On the Anatomy of Dragons
From the desk of Selira Distara-Ashaela, Alchemist:
4th of Chronos, 584 years after the fall of the Seleucarian Empire.
The roles of the Alchemist are many. We are both healer and combatant; the very fluids which we manipulate in combat can be altered to provide relief, comfort, and health to those whom we attend to in times of illness or distress. However, in order to do this, we require information - and with most of the Alchemists residing and hiding in the Cauda Pavonis, it is left up to us to learn how each of the races work so that we may work our arts with the greatest of efficiency.
It is to this end that I sent a request to my friend in Shallam, that Templar engaged in constant battle. It was a simple enough statement: "I need a Dragon." As the doves carried my letter to him, I allowed myself a slight moment of apprehension. We both knew the risks that he would have to take to bring me a fresh corpse, and the speed which I would need to work in order to get the data needed before the body decayed too far to make any sense of and would need to be discarded.
I returned to my lab and paced, thankful I had recently transcended past the need for sleep or food, those two mortal weaknesses now being sustained by an energy inside me. How much death, how much suffering was needed to get me to this point was something I did not like to dwell on these days, something my younger self would have balked at. But efficiency was of the utmost importance these days. Time spent asleep or searching for a meal was time wasted, and a quick glance at the dog-eared journal which I kept notes for future experiments in strengthened my resolve.
Not knowing when or if my companion would show, I began preparations. A sharp scalpel, a small bit of skin removed from the back of my hand, and a direction of energies allowed me to create a rude facsimile of myself, still subsumed under my will. Directing my new assistant to gather supplies, I flipped to the process for producing large batches of minerals, and began work in the (Did I say 'my lab' earlier? Peculiar.) metallurgy lab, knowing that I could stop at a moment's hesitation.
I do not know quite how much time I lost, absorbed in the routine process of the work as my thoughts continually returned to my request. Would he be successful? Would its scales be azure, aureate, argentine? What would I find on careful study?
My concentration was instantly shattered when the door behind me was slammed open. I turned to see what looked like a mass of scales as dark as night being dragged through, crimson blood leaking and staining the floor as it poured into the drain to feed the leeches in the sewers below. Both in front and behind the dragon was a group of people whom I did not recognize, dragging and pushing the giant creature inside. Sending my homunculus to lend her strength to the endeavour, I barked a quick order to pull the draconic carcass into the physiology laboratory and throw it on an operating table.
As I followed them into my lab and supervised the work, I took a look at those who had come in. There were a few young people, fresh from the Trial of Rebirth, it seemed, whom I had never before seen. After hoisting their enemy to my workstation, they turned and looked at me, a strange look on their face as I confidently strode forward, grabbing my scalpel on the way and getting the homunculus to lay out all my other tools as needed. Standing on the other side of the table was the Knight, still looking tired from his frightfully exhausting ordeal in becoming a human and adjusting to his new body, and still clumsy, lacking in his former feline grace. But his sagging eyes looked at me with a hint of pride, and as I looked over the wounded corpse in front of me I realized who I was looking at.
Nodding my approval, I raised the hood on my robes and leaned over the cadaver, putting the scalpel to the great belly and pushing in. The flesh was as tough as I expected, and while I was able to penetrate past the tough scales, I needed to saw through the hide in order to fully open up the abdomen. As the scalpels dulled, I passed them off to the homunculus and received new, sharpened ones, my eyes never leaving the work.
Once the great skin had been split up to the neck, I beckoned to my new assistants and had them each grab a bit of skin, pulling it open. The homunculus wandered among them, handing great hooks to pierce the flesh. As the innards of the beast were revealed to the open air, I saw one youngster turn green and run out of the room. Muttering, I slid the hook in my hand through a ring in the table and moved over to his place to do the same. Only then did I look over what had been revealed.
Glistening with the fluids in the bright lights of the laboratory, each of his internal organs was on display. I noted with satisfaction that all were in roughly the places you would expect them to be - there's the heart, the liver, the pancreas. Ordering the others away, I began my work and removed each of the organs one at a time, handing them to my homunculus to weigh and record. My hands grew slick with the humours of the dragon's body, but it was nothing I had not dealt with before, and I simply wiped them on my robes and continued work, resolving to get a fresh garment when this endeavour was done.
The innards of the beast hollowed out slowly, leaving only the skeleton, nervous and muscular structures, and one peculiar organ which I had not seen before and decided would stay until last. Cleaning my hands once more, I sketched three rough diagrams of what I could see, mapping the nerves, the muscles, and the skeleton, so that I would be able to evaluate each in separate at a less time-critical moment.
With a glance at the now-bottled and preserved organs of the dragon, I decided to examine them later - after all, each was likely to be similar in structure to the hominid parts I was by now so familiar with, and it would most likely be a matter of confirmation. It was the final organ that concerned me, the one located by the base of the throat, swollen with fluid and connected to a siphon that seemed to extend all the way up the neck. This, then, was the source of the dragon's breath, and I was determined to find out how it worked.
Unsure of the amount of pressure built up, I ordered all to stand back as I channeled energy into my robes, the symbols of salt and mercury beginning to glow. I placed a large collecting bowl of acid-resistant nickel below, in order to minimize damage to the cadaver. Then, with a steady hand, I punctured a hole in the sack, turning my body so that any squirting acid would hit the robes.
A small spray of dark acid did occur, but thankfully, was mostly contained, only a small amount colouring the side of my robes. As it slowed to a dribbling stream into the bowl below, I began to investigate the outer form of the sac, now that it was no longer swollen. Muscles surrounding it seemed to be the method of projection, with the ability to quickly squeeze and force it out the mouth and on the victims of the dragon's assault.
Slicing the organ open, I used a pair of forceps to peel apart the tissue and examine the inside. A collection sac there, an area that looks like it must produce the compounds needed from the body fluids, and a thick slime of phlegm covering it all to protect from self-destruction.
Interesting. New. This is what I had been looking for.
Smiling, I turned and thanked the Knight for his help. I quickly removed the robes, now with small holes where the acid had managed to eat through, and tossed them in a large hamper to be burned later, and sat at my journal to begin writing. After some confusion, the Shallamese realized that my work was done, and dragged the hollow form (still leaking many of its fluids) away, for some purpose I was not sure of and did not truly care to know.
It didn't matter. I had learned, but there was so much more to discover. Smiling, I began to doodle a device in the corner of my paper. Small containers to store compounds, a mixing area, and a long, pressurized tube.