A continuation of this post. TLDR: Dragons are all one species, except they’re all incredibly varied in ways that might preclude them being a species, except it doesn’t matter because they’re mostly dead because humanity.
God Made Dragons
As mentioned, the humans killed almost all the dragons. But that’s not all they did – they can never just leave it alone. As long as humans and dragons have coexisted, there have been madmen, megalomaniacs, and wizards looking to use dragons for their own purposes.
In the good old days, this usually ended in tragicomic fashion, with kings and sorcerers going down the gullet of their erstwhile servants and pets. Plenty of fables and morality tales proceed this way: “Look at the blinding conceit of the great princes! See how it consigns them to the flames of hellish beasts! Repent! Repent!” A hatchling raised from the eggshell by the the tamer tended to remain loyal to their surrogate parents into adulthood, but that took time. A dragon isn’t ready for war until it’s 20 years old, not particularly effective until 50, and only the unbeatable trump card the dragon tamer is hoping for at 100. Plus, filial piety has its limits when subjected to abuse, and people who need giant flying fire-breathing lizards to win arguments tend to be rather abusive*, and the only thing that can generally stop a dragon from killing something it wants dead is goodwill, so it could still blow up. Plenty of other control schemes were tried (usually geas rituals, application of cosmic law, or marriage), and with a few exceptions, they all failed horribly.
So, the application of dragons as a human weapon is a dead end right? We can leave it alone now, right? No. When wizards, madmen, and megalomaniacs see their colleagues and predecessors going down the flaming gullet of an enraged dragon, they don’t think “well, this was interesting, but it seems like the rate of death to results is pretty unappealing.” They think “how do we make dragon servants more loyal? How do we make them grow faster? Can we make them deadlier? How do we make them a better tool in our hands?”
*Of course, there were those who raised their dragons for altruistic, un-selfish reasons – simply because the dragon needed a parent. Those dragons rarely went to war, however, and are beyond the scope of this post.
Man Made Metal
The first metallic dragons, were clunky, unrefined things. The original notion sprung from the minds of necromancers, who resurrected dragon corpses to make powerful servants. The only innovation at this stage was to clad the undead beasts in metal, to create the first metallic dragon. They had the usual grace of zombies, and while immense strength and durability made them useful servants, it isn’t really the same as having a dragon on a leash, is it?
The next stage of creating metallic dragons was painfully attaching plates or artificial scales to the flesh of living dragons, and then using the eventual dependency on painkillers to ensure loyalty. This tended to have just the same problems as the dragons above, because oftentimes the dragons were rendered so miserable that they were willing to kill their handlers and live with the pain, and because metal poisoning meant the dragons would not have to live in pain for long in any case.
Someone managed to make a clockwork dragon, but that was mostly wood. It didn’t have teeth or claws, couldn’t breath fire or fly, and turned out to be a pacifist anyway. The creator of the dragon took their secrets to the grave, and no one has ever been able to replicate the feat. It was an unrivalled feat of engineering, a master stroke of genius in a world that still thought the wheel and leavened bread were disruptive new technologies. But, it wasn’t good for farming or killing people, so no one really gave a shit.
For a long time this was the state of things: Chromatic dragons useful but deadly, metallic dragons less useful but marginally easier to use. But there were those working towards solutions, to their more perfect servant. Unlike the usual dragon tamers, these scholar-sages brought together the fields of animation, biomancy, and biology in comparably sensible, considered research. At the behest of kings, they toiled for generations, accumulating great power and influence. The history of the organization isn’t relevant to this post, merely the fact that they made little to no progress on their primary project. Until Culcaon entered the picture.
The Idiot-Wizard-Savant Culcaon and the Creation of Metallic Dragons
Culcaon was every bit the typical dragon tamer. A wizard, megalomaniac, and madman, wrapped in one. To borrow a line from goblin punch:
Every setting has some ancient cliché wizard that invented a bunch of monsters that now roam the world.Arnold K., A Megadungeon: Fingers of the Maggot
Culcaon was the ancientest of the cliché wizards in my setting. He made a bunch of dungeons and deadly artifacts. He had schemes on top of schemes that fed into and surrounded and sometimes actively opposed each other. He made many attempts to conquer the world, most of which were embarrassing but a couple of which were actually quite serious threats. He is dead, probably.
He easily infiltrated the circle of scholars researching the creation of metallic dragons, and within a year had vastly expanded the field of dragonology and biomancy beyond the wildest comprehensions of the current experts. He had also by this time come to lead the organization, and used them as the main tool in one of his first domination schemes, but I’m getting distracted. He was here for dragons.
He identified the key issues with a dragon servant: 1) they don’t grow fast enough and 2) they never stop growing. A young dragon can be coerced into service, the same way you can coerce an elephant. But dragons aren’t elephants and eventually, the damn thing will be too big and deadly to guarantee your control. As sapient beings, their true loyalty could never be fully enforced with the threat of violence or by dangling rewards – you have to find an actually loyal dragon. Until that time, you have to keep it a manageable size.
So Culcaon found a few dragon eggs and dissolved their dragon scales. Then, he injected powderized or colloidal copper (all the metal his part of the world had, then) into the egg, and he prayed.
Digression: The ill-fated droggin was either a byblow or inspiration (or both) of Calcaon’s research.
The first dragons brought forth by this method were weak, malformed things, scaleless and poisoned with metal. But he kept trying, and eventually the dragons were made to accept metal to reinforce their scales structure. And the first metallic dragon, gleaming with beaten copper scales was born.
The copper dragon’s scales were weaker than a regular dragon’s, but they were loyal and controllable. If the source of copper were removed, they would not grow out of control. Culcaon soon had a stable breeding population. Then he made a personal strike force. He made stables of dragons. Armies of them. He started contracting dragons out to kings, priests and other wizards. The youngest would work with him, and once their loyalty was assured, he would place dragons in the highest courts of the land, where they would be close to power, but loyal to him. Finally, a reliable system for producing dragon servants.
Except it didn’t work. The issues with loyalty still existed; Culcaon could identify which dragons were the most pliable when small and manageable, but failed to consider how their demeanor might change when they grew big and powerful. When the time came for his trap to be sprung, Culcaon’s sleeper dragons defected and fought for the kingdoms they were supposed to cleanse in fire.
And there were other problems. The rapid growth induced in the dragons tended to leave them mentally unstable, to say the least. They were like surly teenagers at best and genuinely psychotic or nearly non-sapient at worst. The legends say managing these creatures is what led to Culcaon’s baldness, a detail that appears in almost all retellings of his life. And just because the dragons could be managed doesn’t mean they were. Tame elephants still occasionally rip their handlers apart.
So ultimately this particular domination scheme was more embarrassing than threatening. But now people knew it could be done, and when Culcaon died, he left apprentices, he left notes, and he left many of the copper dragons that served them. And so the process has been repeated many times throughout history, because madmen, megalomaniacs, and wizards can never leave things alone.
The first, the oldest, and aside from iron dragons, the largest. They lurk in forgotten areas of the world, in deep caves, ancient libraries, and inaccessible peaks. Many of them are too powerful to be killed by dragon hunters, but you don’t live this long by taking unnecessary risks. Their bodies tend to be sleek, in comparison to the sharp protrusions of their kin. Copper is malleable, and their heads are almost snakelike. They can sometimes be mistaken for green dragons; their bodies have turned verdigris at last with the passing of eons.
The next generation, tougher and stronger. Even in Culcaon’s day, stories of a new metal were spreading across the world. The emergence of tin mining and its newfound necessity would shape kingdoms and empires, and cast the former lords of the world into the shadow. Bronze dragons would be an integral part of the process. In time bronze dragons would rise to be heroes, and even kings themselves. They were symbol, celebrity, and nuclear missile all rolled into one for their respective nations.
Most living bronze dragons are dejected and bitter things, for the coming of the age of iron rendered them obsolete, forgotten, and cast aside. When the last generation of the bronze age died, the iron age accountants, magisters, and kings looked over their balance books and wondered why so much produce and bullion was dedicated to these obsolete and indolent creatures. Questioning turned to resentment, and the bronze dragons were cast out or killed. To the immortal survivors of the purge, this sudden reversal was perceived as an act of extreme caprice, like a passionate lover suddenly lobbing wineglasses at a misconstrued word. They grew to hate humans, whose love they thought cheap and fickle, and delight in torturing and killing them.
Goldworking and bronzeworking diffused at similar rates and times across the world. When the first bronze dragon was created, it seemed only a matter of years before a golden dragon was created. Yet it was not for centuries, till near the beginning of the iron age, that the first golden dragon was hatched. Obviously, gold is very expensive, and even if you could amass the amount needed, the resultant dragon would be weaker and slower than even the copper dragons. So when the first golden dragon was made, it was done by a royal artist, who sought to create a god on earth. To achieve the heights of aesthetic perfection, they employed all the arts and crafts known to them, and invented several new ones. This was not the first recorded instance of someone using post-birth alterations – think something like braces but more extreme- to modify a dragon’s body, but it was the most audacious to date. Horns as long as its neck, fans of scales around the head, intricately reshaped wings.
The artist succeeded. It was so beautiful that gazing upon it would drive the most surly peasant or snobby aristocrat to body-wracking sobs. The dragon hunters that killed it would go on to throw themselves on a pyre, their sorrow and regret too deep for words or penitence. The body would lay untouched where it fell, and the grandest tomb-church the world over would spring from the adulations of its grieving followers.
Iron (and Steel) Dragons
More iron dragons have been created than any other metallic type, and they were all created for war. Also because of the abundance of iron, these dragons have grown the largest and deadliest, rivalling the chromatic wyrms in size. These were also the dragons that were subjected to the most modifications, either through magic or semi-surgical methods. The aesthetic designs of iron dragons range from ‘metallic xenomorph’ to ‘cenobite hell creature’ to mall ninja shit. All of this was done in pursuit of making them more effective killing machines. Some of it even works. This is the frontier of metallic dragon creation, since iron is abundant, the dragons created are strong, and each alloy requires the creation process to start from scratch, and no one is sharing notes.
Iron dragons tend to die in battle, but the oldest are sometimes granted a fief in a forgotten section of the polity they serve to retire in. And by ‘granted’ I mean they usually desert and start living there and no one takes the time to hire dragon hunters to stop them. They turn reddish-orange, and love to recount stories of the good old days, as their minds go to waste – iron dragons seem prone to dementia and post traumatic stress disorder.
Their scales are tougher than golds, and they have a use beyond art and religion. The first silver dragon was specially created to destroy undead, as that metal is antithetical to them. An undead creature can barely face, much less harm, a silver dragon. Almost all silvers are bred for this purpose alone – the cost isn’t worth it otherwise. Many are mistaken for iron dragons at a distance, since these are the only dragons to willingly equip themselves with armor. Most of them get killed off by liches, or go off to settle in the many barren lands occupied only by wandering undead. The bodies of silvers have little of the artistic flair that modern metallics, and dispositionally they tend rather dour and religious.
Nobody knows how someone found enough iridium to do this, but the results were worth it. Iridium is legendary for its near invincibility to corrosion and excellent resistance to heat – better even than tungsten, which has a higher melting point, but tends to get weak or deform at high temperatures. The iridium dragon lives near active magma flows in toxic caverns, and was created to explore them and retrieve something. What that was, and whether it succeeded, and who wanted it, it won’t say. Furthermore, while iridium is typically brittle, when combined with the solid-crystal structure of their scales, they become stronger than regular (adult) dragon scales – the first metallic dragon to accomplish this, though titanium dragons and a couple steel dragons have since surpassed it.
Horse-sized, greenish-gray, and blindingly fast compared to most metallics. They are kept small to preserve their speed and agility, since they have a pretty serious weakness. A hot enough fire will ignite the titanium in their scales. Otherwise, their scales are nearly impervious to harm. Were it not for their fatal flaw, they would surpass the natural dragons in deadliness.
Heavy and lethargic. In addition to being slower than most other metallic dragons, they also have some of the softest scales. Their only benefit is that they are completely immune to magic. Most of them are incredibly subtle and surprisingly stealthy for their weight, since most of them exist only to assassinate wizards. They are also very good at assassinating other people.
A few centuries ago, someone discovered that by feeding the building blocks of crystals to dragons, their scales could gain the color and luster of gems, essentially allowing them to ‘grow’ gems. This hasn’t been a huge field, since doing it requires knowing the chemical components of a desired gem beforehand, instead of just making the metal you want to use. The only gem dragons in existence are amethyst (as a proof of concept), emerald, and obsidian. The last works by just feeding the dragon obsidian, which in scale form is much stronger than the material itself, and thus easier to use for jewelry.
Most gem dragons die horrible deaths young, as their creators become too impatient and pluck their scales to sell for a quick turnaround. Their scales are worth significantly less (half value) than the gems they are meant to imitate, as they tend to be smaller, of similar cut, and greater abundance. Dragon-gem jewelry has connotations of bourgeois pretension – cheap imitations of aristocratic trappings.
Most dragons are warm to the touch, but Praxium dragons are hot enough to boil water. This is because their scales are constantly moving – very slightly – to prevent the praxium within from converting to lead. A wizard discovered a dragon lineage with scales that articulate at the skin, and modified it so the scales moved constantly, though slightly. Sometimes the scales flare further out from dragon’s skin, a necessity to manage the heat. The larger movements aren’t entirely random, so periodic resonant waveforms move across the surface of the dragon, speeding up or slowing down based on emotion or agitation. This movement has the benefit of slightly elevating the oddly shaped scales (something similar to an arrow’s fletching, with the long feather-edges facing outwards) for use in the praxium dragon’s favorite method of attack: simply brushing past their targets, whilst their scales cuts them to shreds.
Praxium dragons tend to be small and fast. You can tell if they’re nearby by all the scratch marks and dead animals everywhere; seeing one is almost invariably fatal. They are constantly and incredibly pissed off, and you would be too if your body temperature exceeded 100 degrees Celsius.
A purely theoretical idea right now. If created, it would be stronger than a titanium dragon (nearly indestructible, in fact), slightly lighter and faster, and with none of the fatal flaws that plague a titanium. If created, it would be a weapon of mass destruction, an unstoppable machine of death.