Long fabled in myth and folklore, the Dragonworm is a remarkable creature, and proof that even the most powerful creatures can be plagued by parasites. They spend most of their lives inside the stomachs of great drakes and wyverns, entirely unnoticed. It is only when they start to pupate into their adult form, the legendary Yeanling, that they cause problems, and it now seems that many a tale of settlements beset by fearsome dragons can be blamed on nothing more than a worm in the gut.
The worm affects mainly drakes, though it occasionally reaches the great drakes, who fear it much like an embarrassing disease. It is an affliction particularly loathed of gentler kinds of dragons, such as ice drakes, who will become a danger to the familiars and other dragons they spend time with if parasitized.
Appearance. The worm stage of the Dragonworm is not often documented, as it is generally only found in dead dragons and drakes, which aren’t something anyone comes across on a regular basis. However, there are a few accounts. Most complete of these is the account of a scholar of medicine by the name of Daxiel HawLare, who came across the corpse of a feathered wyvern near the shore of the Aetryam Sea, apparently killed in a fight with another wyvern. He describes a Dragonworm, found in the wyvern’s stomach, in research notes, which are incidentally among the most complete known records of the internal workings of a drake.
“The internal workings were by this stage quite decomposed, and the smell most off-putting. Nevertheless, aware I would not get a second chance to dissect an entire drake, I observed what I could of the gut and other large organs. The stomach was large and very elastic, as is common with carnivores. It still contained a small quantity of meat, which was of course quite spoiled, precluding any certain knowledge as to the natural condition of the stomach juices. I was astonished, however, and quite considerably disturbed, to see something move amid the stomach contents. Thinking it must be a maggot or corpse worm, I reached to brush it aside, and was most alarmed to feel it bite me – not hard, but certainly enough to be most discomposing.
The adult form is much rarer, but paradoxically far better documented, although records of its appearances tend to be idealised and not very accurate. It is often described as looking like a young lamb, or goat kid, with pale golden pelt and very large, dark eyes. However, a closer look reveals that the soft pelt is less like wool or fur, and more like the velveteen one finds on the back of a moth or a malise, or some other “furry” insect. The fur is pure white, but the skin underneath is a yellowish gold, giving the soft, slightly iridescent appearance that often leads to descriptions of “a shining, golden lamb.” The skin itself is quite hard to the touch, and segmented along the body and neck. The adult Dragonworm, or Yeanling, as they are popularly known, has no bones, at all – it is supported by its external “armour” alone. The spindly, endearingly knobbly kneed legs are on closer inspection much like those of an insect, and end in a two-toed claw much like a beetle’s. There is even a vestigial pair of legs just visible behind the forelegs, barely a few nailsbreadths long.
The neck of the Yeanling is long, like a lamb’s, with a small, rounded head dominated by an enormous pair of black, soulful eyes. The eyes have no eyelids and are without iris or sclera, but black all over and slightly iridescent- again, like those of an insect. There is no mouth at all, as the Yeanling does not need to eat, but a slightly porous patch of skin at the end of the muzzle, through which it can absorb enough liquids to keep alive. The ears are replaced by a pair of small feathered antennae.
All in all, it is an endearing animal, if slightly unnerving on closer inspection. In size it is around four palmspans at the shoulder, like a lamb, and even down to its tottering gait it is an astonishing imitator of a helpless newborn animal. It has, however, no voice, as it has no mouth, and so can easily be distinguished from a real lamb by its inability to bleat.
Special Abilities. The peculiar life cycle of the dragon worm has led it to coexist in closer proximity to the drakes and great drakes of Caelereth than any known creature, albeit decidedly against the dragons’ will. In doing so, it seems they have absorbed faint traces of the magic inherent in so many dragons, and used it to their own ends, developing abilities which allow them to pursue their parasitic lifestyle unimpeded.
The best documented of these abilities is the one observed in the adult Yeanling form of Dragonworm. The skin and flesh of Yeanling exudes a cloying, slightly bitter scent which has been found to be irresistible to most dragons. This of course aids the Yeanling greatly in finding a new host in which to lay its egg, as well as in finding another Yeanling, to breed. If the wind is right, a dragon may be attracted from up to ten strals away, saving the Yeanling the impossible task of trying to find itself a new host on foot.
The other ability of Dragonworms is harder to verify, and only recently put forward, after in depth researches were conducted to find the cause of sudden aggression in domestic demon drakes. The drake-breeder, known as Vaeszh Tr’zhaha, noticed that they often had to destroy older drakes when they abruptly became highly aggressive and restless. The affliction affected males and females of every condition, regardless of where they were kept, what they had been eating or how they had been cared for, though no drake younger than thirty summers was afflicted. Over a couple of days, and with no prior warning, a drake would become unable to sit still, and if not securely restrained would go out seeking bloodshed, killing anything it met, but barely eating from their kills – the appetite seems to vanish just as the aggression appears. Despite this self imposed starvation, an afflicted demon drake would often have a noticeably swollen stomach, and changing its feed had no effect on the aggression. Finally, Tr’zhaha resorted to looking at the innards of drakes that had been killed after coming down with whatever caused the aggression.
Opening the stomach of these drakes, he found Dragonworms in various stages of pupation – some were nearly full grown, and he reports that at first he assumed the drake had merely swallowed a lamb whole. However, closer inspection showed that these were not lambs but Yeanlings, and the connection was proved. It seems that, when they wish to pupate, Dragonworms have some means of making their host violently aggressive, and at the same time suppressing their appetites, so the stomach is nearly empty, and a safer place to pupate. What they gain from this aggression is doubtful. Perhaps it exhausts the host, so that when the Yeanling hatches it can escape unharmed. Perhaps it is simply an unintended side-effect of the transformation irritating the host. There are even fanciful suggestions that the Dragonworm can speak to the cruelty at the back of a dragon's mind, and make them forget reason for the joy of killing.
As well as being able to manipulate the mood of its host, Dragonworms are perhaps most skilled at simply not being noticed. It appears they can live for hundreds of years, depending on the natural lifespan of the host. Certainly no Dragonworm can pupate sooner than twenty five years after first hatching, and cycles of folk tales surrounding certain great drakes suggests some have lived for several hundred years. What prompts them to pupate, to choose to breed and die, is unknown – dragons often live long healthy lives after they have left, so it can’t be a sense that the host’s days are numbered. It is possible that they hatch when they sense the proximity of another Dragonworm, as often two dragons or drakes will turn aggressive at the same time, with the Dragonworms presumably hatching fairly close together. But how they could sense such a thing from within the body of their host is impossible to fathom.
Territory. Dragonworms are found anywhere the right sort of dragons and drakes dwell. They seem to be less common among the sentient dragons, for obvious reasons that the dragons try to prevent contracting such infections. Among certain drakes, however, they seem to be widespread. The demon drakes have already been mentioned, though since Vaeszh Tr’zhaha’s discoveries they have been better controlled. But the long incubation period of the worm, and the difficulty of detecting it until it starts to pupate both make it hard to control. It seems to adapt well to harsh environments, cocooned as it is in the stomach of its host. Reports of sudden aggression suggest they are endemic to the desert drakes, feathered wyverns and frost drakes.
Sentient dragons have a quite healthy fear of catching Dragonworms, and so tend to avoid contact with any drake or dragon they suspect of carrying the parasite. Particularly zealous in avoiding infection are the more gentle dragons, such as the ice dragons, which risk killing their familiars or mates if infected. There are several reports of smaller, more infection-prone drakes, such as desert drakes, being driven away from the territory of larger dragons, such as gold dragons, to maintain a “buffer zone” around their lairs. Ihea Miwone, the Kasumarii researcher, noted a similar behaviour among the usually gentle ivorine drakes, who would not allow ice drakes within sight of their lair, attacking viciously if they came too close.
Habitat/Behaviour. Dragonworms spend the vast majority of their lives – sometimes hundreds of years, inside the stomach of a dragon or drake. This is proverbially not somewhere any researcher is likely to return from, and so the details of their lives there are unknown. Their tough skin seems to protect them from the stomach aceeds of their host, and so they are free to eat their fill of the meat delivered freshly to them. Eventually, they will pupate, causing drastic changes in the temperament of the host as they do. The actual moment of the adult Yeanling “hatching” from the dragon has never been observed, but as the dragon generally remains unharmed, it would seem to be vomited up – Yeanlings are small and slender enough to do so without harming most drakes and dragons. It is also possible that they take the “long way round” as it were, and are released with excreta. Indeed, this might also explain the loss of appetite, as the gut would likely be blocked while it made its way along. However, this would also be more likely to harm the dragon, which evidence suggests doesn’t happen. Perhaps they are just very good at crawling through tight spaces.
The Yeanling is by far the better observed half of the life cycle, because of the magical and mythical significance that cannot help but grow around a fragile, lamb-like creature often observed to walk unharmed from a dragon’s lair. They are reputedly fearless of intelligent races and naturally tame, even actively approaching people and nuzzling gently at them, much like a hand-reared lamb. One should be wary, however, as the bitter scent of the Yeanling will linger on anything it spends time with, and thus may attract unwanted attention from passing drakes.
Due to the varied habitat of the dragons and drakes they infect, a hatched Yeanling will often find itself in a very harsh environment, and so upon hatching time is against it, and they must hurry to breed before they are found and eaten. They will usually head for high ground in order to let their scent disperse far and wide, and to pick up other scents. Their first job is to find a mate, but more often than not they are found by a dragon first, and devoured before they can breed.
Diet. Dragonworms live solely by stealing meat from the stomach of their host. It is careful never to take too much, though, and a dragon with a worm in its stomach will likely be just as healthy as one without. In smaller drakes, a slightly greater appetite seems sometimes to be present, as the worm needs to eat a greater proportion of the swallowed meat. For this reason, smaller drakes and dragons are generally not affected by Dragonworms, luckily for them. The nysl even claim to be unaffected by the entrancing scent of Yeanling, and dracoid creatures such as the falserock lizard seem to find it mildly pleasant, but not especially interesting – something which researchers such as Lutius Falserock reputedly found useful when studying them.
Adult Yeanlings do not need to eat, though they can and will take liquids, absorbing them through the porous skin on their snouts. They can live this way for up to ten years, though in the wild none are likely to last ten weeks.
Mating. As mentioned above, Yeanlings must work quickly to find a mate, following the same bitter scent that will lure any nearby drake or dragon to them. Luckily for them, they seem to have an uncanny knack of hatching in rough pairs, and with their sensitive antennae they can taste the air with great accuracy, tracking a mate with surprising speed for such a fragile-looking creature. There seems to be no division of genders between Yeanlings, and they mate in a similar way to primitive creatures like slugs, taking it in turns to impregnate each other and then quickly going on their way, presumably to find suitable dragons to carry their single eggs.
If a drake or dragon is nearby, it will doubtless soon be lured in by the scent of the Yeanling, which makes no attempt to hide or escape, allowing itself to be torn apart. The egg-sac is small and leathery, encouraging that it be swallowed whole. Once in the stomach, it will hatch, and begin its life of parasitic indolence.
Usages. The attractive power of the scent of Yeanlings has been known of since the 1750s b.S., and some accounts of Armand Da’Ran’s efforts to tame the seawyrms of the Zyloth Sea credit him with the first use of Yeanling flesh to attract the creatures. Since then, many heroes or researchers looking to get close to drakes or dragons have made use of Yeanlings, whether their skin, blood, flesh or even a captive live one.
However, it is vital to note that, despite the undoubted efficacy of Yeanling scent in attracting dragons, drakes, wyverns and wyrms of many kinds, it should on no account be used on sentient dragons. Though they will be attracted by the scent, if they realise what it is that has attracted them, they will almost certainly be very angry. Yeanlings are detested by dragons as parasites and embarrassing purveyors of a degrading disease. To be controlled by them, worse still, to have their weakness known and exploited by what they deem lesser races, is intolerable, and their reactions are often swift and terrible.
Some individuals have been successful in keeping adult Yeanling as pets. Their natural tameness and gentle, affectionate nature make them attractive pets, though there is of course the hazard of their scent, putting both the pet and owner at great risk if there are any dragons or drakes nearby. However, if attracting dragons can be avoided, they can live well by drinking milk and watered down honey. The renowned researcher Lutius Strongleg kept one for a short time and noted how it enjoyed drinking ale from his cupped hand. In his work with Aini Siuu, a Shendar guide, the lingering scent of the Yeanling was reputedly very useful, but it became dangerous when they wanted to study real drakes, and so the Yeanling was sold on to a travelling macanti.
Myth/Lore. Until recently, the myth and folklore surrounding the Yeanling, as well as perhaps occasional hints from those who have communicated with sentient dragons, was all that was known of the Dragonworm. Almost every culture has one or two tales of terrible, fearsome dragons which appeared to wreak havoc and had to be bested or fought off by some hero or other. Often these tales can be traced back to folk memories of the Dragonstorm of around 1650 b.S. But not all can be entirely attributed to that single great event – it seems very likely that often when a dragon appears suddenly, causes great destruction for no apparent purpose, the cause is not a hunger for virgin sacrifice but a parasitic infection – the same irritable rage that Vaeszh Tr’zhaha first documented among demon drakes, caused by the Dragonworm growing inside the beast’s stomach.
This theory gains further support from the presence of the Yeanling’s presence in folklore concerning dragons. Referred to in tales from the Tandala Highlands as “The Lamb of Peace”, they are a popular symbol of innocence and nonviolence, credited with a magical power over dragons and all manner of fearsome beasts. The reason for this is clear, looked at from the perspective of people seeing the Yeanling emerging from a dragon’s lair: as soon as the little animal leaves, the dragon calms from its previously untameable rage. With their fragile, endearing appearance, it was clear they must have some magical power over dragonkind. Yeanlings feature in many tales of dragon-slaying in the role of guides to the hero, often staying their hands from violence at a crucial moment. It is widely believed that any harsh act, even a sharp word spoken against a Yeanling will be repaid threefold later. Likewise, helping a lost or injured Yeanling, or offering it shelter for a while, is sure to yield a reward later, usually by offering protection against violence. A Yeanling emblem is a common image on the arms of warriors who claim to fight for peace. In much of Northern Sarvonia, the image of a Yeanling is even thought to ward off attacks on young animals and children, and is often hung outside houses with newborn children, or stables and barns where young livestock are born.
Researchers. The key breakthrough in understanding the lifecycle of the Dragonworm was made by the orcristh drake-breeder Vaeszh Tr’zhaha, whose attempts to understand what was afflicting his animals with such apparent random brutality yielded a discovery of great significance. Indeed, the knowledge was deemed so valuable that it has spread remarkably quickly, despite the usual isolation of the Orcal kingdom.
Lutius Strongleg is a Helcrani nobleman and drake expert, who, in partnership with the Shendar guide Aini Siuu, recorded the habits of the dracoid life around the Norong’Sorno. He also kept a pet Yeanling for a while, apparently purchased from a shepherd who found it wandering amongst his lambs. The notes he kept on the Yeanling provide key information on how these bizarre creatures really exist when removed from the usual life cycle.
Ihea Miwone, a Kasumarii researcher of the ice and snow drakes, provided some useful observations on the hatred that usually placid, intelligent ice dragons and ivorine drakes nurse for Yeanlings, even attacking the less intelligent, more infection-prone ice drakes to keep them at bay.