By Juan-Pablo Pina
The following is a fictionalized version of natural and human history. All that is not solid fact is a product of the author’s imagination.
Throughout our history, one creature above all others has haunted our imagination. On land and in the air, the dragon has left its mark in the folklore of our ancestors. But what if the legends of colossal reptiles were true? What if these fantastic creatures were more than myth?
This is a timeless tale of extinction and evolution. Of life and death. This is the story of a remarkable dynasty that survived from the Jurassic to make a final stand in the Middle Ages, a fateful confrontation of sword and fang. This is the natural history of the most incredible animal THAT NEVER EXISTED…
66 million years ago…
The Late Cretaceous…
The Mesozoic air was hot. It was like being inside an oven. The Montana landscape was covered in lava flows with only a few islands of greenery. And yet, the dinosaurs have managed to produce their greatest weapon. The largest and most powerful land predator the world has ever seen.
The Tyrannosaurus rex continued to walk about the stony landscape. He had ruled this territory for many years. His back and head was a charcoal black while his underbelly and body were an orange-like tan. He was a colossal bull who had a small sort of peach fuzz covering his body. But then he smelled something.
It wasn’t right. It wasn’t natural. It was one of them. They looked like him but they weren’t his kind. They smelled of ash and fire and death. And it was like they made evil a tangible thing with wavelengths like light and sound. He walked toward the source of the smell, his reptilian eyes filled with purpose. Finally, as he crested a hill, he saw it. One of them.
It stood in a little hollow in the scorched landscape. The dinosaur’s eyes filled with hate as he began to walk towards it. Only then did the creature notice him. It was odd. It wasn’t normal. It disrupted the natural order of the world of the dinosaurs. It stood on two, bird-like legs and had a rather short tail. It also had a long neck with a small horned head on the top reminiscent of that of a Carnotaurus. But the weirdest thing about it was its arms. Or rather, lack of them. Instead of arms like a raptor’s or rex’s it had a pair of folded wings like a Quetzalcoatlus’s or Pteranodon’s.
The animal let out a low clicking noise as it took a step back, wary of the approaching theropod. The dinosaur growled as he continued to stalk the strange creature. But the creature, still being young, didn’t understand how to properly react. And so he began to bluff, extending his bat-like wings and revealing two bright red eye spots. He shook his wings, the sunlight behind him brightening his azure wings, making his display all the more vibrant. But the Tyrannosaurus was unshaken. He continued to advance, every step filled with rage and confidence. He snapped his jaws, only biting air. But that alone intimidated the creature. He furled his wings again and tried a different tactic.
He craned his neck forward like a cobra over a rat and let out a hellish scream. It was like a thousand jet engines had been ignited at once and had been combined with the shrieks of a thousand electric guitars and the roars of a hundred elephants along with the screams of the damned. The sound practically hit the dinosaur like a freight train, an unreasonably powerful force that caused his heart and bones to rattle. It rang out for dozens of miles, a shrill cry unlike anything else. The theropod shook its head, trying to regain control. But it was too much. It was almost deafening. Finally, the creature stopped. And that’s when the dinosaur seized its chance.
It charged, each pounding footstep shaking the earth. The creature didn’t move, practically paralyzed by fear.
But then came another, shorter shriek. The Tyrannosaurus skidded to a halt and looked up as the sun was blotted out by some other thing. It was another one of them.
The colossus dove at the dinosaur and raked the top of its head with its razor talons. They sank deep into the theropod’s scaly flesh, creating huge red gashes that leaked blood. Finally, with a few stabilizing flaps off its wings, the giant landed and let out a mighty roar. This was an adult female, a fully grown prehistoric dragon. The Tyrannosaurus is intruding her territory and he’s threatening her son. The dinosaur roared in rage and agony as blood seeped from the wounds on his head.
The theropod charged once again, slamming into the mother dragon’s ribs and sending her staggering back. But she didn’t bend or break. That’s not how her kind was wired. Millions of years of evolution and a lineage that started in the Jurassic, the golden age of the dinosaurs, has allowed her kind to survive among the terrible lizards. And she knew just how to deal with a tyrant. She had killed dozens of Tyrannosaurus prior to this confrontation. Matter of fact, she hunted them.
She spread her wings wide, showing off her gray and orange wing patterns. The Tyrannosaurus, now completely pissed, roared loudly. The mother responded with a loud shriek, a deep and demonic roar. The dinosaur charged only to get his snout impaled by a swing of the dragon’s horns. He grunted and hissed, blood dripping from his forehead and jaws. The dragon roared as continued to flap her wings, staying on the ground and firing off kick after kick of her clawed feet. Her black and gold wing patterns betray a dragon that has survived the world of Late Cretaceous long enough to not only reach adulthood but also carry on her bloodline.
The mother screamed in agony as the dinosaur lunged at the base of her left wing, his teeth sinking through flesh and tearing at muscle and ligaments, causing blood to stain his jaws and soak the winged creature’s shoulder. Finally he let go, ripping off a huge chunk of scaly flesh leaving flesh and bone exposed. The dragon roared in rage while the theropod let out a triumphant screech. But she wasn’t done.
Millions of years of evolution had produced a weapon that not even the tyrant lizard could push past. Suddenly, with the explosiveness of a gun firing, the dragon began to spit fire. Raw flame began to scorch the dinosaur’s face, searing through skin and scale and eventually reaching the soft pink flesh underneath. She walked forward, her wings spread wide as she continued to pelt the assailing dinosaur with flame. The Tyrannosaurus roared and screeched as his face continued to burn, his eyes stinging and his open mouth allowing the fire to scream down his throat, burning him from the inside. Until finally it was too much. He fell to the floor, his face nothing but charred flesh that just managed to cover his skull.
The mother and son cooed to each other, low and short calls that ascertained their affection. The mother gently nuzzled her son with her snout, the young male sniffing her mutilated wing. The wings of a dragon were its most valuable asset, even more than its fire. Only the largest of dragons could survive without flying, and the young male’s mother was nowhere near that size. Without its wings, a dragon’s life would become much, much harder than what it originally was. Travel, hunting, and combat would become a hundred times harder. And in the Late Cretaceous, you need all the advantages you have. It would be a miracle and a half if the youngster survived for even another month, let alone the years necessary to reach adulthood.
So…that happened. This is a little story to explain the reasoning to a bunch of stuff. For starters, the way I described Montana during the Late Cretaceous is completely wrong. The reality is that it was like the Okavango Delta in Botswana, a seasonal wetland filled with life. However, I did this to pay homage to the last episode of the 1999 Walking with Dinosaurs documentary series. And I liked to imagine the T. rex as looking something like an edgier version of the Prehistoric Planet Tyrannosaurus. That’s another documentary show, by the way.
Anyways, the next thing to talk about is the dragons. More specifically, why do I call them “dragons”? Now, if you really want to be specific, you’ll note that “dragons” with only two legs are actually called “wyverns”. And I don’t blame you. However, the idea here is convergent evolution. Let me explain.
As I said, the “dragon” lineage started all the way in the Jurassic. And considering that non-avian dinosaurs were the most prolific animals at the time, it was only natural that the “dragons” mimic some dinosaurs, specifically the macropredator theropods like Allosaurus and Torvosaurus. However, they still belong to the basal “dragon” group. Only when you get really nerdy is when you start to see a difference. There are two main “dragon” clades: Drakonia and Wyvernia. Don’t overthink it. Wyvernia is the dragon that has four limbs (two front feet/wings and two back feet) and Drakonia is the six-limbed dragon (four legs and two wings). Drakonia came about after an evolutionary split that started in the Paleocene, which later ended with them becoming a whole other clade during the Eocene.