• From Matchsticks to Flamethrowers: On the Evolution of Dragons

    by  • July 3, 2017 • Fiction • 0 Comments

    An essay by Edmund Teile, as prepared by his great-grandson, Isaac Teile
    Art by Shannon Legler


    Abstract: This paper asserts that pinwyrm lizards are closely related to western red and northeastern black dragons despite their contemporary classification as monitors. First, I provide an analysis of comparative behavioral habits between venomous pinwyrms and black dragons (which leads me to discuss how I lost my arm). Second, I provide an analysis of existing literature (which leads me to discuss how I lost my eye). Together, the evidence suggests pinwyrms should be reclassified; in fact, traits of pinwyrms and dragons are similar enough to study the evolution of one through the evolution of the other.

    Argument: The venomous pinwyrm of northern Y’reth-al-Nir, Pinwyrmes niri, is the northernmost lizard yet discovered (Memnar the Terrible, 491). Four interns and I received a grant from the High Academy of Wizardry and Liberal Arts to spend six months with northern pinwyrms and six months with a northeastern black dragon colony at the ruins of the Vale. Unfortunately, the interns are dead now, but their research lives on.

    Most niri are no more than ten inches long with pale skin that helps them to disappear among the snow drifts. Despite the name, the venomous pinwyrm is actually the least poisonous pinwyrm. It has a genetic abnormality that provides thick skin to protect it from the cold (and its own mucus). However, this skin cannot produce the psychedelic venomous coating of its southern cousins. Rather, the name refers to the hot, acidic mucus that it spits to denature its meals. Memnar the Terrible hypothesized the mucus was acetic acid and quite flammable (491). Field tests confirmed this. The exact quote I recorded was, “It burns worse than I’ve ever been burned.”

    Perhaps most interesting is that some niri in northernmost Y’reth-al-Nir, beyond the City of the Fallen Spires, beyond the Titan’s statue, beyond even the Great Howling Chasm, actually spit on each other to stay warm. Here, it is to the pinwyrm’s advantage to produce the warmest saliva it can. Some are radically successful; the only animals past the Great Howling Chasm are pinwyrms. Even we could not fend off the frostbite with traditional spells, and I lost two fingers on my left hand. No matter; the whole arm was devoured by a dragon.

    The flash point of acetic acid is no more than the heat of the hottest days in the Nkarai Desert (Iranoth the Younger, 45). If natural selection encourages the animals to produce hotter and hotter saliva, it is possible they would reach a point where the saliva combusts. This may even explain how dragons evolved a digestive system that cannot process raw meat (Gornius Argle, 211). As Gornius Argle notes, the dragon digestive system is an evolutionary chicken-or-the-egg. However, in six months of field work, we did not observe a pinwyrm eat any raw meat; they always denatured it with their saliva. Perhaps the digestive system came first.

    The dragons were harder to study. The niri like to melt the snow and lie on rocks in the sun doing nothing. Often, they don’t move when approached, sometimes even letting a researcher stroke them. Dragons are much angrier. But I believe this is because we are not the natural prey of the pinwyrm. There is considerable debate, of course, as to whether humans are natural prey of dragons, or that dragons are simply opportunists (see, for example, Gornius Argle, 211; Olives and Matthews, 230), but no one doubts that dragons do quite often cook human beings alive and devour them while they’re still screaming. This is a behavioral trait of which I collected ample evidence.

    In fact, the pinwyrms do behave like dragons with certain prey. The rarest of pinwyrm prey is the snow mouse, representing only 8 percent of their diet (Ren oc olhn oc niew oc taer, 363). Yet one pinwyrm we recorded encountered a burrow of snow mice. He spit on them all, though he only ate one. This was remarkably similar to a behavior I recorded in an adult male northeastern black dragon. This dragon cooked two of my interns, yet only ate their vital organs, bypassing the charred meat on their legs, arms, and face, leaving the eyes staring back at me, their horrible eyes with the lids burned away in looks of permanent terror.

    Art for "From Matchsticks to Flamethrowers: On the Evolution of Dragons"

    Here, it is to the pinwyrm’s advantage to produce the warmest saliva it can. Some are radically successful; the only animals past the Great Howling Chasm are pinwyrms.

    Unfortunately, I was unable to gather enough dragonfire to test it, so I have to rely on previously existing research. The two major sources on dragonfire both agree that it is a mucus-like substance that the dragon spits, but which spontaneously combusts as it leaves the animal’s mouth (Gornius Argle, 211; Torux, 474). But neither says if it is acidic or otherwise similar in chemical composition to the spit of the pinwyrm.

    I had to go to a different source to find the answer to that question, a book in a room empty of all other books down a thousand stairs in the triple-locked vault of hidden knowledge at the Academy of Wizardry and Liberal Arts. According to this book, dragon saliva is indeed composed of acetic acid (The Runes of Ancient Evil, no date). I learned many other things from the runes in that vault, and it cost me many things, not the least of which was my left eye.

    But for our study, the most important fact is that both dragon saliva and pinwyrm saliva contain acetic acid. Further studies would investigate the heating agent in pinwyrm saliva; the runes were unable or unwilling to tell me that. Still, based on the chemical similarities of the pinwyrm spit and dragonfire and based on behavioral similarities in eating habits, I recommend removing the pinwyrm from the Varanidae family and placing it within the Urulosidae family of fire-breathing dragons. I also believe the pinwyrm is a suitable proxy for dragon evolution if resources or fear prevent a researcher from dealing with the real thing. For example, I’ve been told by the AWLA that I am no longer allowed access to interns, and thus would have no buffers between me and any test dragons. Therefore, I plan to launch an extensive study into pinwyrm behavior.


    Today, my great-grandfather is remembered for terrifying pop quizzes or the era when his ghost haunted the west residence hall. But he was a brilliant scholar; in an effort to restore his memory, I am presenting his best articles from his years as a preeminent researcher in the field of natural and supernatural evolution.


    Isaac Teile wrote Resting in Peace: How the Restless Dead of Tira-no-gortha Finally Learned to Cope with Their Curse and edited A Man of Stature: Edmund Teile’s collected essays. He lives near the Blackened Sea and feeds a lot of stray cats. Follow him on Facebook.


    Shannon’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at http://shannonlegler.carbonmade.com/.


    “From Matchsticks to Flamethrowers: On the Evolution of Dragons” is © 2017 Isaac Teile
    Art accompanying story is © 2017 Shannon Legler

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