Horned Drakes are among the most common of all dragonkind, and near the bottom of the dragon/drake food chain. Despised by their distant and great cousins, horned dragons, and commonly thought of as simple food by other great drakes, their lives are harsh and often cut short. They remain fairly numerous as they have taken to having many young.
The average age of Horned Drakes is around 130 years, mostly due to the many that fall victim to larger predators. If not killed by others, they can live to past two centuries. Very rarely a Horned Drake can cross the 300 years mark, most often from being the leader of a great family group, a successful raider and superior in strength to other of its kin.
They possess no known speech, magic, or breath weapons, and only one special ability. For most the time, they stay out of sight and try to bring extra food to their lairs for periods where they fear greater drakes might be hunting nearby.
Image description: A Horned Drake with a characteristic variety of horns all over its head. Picture drawn by Faugar.
Appearance. Horned Drakes, obviously, have horns. A lot of horns. The most common and recognizable horns are groups of small to medium-sized horns on the sides of the back of their head, along with a few medium and a single large spike at the end of their tail. Often smaller horns line their back, shoulders, parts of their feet, and occasionally running from the tip of their tail up their sides till they join the middle row of horns close to the hind legs. They are most commonly dark brownish, adjusted slightly depending on its habitat, more dusty yellowish for certain mountains, more dark greenish for woodsy areas.
The body is extremely muscular and flexible, to support the tough scales and many horns. The tail is one of the primary weapons, along with the usual talons and great, big, pointy teeth. Among lesser and greater drakes, however, it is still fairly small, and even a well-built Horned Drake will be in serious trouble if cornered by a dragon, or even certain other lesser drakes. Most of its armory is used against the larger prey it hunts, less effective for defense against larger enemies.
Commonly, Horned Drakes range from 4 to 6 peds with the tail, and have wingspans of similar dimensions. They are above average fliers, good at soaring low to keep themselves from being spotted, and almost always good at finding hiding places.
Special Abilities. Like horned dragons the Horned Drakes are fairly primitive regarding magic, speech, and such, but have one interesting special ability. They have no magic whatsoever, except the ability to morph their shape and texture to imitate a rugged mountainside or a large dead tree. This is an obvious self defense mechanism to avoid the larger drakes and dragons that prey on them. However, it is far from perfect, it takes up to a full minute for a Horned Drake to finish the transformation, and very thorough predators that get up close have a chance to detect the change. It's mostly useful if the Horned Drake spots an enemy at a distance or is warned. Often, if faster than the oncoming enemy, they will choose to flee instead. With Horned Drakes being only mediocre fliers, this ability does indeed see some use.
Territory. Most of the Horned Drakes can be found in the northern part of the kingdom of Santharia and in large parts of the Lands of the Kuglimz, occasionally as far north as the Imlith Mountains. The greatest concentration of them can be found in the Tandala Highlands, the Warnaka Highlands, around Dragonmaw, and slightly further north. Here they are somewhat hunted by the greater drakes, and as such small amounts of Horned Drakes have moved further north, to the Mountains of Oro and the Celeste Mountains. An decent sized group also inhabits the Zeiphyrian Forests, but has no real contact to the main body of Horned Drakes; this group has been isolated since the population in what is now known as the kingdom of Santharia became great enough to push the drakes further into mountains and the occasional forest.
Habitat/Behaviour. Paranoia is part of mostly every day in the lives of Horned Drakes; especially in mountains with many other, and larger, drakes and dragons. They hunt mostly at dusk or dawn, flying low, using their good eyesight to track down prey and spot predators in time. Often Horned Drakes live in small family groups, a bonded male and female(s) along with any young still under their protection.
Young female Horned Drakes can stay with their parents for quite a few years, up to three decades, where their growing sense of independence urges them to finally leave the nest to prove they can survive on their own. After they hit sexual maturity they develop a sense for when surrounding conditions would permit a mating migration (more on that later).
Males, on the other hand, tend to be kicked out of the nest after 15-20 years at the most. They slowly develop territorial needs, and conflict can arise between young males in the family group. Especially in larger groups with a male and multiple females, where rarely, premature sexual drive in the young males can make them approach young females born by other mothers in the group. Any behavior like this results in the immediate rejection of the male(s) involved from the family and nest. Young males rejected from the nest prematurely rarely survive long.
A family group can last for more than a century, in rare cases more than two. A bonded couple does not fly off when mating migration occurs, but does mate again every few mating cycles, after their current young have mostly left the nest.
Horned Drakes almost exclusively live in caves, they have even been known to improve on "caves" too small to truly be called that, digging deeper if possible. The few non-mountain lairs tend to be located in rocky areas in dark parts of forests and hillsides, more commonly dug out, but still mainly in rocky caves of some sort.
Diet. Various forms of deer and other mid-sized mammals in or close to mountains make up most the average Horned Drake's diet. In the mating seasons, raids on villages or farmland add some cattle, sheep, horses, goats, and even the occasional humanoid venturing too far from protection, but this is fairly rare. In meager times, Horned Drakes sometimes attempt to hunt smaller mammals (like rabbits, dogs, bogsnappers, cuuloo etc.), but are rarely successful due to the relative size difference, and the effort required for such a small amount of nutrition.
Mating. Horned Drakes have somewhat adapted to living in the shadow of horned dragons and other dangers in their typical habitats, and as such seek out mating partners rarely. Horned Drakes reach sexual maturity around age 40, and remain fertile up until age 120. Mating season only occurs once or twice every decade, and most the mature horned drakes migrate temporarily to nearby islands to avoid attracting more attention from the larger dragons while occupied with seeking out mates. The migration takes place with as little visibility as possible, and the drakes tend to fly very low or even walk for several leagues in especially dangerous areas to avoid being spotted.
The goal of these migrations tends to be either the Isles of Quios, or more commonly the Isles of R'unor (the Zeiphyrian group have abandoned this tradition entirely and no longer travels any large distances). In particular the island of Grakor'reesh in R'unor is the target for the Horned Drakes while they mate. Here the females settle in various caves and other hideouts on the island, while some of the more daring males go on raids against the city of Bluesteel located there. The R'unorians have gotten used to this over time, and the city is now a fortress of technologically advanced dragon traps and weapons. A Horned Drake who can survive and return with some sort of token from the city or surrounding lands, proving they've faced the defenses and lived, becomes the target of affection for any amount of females he chooses to impress.
In the meantime, weaker males and females, who neither have much chance to participate in the raids or become courted by victors, track each others down for a more mundane meeting. This is also the way those Horned Drakes staying on the mainland procreate. In both the glorious and more mundane mating practices, the male seeks out a female and must prove his strength (in addition to bringing back some sorts of trophies, even if not a true raider) by various challenges put forth by the female. Horned Drake females tend to be as strong as or even stronger than the males, so this alone is no easy task. Depending on her gesturing, the challenges might be a race between the two, having the male demonstrate physical strength (throwing boulders, knocking over trees), observing the male hunt down a powerful prey, or several other tasks.
At any time, if a competing male arrives, the challenge immediately changes to a fight between the two. The only exception is if the newcomer is a successful raider, in which case the female almost always turns the first male away without a fight. The actual mating process tends to take place deep in a cave or a similar out of the way place. After bonding through this sort of process the couple tends to stay together until the male is either defeated by a challenger (or simply turned away by a raid victor) or dies. Raid victor males can mate and bond with several females, and in this situation the whole pack stays together until the male is defeated by a greater raid victor or dies.
A pregnant female Horned Drake carries her young for about 11 months, and tends to stay hidden most the time, going out every now and then to stretch her wings, drink, and keep her hunting skills trained. Most her food is supplied by her mate, and she sleeps more often than normally. Because of predators Horned Drakes lay fairly many eggs in comparison to other dragons, averaging 8 to 12 per female. Eggs are vulnerable and very valuable to predators and curious wizards, and as such over time the hatching time has been reduced to only about a month. Many Horned Drake young perish in their early flying years, and typically only 3 or 4 make it to full maturity.
Information provided by Wilen Cloverheart