Dragons (a name originally derived from the Greek word for "snake") are legendary, huge flying creatures, typically with a serpentine shape or otherwise reptilian traits, that feature in the mythology of many cultures, and are a common element of heraldry.
The European dragons, derived from various European folk traditions, are commonly perceived as aggressive and predatory, fond of eating humans in general and virgin human females in particular, and are often perceived as blowing fire out of their mouths.
In contrast, the legendary flying reptile known in Chinese as "long" – usually also called "dragon" in European languages – is perceived as an auspicious and benevolent power, used as the symbol of culture, power, strength, and good luck. Similar such dragons appear in other East Asian cultures.
Since the 20th century, the increasing popularity of fantasy has brought about an enormous expansion and variety in the depictions of dragons, especially after JRR Tolkien gave to a dragon a major role in the plot of The Hobbit. Modern fantasy writers have come up with an enormous variety of dragons, ranging from stupid and aggressive beasts to noble, wise and benevolent beings - and every conceivable permutation in between. In Harry Turtledove's works dragons in general tend to the traditional European aggressive, fire-belching type.
Dragons in After the Downfall
Dragons were highly dangerous, predatory flying reptilians, which mostly lived in the frozen north. Fortunately for the humans who lived in warmer countries, dragons only infrequently ventured southward. On such ventures, dragons might cause vast damage. A single dragon may in a few hours devour the entire population of a village and then fly off to the next village.
Only rarely were humans able to drive off a dragon, and even more rarely were they able to kill one - such a feat requiring great courage and skill of the warriors, as well as a considerable amount of luck.
One such case, of great historical importance, happened in the early history of the Grenye nation of Bucovin. Centuries before the Lenelli discovered and started colonizing the Grenye-inhabited continent, Grenye warriors managed to kill a marauding dragon, its bones being buried on the site which would become the city of Falticeni, the Bucovin capital. The Song of the Dragon Slayers, solemnly sung on special occasions, remained a source of pride to the Grenye in later generations when being pushed further and further back by the Lenelli invaders. And even the Bucovin warriors did not realize, until many generations later, how important were the dragon bones buried under the city.
Hasso Pemsel, when looking for innovative ways of waging warfare in the world to which the Ompahlos Stone transported him, considered the idea of somehow setting dragons to attack the opposing side - but was dissuaded and told that "it is dragons who hunt people, not the other way around". However, he eventually found that while it was beyond human power to use living dragons in war, the bones of a dead dragon had a major importance – they could block magic.
There were two ways in which this could happen. Dragon bones buried in the earth could radiate a kind of aura for a long distance around, interfering with the use of magic and making it undependable. The bones under Falticeni were a major factor in preventing the Lenelli from conquering Bucovin, as they had long since subdued the coastal Grenye nations. The Lenelli had long known of this "anti-magic" characteristic of the soil of Bucovin, but had not connected it with the buried dragon bones.
Another way was to have a small fragment of dragon bone worn by a person or attached to an object, making the person or object completely immune to magic. This was accidentally discovered by the Lenelli renegade Scanno, who found dragon bones in a forest and took one of them as an amulet around his neck – but being far from bright, Scanno never connected this with his being later immune to magic and able to defy magicians with impunity.
It was Hasso Pemsel who realized the connection between dragon bones and the blocking of magic, and conceived the idea of having Bucovin warriors, disguised as peasants, collect the dragon bones – which they did right under the noses of the Lenelli, whose contempt of the Grenye blinded them to the huge implications.
Cut into small pieces worn by all Bucovin warriors, the dragon bones did make the Bucovin army completely immune to magic – hitherto a major strategic weapon of which the Lenelli invaders had a monopoly. This had a major share in the overwhelming victory of the Bucovin Grenye over the Lenelli.
Dragons in "The Castle of the Sparrowhawk"
Dragons in Curious Notions
When Paul Gomes first saw the electronics shop of Lucy Woo's father, he was surprised that the sign displayed a Chinese dragon whose tail became an electric plug. Having had some contact with Chinese-Americans on the home timeline, Gomes knew that in traditional Chinese culture such a "disrespectful" depiction of a dragon would be unacceptable. The sign gave Gomes the idea that in the alternate where the United States had been under German occupation for 150 years, Chinese-Americans had become very assimilated and lost much of their Chinese culture – which indeed proved to be the case; when he got to know Lucy and her family, Gomes found they did not even speak Chinese.
Dragons in Darkness
Dragons were very large, flying reptilian predators, domesticated (imperfectly) by human beings, mainly for military purposes. For the armed forces of various countries, maintaining a dragon corps for control of the air was indispensable in the conduct of modern warfare.
Military use of dragons had already been well-known in previous wars, but it was systematized to an unprecedented degree by Algarve's flying squadrons. The use of dragons, under such highly skilled commanders as Sabrino and in close conjunction with the ground forces, had a devastating effect and played a key role in the swift Algarvian successes in the first stages of the Derlavaian War.
In later stages of the war Kuusamo riposted with the invention of the Habakkuk dragon-carrier, eliminating the need for dragons to make long flights over the sea and making it possible to launch devastating attacks on Algarve's territory from close to shore.
Dragons had two main modes of fighting: breathing fire, used by dragons when swooping down on ground troops or installations or in aerial battles with opposing dragons, and the dropping of explosive eggs from a height. Dragons were to some degree vulnerable to the fire of sticks, especially heavy ones; to deflect beams from enemy sticks, dragons' hides were coated with silver.
For dragons to breathe fire, it was needed to feed them with cinnabar - which made Cinnabar into a strategic material whose possession was critical in the conduct of war. Some major moves of Derlavaian War were dictated by such considerations, especially Algave's effort to capture Unkerlant's cinnabar-rich Mamming Hills – which would have provided a plentiful supply of Cinnabar for Algavian dragons while denying it to Unkelrlanter ones. Conversely, the fierce resistance by King Swemmel's troops at Sulingen was motivated by their determination to prevent that scenario.
Dragons were considered nasty and stupid animals, of which even their riders were not fond - unlike leviathans with whom human riders developed deep emotional bonds. Individual dragons were usually not given a name, and a dragon rider did not greatly mourn a lost mount, as long as a suitable replacement was available.
Dragons were often vicious and aggressive, also and especially toward their own kind. While a trained dragon rider was usually able to keep his mount under control, a dragon rendered riderless was apt to rampage and might cause considerable damage to "its" own side. Causing deliberately such a situation was a recognized – though risky – tactic of dragon warfare.
Cleaning out the highly acid dragon excrement was among the most unpleasant duties with which an ordinary soldier might be saddled, and sergeants habitually used it as a form of punishment.
Dragons in Every Inch a King
Dragons were plentiful in certain parts of Shqiperi.
Dragons in "Getting Real"
When under the influence of the Real drug in 2117, Pablo Ramirez had the hallucination of fighting with a fire-breathing dragon, killing it with a magic sword, taking its valuable hoard and being rewarded by sex with a beautiful redhead. But though seeming very real, nothing of this happened in reality, which was that Ramirez was a drifter in a very run-down Los Angeles.
Dragons in The House of Daniel
Dragons were not the most common creature in the United States. The zoo in San Diego had a baby dragon in captivity in 1934. It was just beginning to learn to fly, and the zoo designed its enclosure to let it learn.
Dragons in "Leg Irons, the Bitch and the Wardrobe"
Micro-dragons were used to cook meals. Safety-sorcery measures made them safe for children to use, so they wouldn't burn down the house.
Dragons in "The Man who Came Late"
Alianora embroidered pictures of dragons on her linen tunic, in memory of her youthful adventures. Most women in the village embroidered birds or flowers for this purpose.
Dragons in "None So Blind"
The maps of the Empire of Mussalmi had, since antiquity, indicated "Here Be Dragons" over the mountainous tropical territory to the south of its frontier. As its strength and reach grew, the reigning emperor sent an exploratory expedition south to discover if this was true.
The Mussalmi expedition eventually discovered large green-gray lizards lurking high in the mountains that resembled the dragons of legends.
These creatures were somewhat larger and heavier than men and ran on their two hind legs. The legs ended in three toed feet and each toe had a large, vicious claw ideal for disemboweling prey. While the length of the reptile from foot to head was longer than a man, the animal ran with its body horizontal, counter-balanced by its tail, thus making it seem shorter than a man. In addition to its claws and large teeth, the dragons spat a vitriol substance that was highly corrosive to flesh and "burned" through acidic action. This undoubtedly gave rise to the legend of dragons breathing fire.
The main diet of these "dragons" were the mountain animals named "unicorns" by the expedition.
Pranys or True Dragon
When the Mussalmian expedition first exited the jungles at the foothills of the tropical mountains, two smoking volcanoes could be seen on the horizon. Although they seemed close together, they were separated by many miles. The expedition leader Baron Toivo chose to head toward one of the mountains.
As the expedition neared the base of the volcano, frequent earthquakes could be felt. After an especially fierce quake, Galvanauskas, the head of the current team of porters, remarked that the pranys or dragon was stirring in his sleep. Kyosti asked him where it was and he responded by pointing to the nearby volcano while stating it was the dragon’s nostril. Kyosti sarcastically asked if the other volcano, now a quarter of the way around the horizon was the other nostril, to which Galvanauskas gravely agreed.
After the Mussalmi discovered the large, two legged lizards which they concluded were the source of the legends of dragons, Kyosti once again confronted Galvanauskas. He indicated the preserved specimen and stated that if all of them thrashed in their sleep, they still would not cause an earthquake. Galvanauskas responded “So you say” and walked away. Kyosti was furious but was restrained by Sunila who quoted the proverb “There’s none so blind as the man who refuses to see”.
Ironically, it was the Mussalmi who were blind as Galvanauskas was correct. The two volcanoes were the nostrils of a sleeping dragon. The last time it had awakened, its fiery breath had burned out the great scaly beasts who used to dominate the world, leaving only the small shrew-like creatures that were the longfathers of humans.
Dragon in Noninterference
The Margush River Valley culture of Bilbeis IV had a legendary animal very similar to the dragon of Earth legends. When Stavros Monemvasios, a human traveling in disguise, claimed to be an enormous dragon, Queen Sabium recognized the imagery and laughed at his joke.
Dragon in On the Train
The Railroad maintained a stock of dragons as beasts of burden, to pull The Train in regions where magic worked but science didn't.
Dragons in The War Between the Provinces
Dragons once roamed the Detinan continent, but their numbers dwindled with the increase of the human population. By the time of the Detinan Civil War, dragons had been extirpated from all regions except the remote Stony Mountains. Nevertheless, dragons remained an important cultural symbol, and were featured prominently on the flags of both sides in the war. For example, the flag of Detina was a gold dragon on a red field, while the northern rebels used a reversed banner: a red dragon on gold field. To strike fear into enemy, battle mages conjured up illusions of dragons on the battlefield, images which were no less terrifying for their lack of realism.
In one of the Geoffreyist Army of Franklin's final attempts to resist Doubting George's loyalist army, Franklin mages teleported a real live dragon from the Stonies to northern Franklin Province. The dragon inflicted casualties on George's men before being wounded and fleeing, presumably to wreak havoc, ironically, on Geoffreyist populations.
- Akiss, dragon-like creatures in the Worldwar franchise.
- Dragon of Bulola, for the dragon in "Black Tulip".