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Draconic ep.4 “Welcome to the Jungle”

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.


India…

10 thousand years ago…


The sounds of the jungle were almost deafening. The chirps of bugs, the howls of monkeys, the songs of birds, and the whistling wind creating a thunderous yet peaceful melody. One that she had gotten used to.


The dragon skulked through the underbrush, her long serpentine form moving in almost fluid-like fashion. This is a forest dragon, a descendant of the snake-like hunters that managed to survive the end of the dinosaurs’ reign. Like them, she had a long body with only four stubby and splayed limbs like a monitor lizard. This female, a barely mature female, was the ultimate predator in this patch of jungle.


She continued to move about the forest, her sensitive ears, shaped like those of a mammal, picking up subtle differences in the ambience. The whistling wind seemed to die down and the deep honks of distant birds disappeared all while the squeaks of squirrels seemed to pop into existence along with the distant trumpet of an elephant. Yet the tropical cacophony continued, the subtle differences unnoticeable to other creatures. But then there was something new. Something near. It sounded like something was scraping two rocks together and shaking the bushes. She lifted her head and, past a huge fallen log, saw the source: pigs.


They were Indian boars, almost bear-like herbivores with scraggly black coats of fur and long ugly snouts. The group here was made up of six individuals with two piglets and five adults, two of which were huge grisly males. And they were perfect. A big pork dinner would feed the dragon for days. She began to employ her ultimate weapon.


ooonnkk, ooonnkk, ooonnkk…


The forest dragon began to let out deep and raspy calls. Similar to a drongo, forest dragons have the remarkable ability to mimic the sounds of things around them. However, their vocal chords are surrounded by a dense and almost indescribably complex bed of muscles that twist, squish, and stretch the dragon’s vocal chords to mimic their prey to the best of their ability. Meaning that the dragon almost literally had the voice of a pig. The pigs subconsciously began to edge toward her, unknowingly walking right into the razor jaws of death. It should’ve been an easy kill, but this wasn’t the Late Cretaceous. This was a very different world.


ROAR!! SQUUEEAAKK!!! CCRUNCHSQUUEEEKRCH!!!


A huge orange animal exploded out of the shrubbery and leaped right into the center of the glade, attacking one of the piglets and grabbing it, ending its life with a sickening crunch. The dragon ceased her calls and looked on in terror. Standing in the center of the glade, the piglet’s body limp in its mouth, was a huge tiger. It was slender, perfectly camouflaged, and incredibly cunning. Its orange and black pattern made it almost invisible in the jungle. The dragon retreated from the scene, keeping low to the ground and silent as possible. She was ashamed and disgusted all at once.


After the death of the dinosaurs, mammals were first to take over the world. Dragons were not far behind, but far enough to miss out. From the savannas of Africa to the frigid waters of the Antarctic, mammals outcompeted dragons, slowly pushing them to the brink. Hundreds of species of dragons like the Shackleton’s sea dragon of Antarctica and the Kalahari sun dragon of Botswana have been wiped out due to competition from predators like lions (for the latter) and orcas (for the former). Not only that, this cooler climate had slowed down dragon evolution. Despite being endothermic, dragons were still far more susceptible to external temperatures than even humans. Even the Bengal forest dragon, the species our female belonged to, was an endangered species, slowly fading away due to starvation. But I digress.


The female forest dragon came to a large ravine in the forest that had a rushing creek flowing through it. She had to get away from the tiger. She had to. Using a pair of small wings on her back, she leaped off the ledge and almost floated over the ravine. They weren’t the mighty tools used for flight that the dragons of the Late Cretaceous used, but they still served their purpose. She made it to the other side and scurried into the jungle, her fear fueling her haste. Even though Bengal forest dragons were territorial, they would make an exception for close friends and family. Our dragon had lost her sister to starvation, a result of competing with their superior mammal neighbors. One day, when she was nothing but scales and bone, she lay on the jungle floor and passed silently, eyes closed and ribs bulging, just waiting to be picked off by wild dogs and vultures. And our female would have her vengeance. One day, fate and nature would conspire to dethrone the feline king.


One week later…


The dragon peered through the ferns and bamboo, watching the dark shapes as they shuffled about. And she was very, very hungry. Two weeks had passed since her last meal, and the occasional distant cries of dying animals only worsened her blazing hunger. And she could smell something. It was one of them.


OOEEE! OOEEE! OOEEE! S


he began to let out raspy squeals, mimicking the sound of a wounded boar. She shook the nearby shrubs with her tail, making it appear as though the downed creature was writhing in the bushes. Her eyes darted everywhere and her ears swiveled in a desperate attempt to detect any clues as to her quarry’s position. It was getting closer and closer, the smell getting stronger. Finally, it was there, just a few feet away. This was it. This was the moment for revenge. No matter which side won, there would be a lot of meat to feed on afterward.


RROOEE!!! KKRAA!!! SSHHRRIIPP! RRROAR!!! CRRRUUNCH!!!


Blood soaked the shrubs and leaf litter. Branches and bushes were torn to shreds. And the tiger lay motionless, its face torn and mutilated.


That night…


The sounds of the jungle were almost deafening. The chirps of bugs, the howls of monkeys, the songs of birds, and the whistling wind creating a thunderous yet peaceful melody. One that she had gotten used to.


She just lay there, watching the tiger’s corpse with content. There was some feeling of justification in her, one that brought the dragon peace. Finally, she set the tiger’s corpse alight, the flame she wielded no longer the explosive ribbon of flame of the prehistoric dragons but now something akin to a blowtorch.


While dragons have now evolved to naturally produce flame, it is now a sorry excuse for the weapon of mass destruction dragon fire once was. It’s more of a “feeding tool”, a way to cook flesh until it was fit for consumption. The dragon simply sat and waited as its prey burned and cooked slowly. But unbeknownst to her, there was another animal.


At the edge of the clearing was another creature. A mammal. It was small and had long, spindly arms and legs and had a hairy head with an almost flat face. It had no tail, no claws, no wings, horns, fangs, flippers, or tusks. However, it was the most intelligent animal on the planet. The man edged forward, careful not to disturb the slumbering beast. But then he looked at it. It was beautiful. It seemed to call to him. It whispered to him of the infinite possibilities. So he reached out his arm and placed the dry branch over the burning body of the tiger. Finally, the branch caught fire. He retracted his arm, hoping to avoid awakening the colossal reptile. He had just received the indescribably remarkable and dangerous gift of fire. With it, man could clear forests and turn metal into savage weapons. But little did he know it, this man and his tribe would play their small part in eradicating dragons from the face of the Earth.


Over the course of the next several millennia, the entire dragon species would be hunted to extinction by man. The Mexican death bird, snake-like dragons also known as “Quetzalcoatls” which were famous for their loud roars and savage nature, would be slaughtered by the Aztecs. The Kalahari sun dragons would be exterminated by the people of South Africa, even being forced out of the Okavango Delta, a place that served as their last stronghold. And even the Arctic sea drake, a colossal beast with a fluke-like tail and a head like a Komodo dragon’s, would be wiped out by hunters, slaughtered for their meat which was a delicacy to tribes like the Inuits. All over the world dragons would be killed with arrows, spears, harpoons, torches, lances and swords. The people of the jungles of central Africa even created huge nets that, when triggered by tripwires on the jungle floor, would trap the wandering dragons and allow hunters to club and spear them to death. Huge patches of rainforest and savanna were torched in humanity’s attempt to eradicate all of dragonkind.


But somewhere, in the distant mountains in the farthest corners of the world, one species would survive. A species whose appearance and behavior would shape a large part of Western culture. These four-legged winged creatures would haunt humanity’s imagination for just a little longer, the last hope of the dragons’ survival.


Okay then! That’s a wrap! Well, for this episode at least.

So, let’s go over this. Not much I can say about this one other than the fact that I may have gone overboard with the extinction factor. It’s not entirely impossible for a group of animals to be so close yet so far behind another in the evolutionary race to the top, but for it to get to such an extreme where a species that survived from the Jurassic to suddenly get brutally outcompeted by mammals is a bit of a stretch. And even with the human factor it would still take a good million years or so rather than three-to-four thousand to exterminate creatures as supposedly ubiquitous as the dragons. Now, to make sure you’re not too riled up, I’m letting you know now that the next two episodes will focus on an entirely different dragon in a new time and place. It’ll be the end to this timeless tale of evolution and extinction. Of life and death. Love and loss.

It’s a fateful confrontation of flame and blade. Of Fang and sword. It’s the ultimate final battle, the closing chapter in the natural history of the most amazing animal that never existed…

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