OT: Local Gossip (Dragonfens)

on November 14, 2011 in Other Tales


Many surface-dwelling folks who lived on drier, more solid ground would have found the idea of caverns beneath fens to be ridiculous and improbable.

Dwarves have not made a habit of exploring wetlands, but they would not have been surprised to discover networks of caverns beneath them. While it’s well known that dwarves aren’t fond of water, it would be a mistake to assume they don’t respect it. Among the dwarven nicknames for water are “The Great Hollower” and “The Lathe of Heaven”. They understand that what water touches, it carves.

The underground waterways that honeycombed the land in the region nicknamed the Dragonfens provided pathways for many of the region’s reptile and fish inhabitants, but even the largest of them would not have provided a den for a single adult dragon of any magnitude, much less two great ones.

The pair who had settled there had instead torn up the ground over a particularly large cave network to make a huge pit and then covered it over with a dome of earth, stone, and wood. Over the years, weather and vegetation had worked their own will upon the outside of the dome, transforming it into something completely indistinguishable from any other hillock in the area except by its sheer size.

The locals called it something that translated roughly to “Two Dragon Hill”, which later human settlers to the area had briefly assumed was a reference to its size.

A great green dragon is not a different race than a common green dragon, nor are they separate species as related but dissimilar animals might be. They do not quite belong to differing orders of creation, either. A common dragon is simply the greatly diminished descendant of a greater dragon.

The most commonly accepted theory among mortal dracologists is that the original dragons arrived within the sphere of the world as fully-formed immigrants from some other sphere or plane, and they were several magnitudes greater than the greatest living dragons of this age. Some accounts suggest there was a breeding pair of each color, or a larger colony. Some say that a single dragon or pair of dragons somehow gave rise to every color now extant, or that there was a single pair for the lustrous noble dragons and one for the iridescent ignoble ones.

However many of them there may have been, the first dragons were too great for the world to contain, even in its most primal state. Each successive generation born within it was somewhat lesser than its progenitors. The diminishing effect is small and incremental, although a certain point is crossed where a threshold is crossed and the newly hatched dragon’s form can only contain a fraction of the majesty that should be its legacy. Some lines of dragonhood quickly bred their way down to smaller and more bestial forms, while others took advantage of their long lives to preserve as much of their original essence as possible. Thus, for every color of dragons on both sides of the divide, there are dragons ranked from least to greatest.

The amount of time it takes to breed from the mid-point of a recognized level to the threshold of the next is such that it has only happened a handful of times since recorded history… only enough to identify it as a phenomenon. It seems impossible to imagine that this slow and steady devolution could be responsible for the orders of dragons as we know them, but recorded history is only a small fraction of the time that dragons have been around. “In the beginning,” the story says, “there were dragons.”

Many a smart-alecky school child has asked how this can be when the Age of Titans preceded the Age of Dragons, but this is due to a mistaken assumption about the meaning of the term “titan”. While that term is often used for the greatest and oldest of giants, it properly refers to any creature that inhabited the not-yet-diminished world of that first age: the giants, the dragons, and the things far less easily described.

Accounts differ as to how these various beings all came to be and which did so first and where the gods factored into all of this, of course, but they were all present early enough to make a credible claim to have been in the beginning.

Another mistake, of course, is thinking of “the beginning” as a singular point in time. There is nothing like a credible estimate of how long the Age of Titans lasted. From the creation of the sun until the departure of the giants, somewhere between three and fifteen thousand years passed. There is no recorded measurement of the presolar epoch, but it’s believed to have been longer than that. The word “million” is sometimes suggested, if a little tentatively.

The Age of Dragons lasted as long as the food held out, which is estimated to be between two hundred and five hundred thousand years. In that time, the dragons’ uncontested mastery of the world allowed the least dragons to breed with an explosive abandon the world had never before seen, creating varieties so far divorced from the original model of dragonhood as to resemble different creatures entirely. There were wingless dragons swinging from the writhing limbs of the tentacle forests, flocks of bipedal dragons winging their ways across the sky, finned dragons swimming the seas, and limbless dragons slithering across the land.

Once the surface of the world and its upper oceans had been cleansed of the crawling chaos, the draconic world turned on itself and tore itself apart. The vast majority of the draconic pseudoanimals perished of starvation, or else they died feeding their less diminished cousins, more of whom were able to survive through hibernation, magic, or exercise of sheer willpower. The successive ages have been too crowded with the creations of the gods and other beings for dragons to fill the world again. The more intelligent dragons mostly haven’t tried. Their lesser kin face too much competition, and were too often targeted for extermination by mortals.

It is generally agreed that all of dragonkind is on a decline, but dragons themselves are sharply divided about what, if anything, should be done about it. Some think that a systematic program of breeding is the best way to ensure their survival. Others feel that reproduction itself should be the goal. Still others believe that indefinitely prolonging the lives of themselves is sufficient. Few of them are very passionate or frantic about the larger issue… from their point of view the most precipitous drops were in the distant past and now things have leveled out quite a bit.

For the dragons of the Dragonfens, the question of reproductive strategy was almost but not quite entirely hypothetical. Alikendril and Malborian, as they referred to each other, were both male. They had occasionally throughout their years of cohabitation discussed the temporary adoption of mortal forms of dissimilar sexes in order to create a child who would be both theirs and of a fully but wholly altered draconic nature. It was rumored that this had been done before, to an interesting result.

The pair had discussed the possibility at some length in the past. They wouldn’t opt for a human-shaped offspring, obviously… not when the gods had created a race of appealingly scaled humanoids practically in their own image. Oviparous bodies would obviate the need for one or the other of them to remain in a fragile mortal form for the better part of a year. The only sticking point was the proximity of a powerful human empire that preferred they not breed at all, much less bring about some sort of reptilian messiah figure.

They hadn’t given up on the idea, though… merely tabled it until such time as the empire was no longer around to object, or they were both feeling particularly peevish.

The story of how this particular pair had come to settle down together depended on which one you asked and what sort of a mood he was in, the latter criterion also having something to do with whether or not you would receive an answer at all. Alikendril in particular was fond of sounding put-upon and forbearing when he spoke of their union, to his partner or anyone else.

“If you weren’t the last of my kind, I’d never have mated with you,” he said, rolling over onto his side. This incidentally displayed his underbelly towards Malborian. It was a gesture of trust, but a lazy and indolent sort of trust.

The whole of the cavern was between them. Each of them had his own hoard filling a depression on opposite sides, with little nooks and cubbies for holding items of particular interest or delicate ones that would not be easily conserved as part of a dragon’s bedding. The two would periodically engage in trading items back and forth, and it really was back and forth because neither one could stand to have an item that had once been his out of his possession for long.

Malborian stretched out his long, sinuous neck… partly because it felt good and partly because it gave him an excuse to turn his gaze away from his partner when he rolled his eyes. He knew that there were in fact several dozen great green dragons extant in the world, a small majority of whom were female. He could feel each and every one of them as a subtle pressure on his mind, and he knew that Alikendril could feel them, too… but his mate had declared each and every one of them to be dead to him for various reasons over the course of his life.

He also knew better than to say anything about this, unless he was in the mood to repair the dome afterwards. The space inside of Two Dragon Hill was large enough for two dragons to coexist peacefully and tussle affectionately. It was not large enough for them to brawl with one another in.

“I said…” Alikendril began to repeat.

“I heard you the first time,” Malborian said. He was willing to be actually forbearing for the sake of their relationship, but there were limits. “Which was three thousand, four hundred twenty-seven years and eleven days ago. I also heard you this time.”

“Oh, let’s not bicker in front of the children,” Alikendril said, waving an articulated forepaw over the deep depression between them.

“They can’t understand us.”

“They hear the tone, though.”

They had to keep changing their private language in order to keep it private, because the sloping pit in the center of their cavernous lair housed the egg creches and nurseries of multiple tribes of keen-membraned and clever-tongued lizardfolk. There were always a few guardians or nurses lurking about, even when there were no live hatchlings at the moment.

No mortal race could hope to figure out a dragon’s private tongue in a thousand years, but the fen-dwellers had their ways. If a big enough group got together and started talking at once the way they did, they could do a thousand years’ worth of figuring in a handful of days.

“Aren’t too many of them around, in any case,” Malborian said. “Most of them are off at their little swap meet at the moment.”

“Don’t remind me,” Alikendril said. “It isn’t the sharing that bothers me, exactly… they’re just so terribly efficient about it. No bickering, and barely any negotiating.”

Three times a year, most of the adults of all the tribes came together in great big circles and started reciting figures about their hatchings and deaths and emigrations, and the state of their food stores and the money they’d accumulated. The groups would dissolve and reform with different members a few times, and at the end of a week or so the tribes would scatter back to their own territories, only the boundaries of those territories would have shifted in places and there would be a few days of swapping various materials and other forms of aid.

“They are a marvel of efficiency,” Malborian said. “You know, if we were of a mind to make a little money…”

“As if a little money was any interest to us.”

“…we could broker their services to the mercantile races,” Malborian finished. “Dwarf and human merchants would pay good gold to have their trade routes planned.”

“Why should they pay good gold for that?” Alikendril asked. “Aside from the fact that they have yet to discover any other kind.”

“Efficiency,” Malborian said. “Have you never heard of the traveling merchant problem?”

“I’m not in the habit of listening to the problems of merchants, unless said aforementioned problem is me,” Alikendril said. “And then I don’t listen long.”

“It has to do with finding the shortest route between points.”

“The direct one, most of the time,” Alikendril said. “Allowing for ordinary levels of dimensional folding, naturally.”

“Naturally,” Malborian said. “But that’s the shortest route between two points. What if you have three points?”

“Then you go from the first one to the nearest one and then to the farther one.”

“But now imagine there are more points.”

“Frankly, my dear, I’m having a hard time imagining less point.”

“The point, dear Alikendril, is that humans get bored of these problems, too,” Malborian said. “Because they take too long to solve. But our dear godchildren…”

“Don’t compare us to gods, it’s insulting. And don’t call me ‘Alikendril’, Malborian. I abhor pet names and you know it.”

Alikendril did abhor pet names, except when he didn’t, which was usually. Malborian wasn’t about to call him by his given… or rather, taken… name, not when Alikendril was still using the shortened version of his name that he’d devised. There were limits.

“What should I call them, then?” Malborian said. “They call us ‘uncle’ and that’s all very good for them, but they’re no particular relation to us.”

“No relation at all,” Alikendril said. “And you know, I’m concerned that our ongoing association with them will do nothing but cement the fallacious notion that mortal reptiles have anything at all to do with us. People are so fixated on the scales. There’s as much in us that is like birds or mammals as there is anything like a reptile, and that’s only because the Celestial Dame was discerning enough to borrow liberally from our better qualities when she populated this world with her creatures.”

“Still, there is something of a flattering resemblance,” Malborian said.

“Flattering to them, perhaps,” Alikendril said. “The green of their scales is not anything like the shimmering splendor of ours.”

“Certainly nothing like yours,” Malborian said. “Little cousins? I don’t think such a promotion would go to their heads, do you?”

“You are a shameless flatterer,” Alikendril said.

“You’ve always liked flattery before.”

“I meant your flattery of them. You really think there is money to be made from our little cousins’ talents, though?”

“We’d have to sell it properly,” Malborian said. “To the dwarves, this would simply mean demonstrating value… any misgivings they would have would stem from the number of individual people they would have to involve in their dealings to make it work. With humans, it would have to be couched in terms that were flattering to them… or at least, terms that weren’t insulting.”

“What would they have to be insulted about?”

“The idea that another race could do something they can’t.”

“If that’s all it takes to insult a human, they must walk around in a state of perpetual offense.”

“Well, the ones who control trade routes and have a relatively large amount of money to spend have peculiar ideas about the world and their place in it,” Malborian said. “It wouldn’t do to have a bunch of backwoods reptiloids being capable of calculations that defy them. In fact, it might be best to present them as our assistants, or not mention their parts at all.”

“I’m still not certain I’m interested.”

“Not interested in money?”

“Not interested in understanding,” Alikendril said. “It feels too much like learning a new thing, Malborian… you know I swore off that nonsense ages ago. I don’t know why you can’t remember it. You like remembering things.”

“One of us has to. Of course, our celebrated neighbor to the north will have to be dealt with, if we were to enter into commercial relationships with outsiders.”

“That old bat?” Alikendril said. It was an epithet for black dragons that happened to work out conveniently well in translation. “She was born senile.”

“So we can get away with paying her a pittance. That’s how the humans deal with her, you know. They make her feel important and they practically get away with slaying.”

“Well, that will have to be on you, won’t it?” Alikendril said. “You’re the diplomat here. You had best explain it to our little cousins… and to our mortal victims, too. I can’t follow the whole thing.”

“Clients,” Malborian said. “When you are giving a service in exchange for the treasure, they are called…”

“You’re teaching me again!” Alikendril said in a warning tone. “I distinctly recall warning you about that.”

“Well, if you can’t be bothered to understand the scheme and you won’t be conducting the diplomatic, instructional, or commercial aspects of the enterprise, then what exactly is it you will be doing?”

“Supervising,” Alikendril said. “The fact that you even need to ask that is a sign of how lost you would be without my supervision.”


Tales of MU is now on Patreon! Help keep the story going!

Or if you particularly enjoyed this chapter, leave a tip!


Characters: ,





28 Responses to “OT: Local Gossip (Dragonfens)”

  1. rethic says:

    the whole update is the title again. 🙁 at least for me.

    edit: you fixed that super fast! kudos!

    Current score: 0
  2. Burnsidhe says:

    Hah. Definitely a supervisory attitude.

    Also, a misplaced paragraph break between “Th” and “e pair”

    Current score: 0
    • Luke Licens says:

      “The diminishing effect is small and incremental, although *a certain point is crossed where a threshold is crossed* and the newly hatched dragon’s form can only contain a fraction of the majesty that should be its legacy.”

      Scans funny to me, but it may be intentional.

      Current score: 0
  3. zeel says:

    I want more on this story line. I love dragons, and this is rather funny. More. . .

    Current score: 1
  4. Gray says:

    Fun story. Yay dragons!

    Current score: 0
  5. Fae says:

    I absolutely love this- just what I needed after a rotten day. These two make me laugh! =)

    Current score: 0
  6. Sylvan says:

    These dragons are mahhhvelous. Wonderful little break from the regular story, well imagined and entertaining.

    When I run DnD campaigns I point people to some of your OTs for campaign lore, like how dwarves guard their vaults and deal with thieves. I think you’ve created some amazing campaign lore, and this chapter just may be added to the dragon lore list =P

    Current score: 1
  7. Month says:

    Gay dragons? Really? Gay dragons?

    Current score: 0
    • Kevin Brown says:

      Gay dragons that could breed if they actually wanted to. T’is nice to see dragons that aren’t in the process of attempting to kill me in Skyrim.

      Current score: 2
      • Zergonapal says:

        I get the sense that dragons can be asexual and they only use tags like he and she for convenience or perhaps to indicate they are a bit more left or right of center.

        Current score: 0
        • Krey says:

          This chapter seems to suggest that in their natural dragony form they do in fact have a set gender. But as far as terms of sexuality and mating, their whole shape shifting thing renders that relatively meaningless, especially given the apparent rarity of dragon on dragon reproduction.

          Current score: 0
          • zeel says:

            It’s clear that they do have two sexes, and that normally it would require one of each to reproduce. The use of shapeshifting to get around that problem appears to produce something of an oddball:

            …in order to create a child who would be both theirs and of a fully but wholly altered draconic nature. It was rumored that this had been done before, to an interesting result.

            It’s only rumored to work, and the results are not going to be a normal baby dragon. Thus this way of “cheating” normal biology can not be considered a normally viable method of reproduction for dragons.

            Current score: 0
    • Jennifer says:

      This had actually already been established, when Lucinda interviewed Hissy in “Floating Questions”. Lucinda had a very similar reaction.

      Current score: 0
  8. Keith says:

    Simply delightful.

    Current score: 0
  9. readaholic says:

    Awww! Gay dragons, gay dragons! it really is fun that you are queer… and plotting for more gold.

    Current score: 0
  10. HiEv says:

    Nice. The traveling salesman problem and a “pointy-haired boss” all in the same post. Quite amusing.

    Thanks.

    Current score: 0
  11. Schulze says:

    Finally, dinosaurs!

    Current score: 0
  12. Jeff R says:

    Mentioned before, but:
    “The diminishing effect is small and incremental, although a certain point is crossed where a threshold is crossed and the newly…”

    should probably be

    “The diminishing effect is small and incremental, although a certain point is reached when a threshold is crossed and the newly…”

    Current score: 0
  13. Zathras IX says:

    The first and greatest
    Dragons were too great for
    The world to contain

    Current score: 2
  14. Sindyr says:

    Excellent chapters, AE. Thank you so much, and keep up the fantastic work!

    Current score: 0
  15. Dave says:

    So their little cousins the lizardfolk can solve NP-Complete problems like ‘Travelling Salesman’ by massive parallel processing? Neat!

    And… “If that’s all it takes to insult a human, they must walk around in a state of perpetual offense.”

    Yes, we know people like that!

    Current score: 1
  16. Um the Muse says:

    While “the diminishing effect is small and incremental” already covers the threshold idea, I think that it’s useful to keep the rest of the sentence. It would have been easy to miss that or to be confused about what that entails.

    Current score: 0
  17. Kaila says:

    “That old bat?” Alikendril said. It was an epithet for black dragons that happened to work out conveniently well in translation. “She was born senile.”

    Teehee.

    Current score: 0
  18. Erm says:

    “Have you never heard of the traveling merchant problem?”

    OMG fantasy computer science. *Squee*

    Current score: 1
  19. Eric M. says:

    I guess you can’t live with someone else for centuries without fighting every now and then.

    Current score: 1
  20. pedestrian says:

    i love the smug, self-satisfied air of entitlement these two dragons project.

    Current score: 0
  21. sengachi says:

    There’s a college which uses bees to solve traveling salesman problems and sells the results. Apparently bees can solve traveling salesman problems that tie supercomputers up for hours en route. Incidentally, bees have the densest gray matter of any creature, period. Hmmmm, I wonder if one could make bee-repitilians in the same way bee-wolves are created?

    Current score: 0
  22. Seajewel says:

    This might be my favorite other tale ever. I love this pair. Poor Malborian.

    Current score: 0