component was derived from the creche-mothers themselves; when a Zyked male was chosen for a caste (or later for an occupation), or when a Zyked female left her creche-pod to begin learning her duties, the Zyked would take part of the name of the creche-mother to whom it felt closest. As an example, Rajj-Yo was named "Rajj" at birth. Upon being chosen to serve in the Order of Keltrayu, he identified his creche-mother Yosp-Hi as his favorite, taking part of her name as his own and thus becoming "Rajj-Yo". Zyked names were always written in full; it would not be correct to refer to Rajj-Yo simply as "Yo", as it was not a surname.
In the galaxy
Zykeds had a mixed reputation in the Golden Empire. Many viewed their ferocity and cunning as little more than animal savagery, and the pirates Feng-Ku and Sheg-Wey and the slaver lord Zhin-Vel did little to dissuade them. On the other hand, the Centurion Rajj-Yo won fame as a warrior on behalf of the Empire, and killed Zhin-Vel himself, which slightly brightened the general outlook on Zykeds.
The Zykeds and their wide-opening jaws were the source for the name of the infamous "Zyked grin".