When I did a search for stories about Ran or Shaw here in the Avatar:TLA section, I was rather surprised that absolutely nobody had written a fic about these two awesome dragons. That was unacceptable, and so I've stepped in to fill in the gap.
And without any further ado, here's a fic about Ran and Shaw's life during and after the events of Sozin's Comet.
Once, they had been teachers, revered masters who helped a nation's people discover and harness the spark within their breasts, showed them how to transform it into glorious shafts of flame. But the dragons, despite their profound wisdom, had underestimated how tightly dark temptations and forces could grip the hearts and minds of men, and especially those who had power.
And so it was that a hundred years ago, the students had betrayed their teachers, turned on the very creatures who had taught them Firebending.
Instead of regarding them with respect and awe, the people of the Fire Nation had come to view the dragons as trophies, opponents to be cut down for personal glory, just to prove a point.
Many men and women had died under the claws and in the jaws of the dragons they'd intended to slay, been roasted alive in unspeakable agony by their fire or killed by a blow from those great scaly whiplashes of tails. Others had sensibly decided that a dragon was too much for them to handle, and had either engaged the reptile in a brief skirmish for honor's sake before fleeing or simply turned tail.
But one way or another, one by one, the great dragons had been slaughtered in the end by those bold enough and cunning enough to take them on. Whether it was by using electric spears of lightning, using a skilled Earthbender to deliver a crushing sneak attack, attacking in groups, or brilliantly conceived baited traps that would lead the dragon to its own execution, far too many hunters gained both the proud title of Dragon and a skull to grace their domicile.
They killed and killed until only they remained, living in a maze of tunnels and chambers underneath and around the seaside city of their protectors and supplicants, the Sun Warriors.
Both the city and the tunnels were very old, older than Ran and Shaw themselves. The city of course, had been built by human hands. But the three-dimensional network of great tunnels in the cliffs was even more ancient, carved out of the stone by the claws and flames of generations of dragons. Even Ran and Shaw had added a few touches.
Both Ran and his blue mate were 110 years old, the equivalent of a 60-year old person, and had lived in this derelict city, ignored and thought to be abandoned by the rest of the Fire Nation, for 74 of those years.
Already a pair, they'd fled their original caves as honor-crazed hunters had put more and more pressure on their kind, and in time discovered this ideal sanctuary. No other dragons had ever joined them. The Sun Warriors were their only companions and visitors, treating them with the respect and reverence Ran and Shaw deserved as Firebending masters.
But the dragons never forgot that as far as the rest of the Fire Nation was concerned, they were fair game.
Their lives were ones of paranoia and unease, especially whenever they had to leave their tunnels to attend to their bodily needs. Getting a drink didn't entail much risk. There were plenty of ornamental pools and an artificial lake scattered about the city, as well as a small, spring fed river not all that far from the cliffs they dwelt in.
And as long as their mate or a few Sun Warriors stood guard, Ran or Shaw could usually afford to lie down in a courtyard or other flat place and bask in the sunlight that gave them power for a while.
It was when the dragons had to hunt that they were most at risk, and both Ran and Shaw knew it. Dragons didn't need to eat much for their size, but Ran and his mate needed at least a helping of meat sooner or later. And so, tense, with all senses alert and a blessing from the Sun Warriors, they would smoothly slither from their caves to stalk the nearby forest and plains, each prowling alone.
They'd had to adapt in many ways, do things that were unnatural for dragons, like hunting at night instead of during the day. Instead of flying high in the sky, these dragons stalked their prey on foot or flew close to the ground.
In due course, they would see or pick up the fresh scent of a wild komodo-rhino or dragon moose or giant ground sloth-bear or sickle-tusked elephant or giant tapir or boarcupine, and kill the beast with either a crushing snap of the jaws or a brutal blow from their tail. Sometimes, considering that their prey often lived in herds and the size of each dragon's body, Ran or Shaw would gladly seize the chance to make multiple kills, taking out three or more large animals in the space of just a few minutes.
But whether Shaw or Ran made a single kill or many in a nocturnal hunt, it was always hastily and immediately bolted down by the dragon, who then quickly but silently headed back to their mate and the safety of the caves before the sun came up.
If they hadn't made prey before morning drew near, that was too bad, and they would have to go back to their lair and simply wait until next night. The dragons knew though, that going hungry for a day was far better than being spotted by outsiders and perhaps later being slaughtered for a trophy as a result.
The area around the Sun Warrior city was a true wilderness, vast and rarely visited by the other people of the Fire Nation, with no permanent residents for dozens of great li. Still, there was always the chance that somehow, sometime, someone might see Ran or Shaw as they hunted, and the dragons lived in fear of that possibility. Even after nearly three-quarters of a century, they'd never allowed themselves to get complacent, much less slip up.
It was not the sort of life a dragon deserved to live.
Nor had they ever bred during these long decades.
Every other year, like clockwork, Shaw would go into heat around the middle of fall. But she would not allow Ran to breed her, would not make a nest. She understood on some deep level that she was the last hope for her kind, but she also felt much too stressed and nervous to commit to motherhood.
So, every alternate year the urge to reproduce would well up inside Shaw, glow brightly, and then fade away. She would lay eggs, but they would be infertile, and she and Ran would eat them in the end.
This time however, was different.
All of nature, of the very world itself, seemed to be trumpeting a message of profound change, a change for the better.
Like all Firebenders, the dragons had felt the ecstatic, primal pull of the great comet as it had begun to glow ever brighter in the night skies above their heads. When not hunting, they'd spent long hours simply staring up at it, their fierce gazes both excited and thoughtful as they'd softly hissed and growled in a tongue that only dragons could comprehend, shifting and twitching in place.
And then that fateful day had come when the comet had grazed the atmosphere, turning the sky as red as Ran's hide. Its power had entered the dragons like a drug, filled them with a quivering, dynamic tension.
Restlessly, they'd prowled through the ancient city, sticking their massive heads into doorways and probing smaller spaces with their tails as if looking for something missing, something of great value. They flew about in the crimson daylight, spiraling, wheeling, tumbling, gliding, coiling through the air and emitting colossal rainbow gouts of fire, circling the great altar or just randomly flying in the open.
Agitated and irritable, they'd turned on each other several times during that strange day, rearing up and scratching as they parried their mate's teeth away, nipping and flailing with their tails, wrestling and coiling about as they snarled and roared.
The Sun Warriors had wisely given them their space.
Eventually though, the comet departed, and with it went the overflowing, vibrating energy that had overtaken Ran and Shaw.
After the dragons had settled down, they'd sensed, in their wise, instinctive way, a cleansing of sorts. It was a psychic flame pushing back the darkness, a sensation of something profound and massive being shifted back into its rightful, noble place. A balance had been restored, and in the uncanny way of all animals, Ran and Shaw knew it.
And in celebration, both dragons had tilted their heads back to send twin pillars of flame leaping into the sky.
The Avatar, the airbending monk who had come to them to learn the true nature of Firebending, and his companion, Sozin's own grandson and Crown Prince of the Fire Nation, had prevailed in their struggle to set things right.
So it was that when the time came several weeks later for Shaw to breed, this fall she was, at long last, not afraid.
The past few years had been kind to the great herbivores the dragons hunted, and prey was extremely abundant. The outside world had changed for the better, and they would not be hunted down.
The romance first started with a kill.
Ran went out hunting one afternoon, confident in his safety under the new order of things.
He'd returned a few hours later, carrying the body of a dragon-moose cow and her large calf in his tusked jaws. Since he'd normally have consumed both kills on the spot, Shaw immediately knew they were a gift for her.
Landing on the stone altar where she basked, the red dragon let both dragon-moose fall wetly from his mouth, their bodies quivering on impact. He pushed them forward with his cinnabar muzzle before raising his head to give Shaw a questioning, meaningful stare.
It was both a way of reaffirming their relationship and Ran's way of making a promise to Shaw, a guarantee that he would look after her, the eggs, and the hatchlings if she chose to mate with him.
Tearing her gaze away, the blue dragon lowered her huge head, making a deliberate show of smelling and examining the carcasses. Then she opened her fearful jaws and picked up the calf, tossing it back in great, bone-cracking gulps. Its mother was next to do down the hatch.
Ran was immensely satisfied to see his mate devour his kills. But all the same, Shaw had been accepting these presents of meat every other fall for the last eight decades, so her actions certainly weren't an absolute guarantee she would let him breed her.
The way the red dragon and the Sun Warriors first realized that this year would be different was when Shaw began to assemble great boulders and slabs of stone in a loose cluster in the courtyard in front of the altar, carrying them one or two at a time in her mouth. For only the sixth time in her long life, she was making a nest.
Excited by the implications, Ran began to scent mark around the city and the cliffs, rubbing his cheeks and pressing his chin glands against outcrops and protrusions of stone, letting everyone know that this nest and this family belonged to him.
It was a clear day, cloudless and warm, when Ran and Shaw took the first step towards resurrecting their race.
Whether human or dragon, Firebenders most often coupled at either dawn or noon, and the sun was at its apex when Ran slithered up to Shaw, his stance regal and proud.
She could smell the perfume of his throat glands, a sharp, smoky, cologne odor.
He turned, spread his gigantic wings, and gave her a quick glance over his shoulder before vaulting up into the air.
Trusting and eager, the she-dragon followed.
Slowly, gracefully, the two dragons ascended into the sky, their bodies forming a double helix of crimson and sapphire as the Sun Warriors looked on from the tops of their pyramids.
With every flap of their wings they gained altitude, flying so high they seemed to become part of the sun itself.
Then, more than 30,000 feet above the ground, the dragons leveled off and began to fly in a figure eight for a few minutes, splitting the noon sky with great, excited roars.
And then came the truly dramatic part of Ran and Shaw's courtship display.
Ran briefly stopped flapping and went into a level glide through the thin air. Tilting back his head, he emitted a rainbow burst of fire, a signal to his mate.
It had been a very long time, but Shaw still understood. More importantly, she was willing, and the blue dragon threw her own head back, shooting out her own burst of flame in response.
They turned to face each other and opened their tusked jaws. Angling his head forty five degrees, Ran hooked his great teeth over Shaw's and firmly clasped her muzzle in his jaws. She did the same.
And then they let themselves drop out of the sky.
They fell through the air, a whirling red and blue blur, gaining ever more momentum, tails whipping like propeller blades. The wind tore, smote, pushed at their bodies as they fell, the ground rapidly expanding in their vision. It was a terrifying, confusing, exhilarating, exciting sensation.
At the last possible moment, seconds before they would've smashed into the ground, Ran released his hold on Shaw's teeth.
She did likewise, and they parted, leveling off and skimming just above the stone, sending out massive plumes of fire as they glided together.
Slowing almost to a stall, the red dragon then turned away, heading back to the plaza below the altar. Shaw followed, gliding at his tail.
When they landed, the dragons began to take things more sedately, performing a slow, circling dance around each other. Ran gave out more musk from his chin glands, and Shaw closed her eyes as she inhaled the sharp, wonderful scent.
He approached his blue mate and coiled against her, sleekly rubbing his nose and jaw along Shaw's back.
When he tried to mount her, Shaw jerked away and snapped at him, giving a growl of warning as she lashed out with her tail.
Undeterred, the red dragon stroked her some more with his muzzle and chin before attempting to mount her a second time. Once more, Shaw shrugged him off and growled-but this time it was halfhearted, and her actions were less hostile.
Ran's third time was the charm, and Shaw allowed him to mount her unhindered, grasping the nape of her scaly neck in his front teeth.
It was a fortnight later that to the great, exuberant delight of the Sun Warriors, Shaw began to arrange the great pieces of stone in the plaza into a tighter cluster one morning. Along with her increasingly hefty appearance of late, the signs were unmistakable. She was going to lay the first clutch of dragon eggs in decades!
It was evening when the blue dragon carefully lowered herself to the saucer of stone, lifted her tail, and began to lay a clutch of enormous eggs, golden and dazzlingly shiny. One by one they appeared, eight in all and every bit as precious as they looked.
When the deed was done, Shaw turned and began to pick up some of the large stones, expertly arranging them around and over her eggs, forming a protective, blocky castle. Ran assisted in the construction as well.
The way in which Ran and Shaw incubated their eggs was weird, and downright scary to those who didn't know better.
Starting that very day, either Ran or Shaw would go up to the pile of stone that sheltered their future progeny, lightly brush their muzzle against it to check the temperature, and if they didn't like the reading, let loose with a jet of fire to heat the rocks up.
While their behavior would seem like a perfect recipe for cooking their own eggs, the shells of dragon eggs had fortunately been molded by natural selection over countless generations to withstand such extreme, sustained heat, insulating the embryo inside from the worst of it.
The dragons would also cleverly collect huge amounts of dry, dead wood and branches to bring back to the plaza. After arranging them around the stone mound, either Ran or his mate would then set the wood ablaze, the resulting flames leaping high and crackling merrily. It was an efficient way of keeping the eggs warm while saving energy that otherwise would've been used to Firebend at the same time.
Still, the dragons could not afford to slack off. While most of the Fire Nation enjoyed a tropical or subtropical climate, nights could still get quite chilly during the winter-and certainly frigid enough to kill dragon eggs.
Both dragons worked in shifts, one partner guarding and heating the eggs while the other hunted, took a drink from the river or pools, collected firewood to make their shared task easier, or simply dozed. They tolerated the Sun Warriors well enough, but any other intruders promptly became snacks.
For over four months this was the pattern of Ran and Shaw's lives as they diligently looked after the future of their species.
And then, one warm spring day, the sun shining high in the sky, one of the golden eggs shifted, and a metallic flake fell as a little blue muzzle, set with three tiny pairs of needle sharp tusks, erupted from its prison. It made a slurred sound, and seven other little voices answered back. So did an even bigger, far deeper one from just outside.
Carefully, with her claws and teeth, Shaw removed the heated stones, and the sun's light flooded onto the hatching eggs.
It was Itzamna who first noticed what the blue dragon was doing, and he understood right away what it meant. Besides, he could hear the slurred grunts.
A boundless delight surged through him and permeated his voice as he called out, "Come quickly, my brothers! The new Masters are arriving!"
His jubilant announcement swept the city like fire through dry brush, and to the last man, Itzamna's thrilled companions came rushing out, jogging down the streets toward the plaza.
And it was there that they discovered the future.
One by one, eight hatchling dragons burst from their eggs, wide-eyed and blinking. Four males and four females slithered out into the world, forming a red and blue knot of scales that coiled and crept under Shaw's watchful, piercing gaze.
At long last, the original Firebenders were clawing their way back up from rock bottom.
As always, reviews are more than welcome.