A Melaran Drakeling is an impressive sight, twenty feet in length, the wingspan slightly longer, many confuse them for genuine dragons. But it is a mere lapdog to a dire wolf, an idiot child to a warlord. If you meet a dragon and survive, you will know the difference. This is an animal, smart, but not much more. It lives in small herds of up to twenty, but loners are not unheard of.
Sages agree now, that it shouldn’t be able to carry itself, in air or even on earth. It shouldn’t have an armor plating with such a slender body, the majestic speed or great flight control. It is obvious that magic is in play.
Drakelings are plant eaters, they consume a lot of green matter. They must move through vast distances or the place where a group stays will be devastated. At some point, it is thought, they started to help themselves out with magic. Some claim they had wings before, some claim it is a new mutation. The great Calvinus said all the world’s objects and creatures are but reflections of ideas, it stands to reason that drakelings came to resemble the superior idea of a dragon. Lastly, there have been some speculations that dragons are their advanced offspring, living on magic alone. They don’t seem to like their lesser cousins, that much is certain. They like theories about their similarity even less, as a few sages could attest. But let us return to the feeding.
Plants you can find almost anywhere, for magic you must search like a hunter. Drakelings do it in the best way: they fly through magical currents, absorbing it through their wings. They do not need magic very often, but they have to keep a balance, they cannot subsist on only one of their staples. Even more is required for reproduction, they gather around spirit wells*, with the males dueling in air for the females, displaying fine acrobatics and fighting for their attention. The winners get to bathe in the empowered waters, soaking up the energies needed to spawn another generation with all the females they can handle.
This may be the reason why there are so few drakelings outside of the plains - there are too few reliable sources of magical emanations.
The drakelings have a breath weapon. Like some birds and animals, they can spit out the content of their stomach, a smelly, disgusting substance, that acts like a weak acid. It shouldn’t do any harm if you have thick clothes, but don’t let it get on your face or eyes.
A threatened drakeling can easily hit a human on twenty yards, most instinctively aim for the head. Don’t get too close to that herd.
* can be replaced with any suitable supernatural location
Living with humans
When the tribes entered the plains, they learned to hunt the drakelings, which was risky, but worth the treasure in meat, hide and bone. They also learned of their mating grounds, that made excellent bases of power for any magic user. Around them grew most of the settlements of today.
During the mating season though, the skittish drakelings would become much more aggressive and descend in large groups upon their favorite places. Roaming tribes could move out for the season, but settled folk had to build massive fortifications and risk concentrated attacks, or simply leave enough place for them. Legends describe, how the first arrangement was formed, usually between a child and a talking drakeling.
Today, small herds of drakelings roam the plains as they ever did. They let themselves ‘adopt’ by nearby humans, in exchange for food they gain mutual protection, When there is no more food, they travel on, usually to another tribe or settlement they have visited before. If they know a person for a long time, they can allow him to ride them.
Custom says it is bad luck to harm one, killing requires cleansing rituals and should be only limited to the few drakelings with a nasty temper. This has bred out the discontents and supported the friendly trait. There is also a taboo against attacking other plainsmen with them. Today you have a drakeling, tomorrow they will. What if the creature likes the person you attack more and decides to throw you down instead?
Falling from the sky, by the way, is an extreme form of death on the plains, requiring special funeral rites to placate the drakeling spirit. Falling and surviving is a bad and good omen at once, a mark of higher fate.
The drakelings stay around while there is enough food. If you are careful and lucky, you may befriend one, as you could befriend any semi-wild animal. A bonded drakeling will allow you to fly it. But he won’t leave his group permanently and won’t enter unnecessary risk (see below).
Drakelings at war
Drakelings are fairly docile creatures most of the time, letting people fly on their backs. They make natural scouts, extremely useful for any army. While their carrying ability is not large, they can be used to drop bombs, flammables, and so on.
Actual aerial combat is difficult. Their natural aggresivity rises around their mating period, which is precisely when they are hard to control. This is when the most pilots are lost, due to the breakneck moves they make (or as some say, when they really want to shake off the pilot). But if you can control one in this time, it will be quite a ride.
With their size and strength, they do not posses large claws or sharp teeth and are actually a bit fragile. Many cities put on them a harness, that doubles as armor for the more vulnerable spots. Claws and other ‘upgrades’ are continually tested, but do not seem to fare well. The villagers in turn claim flying bareback is more heroic.
Summary and other details:
- a small settlement may or many not have a herd of drakelings nearby at a given moment
- most cities keep a permanent group of well-trained drakelings
- the skill to befriend and fly one is highly valued, most settlements and clans will have such people
- with enough food and sympathy, a drakeling will gladly allow you to fly it. They prefer to avoid combat most of the time.
- during their mating season, they are more willing to fight… and much harder to control
- They can take one person going light, two passengers or heavy load tires them quickly. They are good for bursts of energy (say pulling out a stump from earth), but don’t have the power for sustained effort.
- the plainsfolk know, that the unreliable drakelings have saved them from several invasions. They are to be treasured, their spirit is one all seek to have as an ally.
- those who inquire too much about these animals are probably spies
- while conflicts are many on the plains, these beasts are rarely used for direct warfare against own kin