When the crew of SS Mary Rose approached a year ago after watching lower decks and seeing a planet with dragons they begged, petitioned and brought up dragons at every opportunity they could until I created a planet guide for a planet only seen for moments on television but had captured the attention of the crew so much. The crew are spending a dry dock on a planet that based their culture around concepts popular during Earth’s Renaissance period, combined with elements of fantasy.
This post is the first real delve into dragons and the concepts of the planet with breeding grounds, protection and DRAGONS. It highlights both Burnie and Delaney’s loves for the unusual and routes they have taken in why they love dragons.
Location: Hysperia, the Breeding Grounds
2250 words – 4.5 OF Standard Post Measure
“I can’t get over how much this feels like home. If you remove the faint smell of sulphur, and ignore the whole imminent-dragons thing, this could easily be Beenkeragh Ridge. I’m a tad jealous.”
The hike, though not for the faint-hearted, had followed a frequent-enough pilgrimage that the pathways were mostly clear and several well-placed signs thwarted the wilderness’ best attempts to steer travelers in the wrong direction. The incline had been steady, a far gentler expectation than the distant peaks that stretched skyward with jagged needles, and the weather, though brisk, also featured a glaring amount of direct sunlight. Walking sticks had become a vital accessory, if only to appease a sense of aesthetic necessity, and a certain boyfriend’s adamant insistence that higher altitudes were medically unwise had become a distant irritation long forgotten. Beyond the central keep, and the villages that spilled out from it, Hysperia was a lot like Earth.
Except, it had dragons.
Delaney paused on the top of their most recent climb, where the ground leveled out to a plateau for a few hundred metres, and inhaled a lungful of crisp, fresh air. “Do you think we can bottle this stuff for the next time the air filtration is shoved into emergency mode?”
“We could probably fill a few cannisters if you want,” Burnie replied noncommittally. The air was nice enough, but having been raised in NYC, fresh mountain air didn’t hold any real nostalgia for him. He was enjoying the hike and the views, but the real reason he was out here was for dragons. The very idea of fire-breathing beasts inspired a visceral pyromanic thrill. “It doesn’t seem much like home, since my home was a city, but I do kinda like the hint of sulfur.”
“It’s certainly aromatic,” Delaney replied dryly, resigned to the fact that he was favouring the one thing about the environment that she’d have been tempted to change if she could. It did, of course, herald the proximity of the entire reason they were up this high in the first place, and the mutuality of their excitement was potent enough for her to forgive him for preferring a bunch of dirty buildings for the splendor of green valleys and mountain lakes. “According to the directions they gave us,” she continued, glancing down at the physical map that had taken a moment to get used to, “we go across this plateau, around the outcrop and then start down again. These breeding grounds are in a gigantic crater, or perhaps the adjacent cave system. Or maybe both.” She had listened. She’d just also really needed to find the perfect stick.
Burnie looked across the plateau, half hoping to see little whisps of smoke rising from the beyond the outcrop. “I wonder if they make nests, like circles of rock or sand …or glass! Fire sand and you get glass. They might be down there laying on beds of glistening, rainbow streaked glass,” he enthused, picking the pace toward the thunder – among the many cool things he’d learned about dragons since arriving here was that group of dragons was called a ‘thunder’, which was all kinds of awesome.
“If they’re not then they should be,” Delaney followed, immediately warming to the visual. For all the older engineer might have been blasé about their surroundings, the Irish girl remembered her childhood summers, roaming as far as she could stretch the boundaries of curfew. And the one thing she’d always consistently hoped to come across, aside from traces of Sidhe and Kelpies and Leprechauns and, if she was honest, the Abhartach because vampires were cool, was evidence that dragons had once existed. Or continued to exist. To be this close to that finally being the case was surreal.
Burnie nodded, unconsciously increasing his pace as he imagined the dragons just ahead. “I wonder how they tame them for riding?” he mused. “Do they raise domesticated ones for that and this is a wild population, or do they capture them at a certain age and break them to saddle? How would you do that anyway?”
“Wait, I found out some of this.” Delaney took a moment to order the information in her head as she rushed to catch up. “There is a breeder in town and personal acquisition is permitted, but there’s a really complicated licensing involved and you have to prove that you can suitably house it and that your reason for ownership is legitimate. Apparently,” she continued, “they’re highly sought after for medicinal purposes, which obviously involves them being dead and so they’re pretty stringent about trying to shut down illicit farming enterprises. There is a larger breed that they do use in agriculture, though I’m not sure if they ride them or just hitch them to machinery. There’s a heap of different breeds,” Delaney informed happily. “And interestingly, only some of them spout fire. They have a couple of injectors inside their cheek pouches,” she mimicked with her fingers, “that shoot two reactive substances simultaneously. Apparently they can be kind of volatile. One guy was talking about deformities, or maybe it was a disease, that can lead to spontaneous combustion.” The redhead grimaced as they approached the outcrop. “I guess I never really considered that something able to light things on fire could potentially blow itself up.”
“Wow, talk about living dangerously,” Burnie replied, but in the next moment the engineer’s mind was running design concepts and after a moment he nodded. “Makes sense though. Even if what’s in those cheek pouches is inert until combined, the mix is combustible – leak even a little and *bam* worst case of acid reflux ever.” He shook his head. As much as it would be really cool to be able to breath fire, as he thought about more he couldn’t help feeling kind of bad for the dragons. “I wonder if they’ve evolved to not pass gas? Because it seems like farting would be a bad idea in thunder of dragons puffing flame or even hot smoke.”
The concept alone set Delaney laughing, though she curbed the initial outburst as it bounced around the hills and served as potentially too much warning. Pressing a fist to her lips, she settled for snorting and shook her head. “The more I learn about them, the more I feel for them. In all the stories I used to devour as a kid, dragons were majestic beasts. Wise, fierce, intelligent, noble. They certainly didn’t burn down villages with gastrointestinal dysfunction.”
Burnie snorted a laugh. “Can you imagine? Poof – Fwhoosh!” He mimed an expanding ball of flame, then put a curled hand to his mouth. “Oops. Sorry. I burped.”
The mental imagine earned him a grin. “You know, I didn’t think to ask what their diet is. Coal? Vegetable peelings? Beans?” Still chuckling, Delaney leaned on her walking stick to peer out around the jutting rocks and tested her footing on the loose gravel that lead, as predicted, down a gentle slope. “All right, apparently the closer we get, the thicker this vapor is going to get. We’re absolutely, under no circumstance, allowed to actually get close enough to touch them, though all things considered we probably don’t really want to spook them anyway. I like my eyebrows.”
“Aw, a little eyebrow scorching never hurt anyone,” Burnie laughed, waggling his scorched-on-several-occasions brows. “Now, hair, that can be tricky.” His eyes rolled upward as though trying to look at his own. “They can get it to grow back, but it tends to go mad scientist on you.”
“Let’s try not to get ourselves set on fire first time around,” Delaney suggested, though if push came to shove she’d be no better at curbing her impulses than he was.
The winding pathway that lead down the shaded incline had enough loose rocks that Delaney spent most of the descent trying not to fall on her backside. There were a few touch-and-go moments where the walking stick had proven its worth, and one rather impressive sideways rock-surf that had seen her clear an entire length by sliding without losing balance. The large boulder that jutted out just before the path veered back on itself saved her from a must faster trip down the rest of the slope and she had stopped with a splat, breathless with laughter.
She missed this. Wandering, exploring, finding new ways to nearly die…
When she’s first talked to the breeder in town, Delaney had been a little unclear of what to expect once they reached the plateau. As it turned out, the lack of description made perfect sense because, the minute the moved through the rock-strewn valley created by a midden of larger boulders, the emerging vista was one of rather sparse, almost-desolate tundra…and nests. Everywhere.
“Wow, now I do have to wonder what they eat,” Burnie remarked, thinking about the size of prey population needed to sustain that many big flying reptiles. Mythical earth dragons supposedly ate sheep and cattle though they also reputedly had some more exotic tastes. “Can’t be virgins. I doubt there are enough on the whole planets.”
Was it a good time to tell him about the low survival odds of young whelps? And about the ongoing difficulties when a culturally sacred species capitalised too much on additional food sources when official mandates made it very complicated to cull numbers legally? She’d got a whole lecture on it and Delaney had been left with the impression that dragon conservation on Hysperia was a loaded topic. She opted not to bring the mood down and instead said, “There at least are only a couple of the larger species. According to my sources,” she continued, crouching down behind a rock to observe the closest nests, “about 80% of the species don’t grow beyond the size of a large dog and only two species can actually get airborne. I think there’s about twenty species in total? He kept mentioning variations, not sure if he meant crossbreeds or not.”
“Dog sized…” Burnie’s voice trailed off, but his mind was whirling with possibilities, fantasies even. K-9 was a good companion and wonderfully useful, but a dog dragon – a dogon? – that would be something. Mental images of teaching it to flame on command, tossing balls for it to torch mid-air, fireworks for it light! …of course he’d have to deal with the possibility of indigestive explosion… a flame retardant dogon house maybe…? “Did they say anything about intelligence, how easily they can be trained?”
“Argus had two with him, they were asleep at his feet while he was talking to me. If they can be tamed, maybe they be trained?” It was difficult to explain the gaps in her information, given how much Delaney had clearly gleaned in her pursuit of directions and permission. The breeder, who certainly knew his stuff, was of the type to enjoy the sound of his own voice, however, and had a very clear and decisive agenda when it came to educating visitors. He’d been somewhat taken aback when Delaney had pressed him for information about the need for a fully guided experience, which she would have honestly agreed to had there been a booking within the next week. Once he’d begrudgingly pointed out that the only restrictions were observance of the conservation edicts, she’d been only too happy to expedite their exploration.
“It doesn’t look like any have hatched yet,” she continued, disappointed but unsurprised. “Apparently there’s another week or two before the first whelps are due.”
“Maybe we can come back before we leave and see if any have hatched by then. I bet baby dragonettes are adorable,” Burnie sighed, though he imagined seeing them might be more difficult then as mother dragons would be especially vigilant and protective of the area holding their new broods. “It’s really cool seeing them in their natural habitat though. Makes you wonder how the people here were ever able to capture the large flying ones and break them for riding.”
“No idea,” agreed Delaney, rising to her feet again. The embellishments of youthful fantasy didn’t always leave a lot of room for practical considerations, and she’d been left with the impression that dealing with dragons was a lot less glamorous than the storybooks suggested. Then again, most fairytales involved single dragons sleeping on a hoard of gold and burning down entire villages, so there were probably some details that were better off being fictional.
As she stood and looked out over the scattered nests, Delaney wondered what species these egg clutches belonged to. There had been an informative book, compiled by Argus himself, but this initial trip had been more to make sure they could actually find the way than a serious attempt at dragon watching. Already making plans to drag Leiddem up here, the redhead turned to grin at her partner in crime and instead found herself gawping, wide-eyed, at something just over his shoulder.
“Okay, don’t move too suddenly, but there is….” She winced, leaning to the side to try and get a better look at something in the undergrowth. Making eye contact with Burnie, Delaney mouthed, Dragon.. Another glance turned her exhilaration into immediate concern. Blinking rapidly, trying to process whether she was right or not, she stared at a patch of ground only 10-15 metres behind the oblivious man and mouthed again. Nest.