Axiom 1: All Dragons are Alike
All dragons are part of the same species. They can all interbreed, no matter how far away they may be from. This is how you can tell a true dragon from various similar, lesser, reptilioid creatures. Could it bear viable offspring with a dragon? A circular definition, to be sure, but one that works as long as you don’t think too hard about it. If you ask a dragonologist, that is the answer they hurriedly shout as they suddenly remember something important that came up and run away, before you can ask one a million questions that contradict it. How come dragons can breed with humans? The dragons that we have on good authority bred with elves? All those other weird chimeric creatures that were probably wizards but you never do know for sure? It’s the answer they give to avoid having to give an answer, because of axiom 2.
Axiom 2: All Dragons are Different
The biological definition of a species is given below:
a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreedingvia oxford languages
So our above classification of dragons into a single species makes a certain amount of sense, no? But there are other criteria that makes a species – phenotypic similarity for example. Are horses and donkeys the same species? Generally, the answer is no. Yet they can interbreed and produce mules. Same with tigers and lions, and in such cases the offspring are fertile as well. The delineation between these species is because humans, previous an understanding of genetics or even what a species is, looked at them and said “Donkeys look different from horses. Therefore horse and donkeys are different.” Dragons take this to its logical extreme. Saying two dragons are the same species because they happen to be able to interbreed is like saying badgers and giraffes are the same because (in this scenario) they can interbreed.
Okay, so dragons are all different species. How do we go about classifying them? Answer: throw out the whole system and define a new one.
The first measure is color, but it isn’t complete. Imagine the above statement regarding the giraffe and badger, but now you’re saying they’re the same species because both happen to be orange – that’s the level of variation between two similar-colored dragons. The rest of the classification is called ‘lineage’ which combines the phenotypical variance of the dragons into one measure that also happens to imply a common shared ancestor. All dragons of a similar lineage had a common ancestor – essentially every family of dragons constitutes an analog to a species. Subspecies. Whatever.
These lineages are usually named after geographical areas – the Ajulian Lake Lineage, the Bodian Lowlands Lineage, and so on. Frequently, lineages will have more than one color associated with them (from when one member bred with a different colored dragon) and so you may specify Red Ajulian Lake Dragon, Black Bodian Lowlander, etc. This system comes reasonably close to describing and classifying dragons properly. It isn’t great, and some lineages only have a few or even one individual, but it works, damnit. I mean, how many dragons are there in the world anyways? A predator that large probably can’t have entire multiple species supported by the ecosystem anyways.
Let’s not get into the half-breeds. Here’s your explanation: a wizard did it. Happy?
In the old days, dragonologists would have bitter feuds over where one lineage broke off into another, the parentage of x color for y lineage, whether these dragons were one or two or three lineages, whether indigo is a different color from blue, etc, etc. It was more like heraldry than science, really. These arguments have faded in time, partially because dragonologists have taken on the avoidant demeanor regarding classification explained above. The dragonologists of today are essentially indistinguishable from regular scholars, and thus at most only modestly more predisposed to bar fighting than the general population. In fact, amongst academic circles they are stereotyped as weak, timid, and dorky, and thus considerably less predisposed to bar fighting than their peers. Most of them really study creatures that are decidedly Not Dragons but similar enough to be grouped in the same conceptual family, just to further confuse the issue of what a ‘true’ dragon is. Compare this to the dragonologists of yesteryear: adventurers, knights, nobles, mercenaries, kings, wizards, priests, purported demi-gods, tribal forebears, semi-mythic heroes of legend, and not infrequently slayer of dragons themselves. You can bet the temperature of discourse has cooled a bit. But the main reason no one argues anymore is that all these distinctions stopped mattering (if they ever did) owing to axiom 3.
Axiom 3: All the Dragons are Dead.
They’ve been hunted down, slaughtered, and sold for parts, like tigers. Would be dragon hunters deluge any area with reported dragon sightings, and in short order have either killed the dragon or whatever was mistaken for a dragon. It isn’t even that deadly, comparatively speaking – only about 40% of them end up in the dirt, though many others are maimed. Less, if it was some other creature. They’re paid well, but probably still less than they should be. Only the handful of most prolific, fruitful, and lucky dragon hunters of the current age have retired to the fantastic wealth that their former peers aspire to. A moderately successful dragon hunter crew can live large till the next dragon shows up, but never retire in style. The vast majority of dragon hunters either die, or fall out of the career after killing one or (more likely) no dragons at all. Dragon hunting as a career, or even as a way to pay the bills, is mathematically infeasible. Yet every year, a legion of rubes gets suckered in by promises off getting rich quick, living large, and not having a day job. The gig economy killed all the dragons.
Well, almost all of them. A few truly wild, sparsely populated and -importantly- inaccessible areas, an active breeding population clings to the edge’s edge of oblivion – truly professional dragon hunters still make the trek out here to ply their trade. There are probably still a few well-hidden dragons in deep, deep hibernation, which may wake up every once and a while to check if human civilization has collapsed. Wild, sparsely populated areas, that aren’t incredibly inaccessible are home to massive, ancient dragons that are too hard to kill, because they aren’t really equivalent to tigers after all. But aside from that, a dragon showing its bescaled face anywhere near anyplace that is anywhere near a human population center is in for a rough month, at best.
Axiom 4: All the Dragons have yet to be Born
It is well known that dragons were intelligent, though inclined to using brute force, and even possessed a language that they rarely used, and that no living human understands. They foresaw the doom of their race, and several made plans to avert it.
Dragons are more than capable of reproducing asexually – they have to be, since it can be decades or centuries between matings, with a population so sparse. They are more than capable because this method isn’t just cloning – the child is phenotypically diversified, although the genetic information contained is the same. A dragon can lay one egg like this every two to ten years, depending on diet and age. A dragon can bear a half-dozen to dozen eggs once every fifty odd years via sexual reproduction. Dragon eggs can remain viable and unhatched for… no one actually knows how long. There is at least one case of the egg of a wyrm being brought to term after the wyrm was killed, possibly two millennia after it was first lain. That serves as a lower limit – the dragons seemed to think it was much higher. That’s what they were banking on, because the next steps became obvious.
First, fuck as much as possible to avert the apocalypse. This is a trickier proposition then you might think; not all the dragons believed their coming doom. It’s as if humans were being driven to extinction by the violent predations of the least weasel. You might not believe it either. Many dragons went to their grave unaware that it was already filled with the bones of their kin.
Even among dragons that recognized the coming crisis, only a few ever paired up. Dragon sex (and courtship in general) tends to be a violent and unpleasant affair. Even with extinction looming, breeding pairs were thin on the ground.
Second, everyone who isn’t fucking needs to start laying lorn eggs, as much as possible. This is also not pleasant, but is considerably less onerous than dragon dating. Most dragons that could convinced of its necessity partook in this part of the plan.
Third, bury the eggs. Dragons, either through innate biological ability or careful understanding of midwifery of their own species, seem able to rather precisely control when their eggs will hatch. Put systems in place to periodically hatch eggs in waves. The hope is that humans will eventually collapse, or be weakened enough to allow the dragons to flourish. No one knows how many were buried, not even the few extant dragon cults tasked with hatching the eggs in left their care when the time comes.
Fourth, flee or hide. As mentioned, some dragons slipped into hibernation, holding onto the hope that they would outlast humanity – a slim one, since their torpor can not be sustained indefinitely. A few others fled, and birthed the lines of dragons that cling to the furthest reaches of wilderness. Most of them charged into the spears and ballistae of the dragon hunters and human armies. They could not capitulate to a world dominated by humans, and so they breathed fire and defiance to the last.
Digression: In the good old days, almost all dragons breathed fire. The other breath weapons were rare mutations that came (and come) with considerable downsides – smaller size, poor health, wrecked physiognomy to accommodate them, etc. As humans got better at fighting fire-breathing dragons, the selection pressure inverted. About half of any given color of dragon has their ‘unique’ breath weapon.
This will have to be a two-parter, at least.