On the Physiology and Psychology of Dragons, A Summary
By Magister Fredus Dane, of Three Leaves, Alumnus of the most esteemed College of Sommerlan
With additional pertinent annotations
The 'common' Dragon, or Drakonis Rexx, to use the Old High Imperial genus, is still by all other metrics a staggeringly rare creature. According to estimates from the Books of Thelen, less than a hundred specimens are known to exist, each named and annotated in the records of the Great War. When one considers that the sum magical potential of the three dominant species of the world (the third being the Whales of the Blue Council) is theorised to be approximately equal and the population of the Empire alone stood at some thirty million as of the last census, the gulf in power between a Dragon and any individual human being should be terrifyingly apparent. However, we should consider that the term 'Dragon' also refers to the Celestial Dragons (Drakonis Sinestre) of Daxalai and the Ground-Wyrms (Drakonis Podia) of Jandalla, neither of which are categorised by any peer-reviewed College source, the actual number of Dragons possibly stands nearer one thousand.
Even so, a single Dragon is more than a match for the entire population of even the largest city, its Sealed citizenry and Magisters included. That Thelen and the Patrons were able to bring the Dragons to the negotiating table at the end of the War is an achievement still unmatched in human history, and the Decree of Fire should be considered the single most important treaty in that entire span of time. Given the significant expansion of the human population since that time and the corresponding dilution of magical talent, it is extremely doubtful that such a victory could be achieved in the modern age.
Author's note, revised edition: Some commentators have taken issue with the preceding statements, calling them 'unpatriotic', 'defeatist' or 'alarmist'. I respect the right of my Learned Friends to criticise, but such arguments are idiocy of the worst order. These are statements of proven fact, and that the Decree of Fire is all that stands between humankind and annihilation or subjugation by the Dragons has been well known for centuries and indeed was the entire point. Those who claim that my research risks alerting the Dragons to our vulnerability must similarly consider them to be very stupid creatures to have not reached such a conclusion on their own.
In physiology, the Dragon (and here again I refer to Drakonis Rexx) is a singularly impressive creature. Though individuals vary, most measure from seventy to well over a hundred feet in length with teeth the size of a adult male human. Their scales are covered with armour-plating several tal thick composed of a substance similar to obsidian, which is then infused with metal depending on the creature's habitat. For example, those Dragons native to the Abelian Mountains are commonly silver, whereas the now-vanished Dragons of the Dendaril Hegemony are recorded as being gold. Though Dragons are recorded in some myths as laying and hatching from eggs, neither Dragon eggs nor juveniles of the species have ever been witnessed by any credible source. Indeed, the life-cycle of Dragons is one of the most mind-boggling and humbling aspects of the species.
It is widely known that Dragons sleep for a period of exactly fifty years, before awakening and spending an equal amount of time active, with such reliability that several ancient pre-Imperial tribes based their calendars on them. What is less commonly understood is the reason for this behaviour. Simply put, Dragons sleep in this manner because their longevity is such that to them the span of a century is equivalent to the passing of a single day and night to a human. To put this in perspective, a human being might expect to live, barring accident or malice, for over twenty thousand days. A Dragon then, might well live for an equivalent number of centuries. To a Dragon, accordingly, the Empire has existed for a little more than ten days and indeed the events of the Great War must be considered recent history. If a Magister aspires to have any dealings whatsoever with Dragonkind he or she must understand this fact above all others.
Another fact that can be discerned about Dragons from their sleeping cycle is that they are creatures of the most unbreakable habit and routine. Cattle farmers who are tasked with supplying breakfast for newly-awakened Dragons know almost to the exact minute when and where their hungry charge will appear, and woe betide the community that fails to meet that responsibility, for while the Decree might protect their person it does not safeguard their property. Once again, however, this should be viewed through the lens of the long lifespan of the Dragon, for what might seem like a long-ingrained pattern of behaviour to us might well be a week-long fancy to them. (Not to belabour the point, but said fancy would last, by human reckoning, for seven centuries.)
Similarly the intelligence and wisdom of a Dragon can be inferred from their actions. A critical mistake made by some students is to assume that a creature whose life is lived over so much longer a timespan must be slow-witted. In actual fact, however, the massive size of a Dragon's brain (the organ being considerably larger than an adult Abelian Destrier by most estimates) and their incredible mastery of magic gives them an intellect at least on a par with the most accomplished Magister, whilst their long lives allow them both experience and wisdom unmatched by any human being since Thelen Himself. Indeed, the sheer power of a Dragon's mind is such that to communicate with one directly is devastating to all but the most disciplined psyche. Since Dragons converse with each other through the mass-mind known as the Parliament, and are physiologically incapable of human speech in their native form, a Dragon must either assume human form to safely speak to humans or use an intermediary such as the entity known to the College as The Ambassador. Dragons appear to view taking human shape with great distaste and indeed no instance of them using the ability since the Great War has been recorded. However, so great is their skill with magic that this should not be considered to be proof that such a thing has not, in fact, occurred- merely that it was not detected.
It is a common misconception that the 'wings' of a Dragon are used to propel them through the air in the same manner as birds. However, even the most cursory study of biomechanics should reveal that this cannot possibly be true. The sheer weight and mass of the creature, set against the size of the wings, makes using them to impart enough force to provide lift utterly impossible. Instead, my research suggests that the Dragon uses the increased surface of the wings to allow it to absorb more Aether from its environment, and the 'flapping' effect seen during flight has more in common with a man swinging his arms as he walks than with the similar motion made by avian mammals. Another frequently-made assumption is that Dragons are able, as the traditional masters of the skies, to fly for extended periods without effort, Whilst it is true that the physical exertion involved is minimal, the expenditure of Aether required to offset the effect of gravity on so massive a body is extreme and even the most powerful Dragons appear incapable or unwilling to travel intercontinental distances. Most Dragons, then, will spend the daylight hours airborne and the night resting in their lairs, typically a mountain cave, much as a man might rest for a while after a run.
One theory, to which this author subscribes with reservations, is that any Dragon flying across one of the major seas into the realm of another (e.g. a Dragon native to the Empire flying to Daxalai) would be exhausted by the end of the flight and then find itself easy prey for the native inhabitants, since much like humans the various breeds of Dragon are fiercely territorial. An obvious exception is Drakonis Podia, which appears to have surrendered the skies above Jandalla to the Drakonis Rexx of the Parliament, though the latter are infrequent visitors.
Dragons are swift fliers but not exceptionally so, being able to match fast birds of prey such as the Sommerwald Brown Harrier. They are, however, able to maintain their speed for longer than all but the very best racing birds. Nevertheless, due to the significant difference in size flat-out speed is one aspect in which a mounted human might inspire envy in a Dragon, provided said human is an Outrider or Magister. The wisdom of inspiring such envy is another matter entirely.
In battle, it seems almost redundant to state that a Dragon is a fearsome combatant. Some students, on reading historical accounts of Dragon attacks from the regrettably sparse pre-Imperial chronicles, take the lack of description of advanced magic use by the creatures to be evidence of a lack of talent in this field. Such interpretations ignore two critical points. Firstly, the pre-Thelenic hedge-wizards, Warlocks and other mystics of the time would have been unlikely to even notice the use of more advanced magic. Indeed, magical knowledge among the human tribes of the era was so primitive that many sources consider Thelen to be the first human being to use it in any significant way. Secondly, Dragons eschew more subtle magic in most situations simply because their powers of flight and of white-hot flame are more than enough to deal with any adversary.
Dragonfire, in particular, is a unique combination of natural and magical ability. It is well-known that consumption of the red meat that is the primary food of all Dragons produces certain vapours within the digestive system of the diner, a fact made regrettably obvious at more than one College banquet. It is also well-known that said vapours are particularly flammable, which certain Acolytes of my acquaintance have also chosen to demonstrate on multiple occasions, each one doubtless believing themselves to be the premier wit of the Empire as they did so. What is not known is exactly what process occurs in the body of the Dragon to turn this already potent fuel into a liquid form that is stored within ducts that connect to the creature's oesophagus. It seems certain that amongst other things, this process causes the substance to become extremely concentrated. When a Dragon chooses to unleash its fire, it simply emits a stream of the fuel from its throat which it then ignites with its own magic, which produces a jet of flame an order of magnitude hotter than any Magister could create with Aether alone. This fire has been documented as being able to cut straight through Aether-reinforced marble or even the most heavily enchanted and warded silver shields, and is invariably fatal to any living being it strikes other than possibly another Dragon.
Author's note, revised edition: It has been pointed out to me that there exists no record of a Dragon unleashing its fire on a Whale of the Blue Council. Though the Whales, while immeasurably more powerful than humans, are not generally considered as individually mighty as Dragons, their mastery of their watery habitat might well increase their defence against such an attack. In any event, so inimical are the two species' preferred respective environments that any such confrontation between the two would appear to be vanishingly unlikely.
In the extremely rare event that a Dragon might exhaust its supply of fuel, they should be considered every bit as versatile as any Magister in using their prodigious reserves of Aether to destroy an assailant. Lightning, kinetic and purely Aetherial attacks have all been employed by Dragons at various points in the records of the Great War, and the creature's great fangs and claws present a formidable physical threat should a primitive mood grip the beast. Certain deeply dubious sources, almost all of them pre-Imperial, even claim some Dragons took human form and wielded weapons such as swords, spears and axes with exceptional skill- such ability is certainly entirely feasible, but the motive for such a display is impossible to ascertain.
No treatise on Dragonkind could be considered complete without mentioning the Decree of Fire. Simply put, this treaty, signed in blood by Thelen and the Dragons at the end of the Great War, ensures by the most terrible magic that any aggression between humans and Dragons will result in the deaths of 'several' of the 'greatest of the race in breach'. The Decree allows the Dragons to execute any human being attempting to perform 'flight in the realm of the birds', which in practice allows the use of levitation spells but is generally agreed to make any Magister flying higher than a tree-top fair game. The vagueness of the language is as deliberate as it is brilliant. Any human being powerful enough to slay a Dragon would be almost certain to be struck down by the spell in retaliation, and any manipulator attempting to trigger the curse for political reasons could never be certain which rivals it might strike or whether he or she might fall beneath its remit. Conversely, whilst humankind could survive the immediate effects of breaching the treaty but would almost certainly be destroyed in the aftermath, the Dragons would lose 'several' of their most powerful should they transgress, a loss which would be devastating to the species. Truly, Thelen was most wise and foresighted when he drew up the terms of the Decree.
In conclusion, we must finally consider the most important fact when considering the balance of power between humankind, Dragons, and Whales. Over the course of human history, countless human beings have succumbed to the cold grip of mortality. Even Whales, long-lived and powerful as they are, eventually die of one cause or another. However, in all of the recorded span of time, the sum total of Dragons known to have died stands at one- Phantonanatros, The Black Terror of Kȗl. Another, the Gold Dragon Helieachoates, is recorded as having been fatally wounded during the Fall of Xodan, but her body was never found and she is believed to have survived, though along with the other Gold Dragons she has not been seen since. To be clear, Phantonanatros is recorded in the First Book of Thelen as the greatest of Dragonkind, struck down by Thelen Himself as an example of his power, but that the entire death toll of the species is so low- and that they sued for peace so soon after the event- is deeply instructive. In short, it shows both the incredible power of an individual Dragon, and also the exceptionally high value the entire species places on any single one.
It remains to be seen if human beings- a species as individually feeble and short-lived to a Dragon as a housefly is to a man- will ever be able to look that elder race in the eye again. Certainly our advantage is the unrelenting march of progress and the constant urge to better both our understanding of magic, and our control of it, for notwithstanding my previous remarks the speed of development of human society far outpaces any such progress amongst our scaled rivals, if any such progress even occurs. It will fall to future generations of Magisters to ensure that the Decree of Fire remains in place- or that we survive if it should fail. I, for one, do not envy them.
Written and deposed this fifth red day of Aurantus, 657cc
Mag. Fredus Dane
Annotated the fifteenth white day of Walanstahl, 658cc