Wednesday, January 11, 2017Posted by Mitch Williamson at 4:29 AM
With five huge heads independently biting and spitting acid at its foes, the Desert Hydra is one of the most devastating warbeasts the Skorne Empire has ever captured and conditioned for war. Each head can release a focused spray of highly corrosive acid or snatch up opponents to be devoured by its gaping, hellish jaws. Flesh hooks protruding from beneath armored plates keep the beast maddened with pain, spurring it to further carnage even after suffering multiple decapitations.
Desert hydras have a varying number of heads, and their bodies are layered in scales from soft beige to deep red. Although a desert hydra begins its life with a single head, masses of cells accumulate and divide upon the torso as the creature ages to form additional heads, all fully functional. On average, a hydra grows a head for each decade of its life. The eldest desert hydras can have as many as seven, though few survive to this stage.
A desert hydra's vital organs, including its brain, are protected deep within its torso. The protective plates lining the creature’s multiple necks and back also work to retain body heat; alternately, the spines protruding from these plates can disperse excess heat when necessary. Glands inside a hydra’s mouths discharge a potent acid capable of eating through chitin and steel, and a heat-sensing structure embedded between its eyes and nostrils facilitates highly accurate strikes against warm-blooded prey.
When not engaged in territorial disputes, male hydras often battle one another for the right to mate with a female. Likewise, a female will challenge and fight any males who approach her, refusing to mate with those who back down. Though a single clutch can contain up to a dozen eggs, competition among newborns is fierce, and more than half are killed by their siblings within days of hatching.
A hydra’s wounds are extremely quick to heal. Only deep strikes to the torso are likely to prove fatal, though decapitations prior to such strikes may help lead to a kill. Severed heads can grow back within weeks, and lesser wounds heal at a much faster rate.
Desert hydras spend the daylight hours hunting. Once its target is dead, the hydra unhinges one of its many jaws to swallow the meal whole, its mandibles guiding the carcass down the gullet. With its multiple heads, a hydra can consume prey even as it fends off scavengers and other predators.
At night, when the cold desert air makes the ectothermic hydras sluggish, they retreat to expansive subterranean dens to stay warm. Such dens also serve as nests, and female hydras protect such holdings fiercely. While navigating or constructing these dens, desert hydras propel themselves through the soil with rows of tiny, horned feet that line their bodies.
Capturing a desert hydra is an exceptionally violent undertaking. At night, masses of slaves armed with rudimentary prods descend into a hydra's burrow to lure it to the surface where beast handlers fire upon the beast with harpoons. After several of the creature’s necks have been ensnared, slaves take hold of ropes stemming from each harpoon and pull the snapping heads to the ground long enough to let the beast handlers sedate the hydra. Successful captures often come with high casualties among both slaves and beast handlers. In a step that may seem extreme but is the essence of skorne pragmatism, experienced beast handlers often decapitate all but a single head prior to transporting captured hydras rather than risk further deaths - the hydra's regenerative capabilities ensuring it could not be killed by such tactics.
For every slave killed in capturing a hydra, ten are lost during conditioning and battle preparation. Additionally, inserting flesh hooks beneath the hydras’ natural armor plating is a task from which few beast handlers walk away unscathed, and keeping the beasts fed requires a steady expenditure of resources.
All attempts by the skorne to breed hydras in captivity have failed. Subjugating them for use as warbeasts was not considered to be worth the expense or deaths even for the richest skorne houses, until Supreme Archdomina Makeda unites the empire and makes the acquisition of these beasts a top priority so that she might use their strength in the conquest of the west. Keeping a desert hydra in captivity without breaking it to a warlock's will first is nearly unthinkable, so the creatures are captured wild and tamed in the desert, often by a team of the most skilled paingivers available
Wednesday, December 21, 2016Posted by Mitch Williamson at 2:06 PM
Friday, December 2, 2016Posted by Mitch Williamson at 4:02 PM
Forest Dragons are an ancient breed of Dragon that seems to only dwell within the ancient woodlands of the Old World. At first thought, it seems incredible that a creature as vast as a Dragon could make its home in the dense forests of Athel Loren. Yet, in the deepest recesses of the Chasm Glades, there lurks a distinct race of great sky wyrms who long ago adapted to life within the greenwood. Protected by the forest canopy and shielded from the attentions of young heroes seeking to make names for themselves by the sheer rock faces of the chasms, these Forest Dragons thrived and multiplied.
Such providence has proven itself a stark contrast to other places in the Old World, where Dragons and their kin have long since been either slain or driven into the mountains. Nothing dwells for long in Athel Loren without being changed, and the Forest Dragons are no exception. Like certain groups of Wood Elves, the Dragons have slowly become an extension of the forest’s will to survive and prosper. Though still voracious predators, the Dragons hunt only when the forest has need of them, resting in a state of hibernation for the remainder of the time. Should there be an intrusion by creatures too mighty for Athel Loren’s spirits, the forest will occasionally goad one or more Forest Dragons to wakefulness in order to counter the threat. More often, the Elves will themselves petition the aid of a Dragon to serve as a steed for a Glade Lord — a request to which the beast cedes with reasonable grace, provided it wasn’t disturbed from a particularly fascinating dream. Over time, a Glade Lord might form a strong bond with a particular Forest Dragon, the two becoming friends, more than mere allies at need.
Regardless of the reason for its waking, a Forest Dragon is a ferocious foe and one not easily matched. Few can stand firm against its wrath unless they can master the primal fear its countenance provokes. This fear only grows when the beast descends, arrows and bullets scattering off its scaly hide, to eviscerate and devour all who oppose it. Even those enemies fortunate enough to find themselves beyond the crippling sweep of the Forest Dragon’s talons inevitably succumb to its soporific breath. Those who breathe this cloying emerald vapour collapse into a stupefied daze, their will to fight or flee utterly spent.
Despite their monstrous appearance, Forest Dragons are actually highly intelligent, and maintain a keen interest in events that occur far beyond the boundaries of Athel Loren. They are particularly voracious for tidings that relate to their long months of slumber. In part, this hunger is fed by the Elves who petition them for aid, but the Dragons do not necessarily consider the Elves to be wholly unbiased observers and often seek out others to provide counterpoint. Indeed, it is not unknown for a Dragon to spare a suitably intriguing opponent, providing that it has the potential to expand the Dragon’s knowledge. If the captive’s news is sufficiently valuable or intriguing, the Dragon feels duty-bound to spare his life in exchange for the information; if not, the captive is invariably devoured on the spot for unknowingly having squandered the Dragon’s precious time.
Sunday, November 13, 2016Posted by Mitch Williamson at 7:19 PM
Once noble rulers of the skies, now corrupt with change, the two-headed Dragons of Chaos are malevolent predators. Each is a nemesis of order and sanity that can break armies. Their twin maws breathe death upon their foes; one exhaling dark flame, as the other emits corrosive gas. Only the most powerful can ride such a monster, and even then, it is more an unholy alliance than a matter of master and servant.
THE EYE AND THE DRAGON
The third challenge Archaon faced was retrieving the Eye of Sheerian from the lair of the three-headed Chaos Dragon Flamefang. Archaon awoke Flamefang by smashing his axe into the slumbering Dragon’s forehead. For many hours, the two battled amongst the bones of legendary creatures at the base of the Cliff of Beasts. The Dragon breathed searing flames over Archaon and even swallowed him whole, but the Armour of Morkar proved inviolable, and the Chaos Lord fought his way out of the Dragon’s gullet with the ferocity of a maddened Warhound. With its insides shredded, the great drake eventually collapsed and died. Archaon plucked the Eye of Sheerian from the gems encrusting the Dragon’s belly, and hung the artefact around his neck as a trophy.
Tuesday, October 18, 2016Posted by Mitch Williamson at 2:09 PM
Posted by Mitch Williamson at 2:06 PM
Monday, September 26, 2016Posted by Mitch Williamson at 6:10 PM
The Beowulf dragon is the first example in European mythology of a fire-breathing dragon. Previously, most dragons had poisonous breath. This might be an early indication of Christianity creeping into the tale, using fire to connect the dragon to Satan, or, just as likely, it highlights the danger of fire at a time when nearly everything was constructed of wood.
The aged king, Beowulf, stood on a hilltop and watched as distant flames consumed both his own hall and the village of his people. For hours he had watched in helpless heartache as a fire-drake, a winged-wyrm, had rained fire and destruction down on his people. The world of the Geats was being reduced to cinder and ash.
His warriors had caught the man who had started it all: a foolish thief who had stolen a golden cup from the dragon’s hoard, enraging the vengeful beast. The thief would now be their guide back to the dragon’s lair, where Beowulf would face his last and greatest battle. He glanced at his companions, all young men and untested in battle; they would be of little help. Beowulf had his smiths bring him a giant shield of iron that could turn aside the dragon’s breath. He strapped the heavy shield upon his time-wearied arm, and nodded for the thief to lead the way.
The thirteen men walked long through the night, the distant fires shining like small candles. In time, they approached the rocky hills. The thief pointed towards a dark archway, the mouth of the dragon’s cave. A small stream of fire trickled out of its open maw, confirming that the master of the hoard was home.
Beowulf ordered his companions to stay where they were; he would face the dragon alone. Drawing a time-tested sword, and walking with his shield held before him, he followed the burning stream up to the mound. Near the entrance, he stood his ground, and let out a mighty battle-roar. The challenging cry echoed from the cliffs and around the stones before the cave mouth. Then a lance of fire jetted out of the cave, and Beowulf caught it on his shield. In a cloud of choking smoke, the dragon emerged, a sinewy, black-scaled monster, covered in the filth of years. It belched forth another blast of flame, which spilled around the iron shield, singeing Beowulf’s helmet and armour.
Then the two combatants, man and monster, rushed together. In a fury of sword, fang and claw, they struck at one another, clashing against shield and scales, but neither could gain the upper hand. They drew apart, the dragon drooling fire, the old king panting in the smoke-thick air.
All around, Beowulf’s men shrank back from this fight, and fled into the woods. All but one; a young warrior called Wiglaf felt a stirring in his heart. Drawing his own blade, he rushed into the fray. Though never before had he weathered the battle-storm, he bellowed his own war cry as he charged into battle.
Undaunted by the appearance of a second foe, the dragon spat forth its flaming breath. The flames consumed Wiglaf’s shield, burning it from his arm. He cast the smouldering ruins aside and took shelter behind the great iron shield of Beowulf. Then those two bold warriors moved forward together, striking at the dragon with their gleaming swords. The dragon sprang forward again, its claws screeching against the iron shield. Beowulf batted aside those fearful claws and brought his blade around to slash against the dragon’s head. But, in that moment, the venerable sword shattered against the dragon’s rock-hard scales.
For a stunned moment, Beowulf gazed at the broken blade in sad amazement. That instant of inattention proved fatal, for the dragon coiled its long neck around the shield and clamped its jaws around Beowulf’s throat. Its fangs pierced the flesh of his neck and lifted him off the ground.
As the dragon reared up with the aged king trapped in its jaws, it exposed its vulnerable underbelly. With a cry of hatred, Wiglaf lunged forward, driving his sword deep into the dragon’s belly. At the same moment, Beowulf drew a dagger from his belt, and, still suspended in the dragon’s mouth, he plunged the knife into the creature’s eye. Twice mortally wounded, the dragon dropped Beowulf to the ground and tumbled backwards in agony. Its fiery breath sprayed in all directions, then went out. It collapsed in a loathsome heap, smoking from its own dying fire.
With the dragon dead, Beowulf struggled to his feet, but his neck was already swelling from the bite of those poisoned fangs. He staggered to a seat by the entrance of the cave, his body clenching in agony. He spoke to Wiglaf through bloodied teeth and asked him to bring the treasures of the dragon before him. Wiglaf went into the dragon’s lair, and found more treasure than an army could carry. He selected some of the best golden cups and gleaming jewels. These he brought back out and placed before his dying lord.
Beowulf smiled and removed his helmet. He gave the royal boar helm to young Wiglaf, his last act as a gift-giver. He commanded that the treasure be buried with him, to remove it from the temptation of thieves. Then with a final breath, Beowulf’s eyes clouded over, and he passed from the world, the last of the great Geatish kings.