“Finally, they had arrived: there, in the deep molten caverns, did Ashenwing’s lair lie. Deadly fumes and smoke seeped through the very cracks of the earth below, and through the gaping mouth of his recluse, came a heat unbearable to almost all. The trees all around were dead, scorched to the point where a single blow would make them tumble; patches of grass still remained, at places where no men had ever perished in the dark fire of the beast. ‘A foul place,’ one of his men noted, and Foldron agreed. He felt his impending doom creep up on him – yet he carried on, and urged the others to do so as well. Once they descended through the chasms running below their feet, pitch dark except for the dim lights of slowly churning lava, Foldron finally laid his eyes on the very same dragon he saw burning villages, and swallowing people whole. Ashenwing was monstrous: his obsidian scales ran from his cart-sized, barbed tail up to his slithering neck, resting around a nest of tiny eggs like a mountain enveloping a castle. On his back laid the very things he was named after: his ashen wings, moving up and down with each of his long, drawn-out breaths, almost as if it was nothing but smoke sitting on top of him. His serenity did not last, however – his nostrils flared, his eyes burned with a golden yellow, and growled as he measured up Foldron and his companions. ‘Attack!’ The paladin cried, and so they went, as they would have been fools to hesitate. The dark cavern filled with battle-cries of the brave men; and soon, their cries of death as well, for as much as paladins were the hammers of light, the might of a dragon is timeless and ancient. A swipe of his tail ended three of them at once, while he mauled through the magic of another with ease; he breathed fire upon some, and threw others into the fiery lava around them, but Foldron never wavered.

At last, there were only few: three of Foldron’s best men, Rhalor, Fael, and Llendyl encircled the beast, and they attacked at once, combined with Foldron’s might. The legs of the beast gave way to the burning light the paladins wielded, and he lost his balance – tumbling down, he accidentally crushed the very eggs he was protecting, and went into an uncontrollable rage, flailing around while fire once again erupted from his jaws. He took to the air to rain death upon his assailants; but Foldron stood tall, and conjured a spear of holy magic, hurling it towards the dragon and piercing the shadowy wings of his, so that he would lose control and crash right into the cavern’s walls. The ground trembled with the force of the impact, and as small parts of the cave started falling down from the heights above, the dragon finally rested, and refused to stand. Determined to end Ashenwing’s life once and for all, Foldron stepped to its gigantic head; and the dragon spoke. It spoke of pain and suffering, of loved ones lost, hunted down by men, and paladins; it spoke of the grief he felt, the grief his mind succumbed to, that led him to destroy cities and villages, to tear apart everything he saw as a threat to the last of his kin, the ones now dead beneath him. Never before had Foldron heard a dragon talk, and never before had he thought them to be like men. His heart fell heavy, as he tasted remorse over his ways for the first time: yet he promised the dragon he would make right what he did, and let him go free to search for others of his kin. But, as we know, there is hardly anything that weighs more than a broken heart: the creature never moved again, and the paladins were forced to leave him to the jaws of the collapsing cave, forever sealing the fate of Ashenwing, the Last Black…” An excerpt from the book Foldron and the Last Forest, this story has been one that I, and surely, many others have been fascinated by throughout their studies of history.

The disappearance of mythical beasts is a curious case: folktales still recount the colorful bestiary the mainland had in long past times, but there are nearly no official records of any of them existing at all. Many historians argue that it is so because they simply never existed – I argue that fiction sometimes is based on anything but fiction. Foldron and the Last Forest is considered to be a fictional work of literature, however, it shares a theme with many such pieces – too many to make it a coincidence. The Aldeaari Ascension brought not only a new set of people, a new culture, but also, a new way of religion with it, that of the Holy Brotherhood, later known as the Holy Order. When Tharion the Aldeaari gave power to the paladins, according to all of these works of fiction, they took it upon themselves to create a safe place for the kingdom to thrive in, to purge it of any ‘unnatural and dangerous’ beasts – and based on my research, I believe this is exactly what happened. It is widely speculated that much like how the Aldeaaris forcefully removed the Old Kings and their influence from their ongoing history, the paladins did so with magical creatures – this would explain the scarcity and the exclusively Raladian origins of all remaining records of such beings. There is certainly a basis for all of these myths and legends – after all, even the Llewyn crest has been bearing a golden dragon symbol for almost a millennia, and dragons are present in almost every form of art imaginable. What is more curious, however, is that opposed to Balneor and all of the Aldeaari Kingdom, people beyond our borders are more than certain that some of these creatures still exist, and that they come into regular contact with them. Sadly, throughout all my travels, I have yet to see a dragon – I have, however, seen many other curious things…