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The Dragon Cave


Holy cow...Info further down but to give you an idea - see all those tiny coins on that pile? Hand painted. All of them. -dead-


Horse: A3751 - Lakewood's Heaven Calling
Rider: Joanna
Event: Annual Dragon Hunt 2016

Potions: None
Dragon Tack: Rose gold plated metal armour pieces with sheepskin lining to stop rubbing.
-Face mask with ear guards, overlayed neck 'scale' plates, Shoulder plates shaped like wings, chest/belly plate that threads over the girth, Quarter plate shaped like a pair of wings and canon guards, fitting from fetlock to hock/knee, and extending above the joint on the forelegs.
-GP light weight, close contact saddle with stirrup cages inside leather guard flaps and a humane girth. Snaffle bridle with no noseband and ribbon reins that attaches directly to the face mask.

Official Bonus Image:
Stolen Treasure by Tattered-Dreams

Animated Bonus Version:
The Dragon Cave - Animation Bonus by Tattered-Dreams

Closer pics of details:
Nordy Dragon Hunt Details by Tattered-Dreams

Story: (wc: 1,272)

Joanna raced up the Barn, snatching her jacket from the ear of Bonzai the saddle horse on her way past. The lights were off, and with the season sliding back into autumn again, the barn was thrown into cosy darkness, even though it was before six. Chess, Austin and Alec had all packed up their things and headed for the farmhouse already; Avery and Twitch had both gone home. That left just Becca, who was waiting at the main doors with the keys in her hands.

"All done?" She asked, when Joanna was in earshot.

Joanna nodded - she'd double checked all the horses that were in on the bottom stable block while Becca did the old one. Everyone was tucked up in bed with packed haynets that would happily last them until late evening when Austin would be down to hand out the late night rations.

And then she remembered. "Oh - I left that old shield in the foaling box with Heaven; she was having a great time with it earlier." For most horses, leaving an actual shield - a shining metal piece of armour that wouldn't look out of place on a Knight of Camelot - in a foaling box with a six month old and her mother might be questionable at best. But Heaven was a special case. Not simply because of her sensibility, but because working with armour was what she was bred for. Nordanners had always been - so the myth went - Dragon horses.

Becca smiled absently, as though she could imagine it easily for herself. "Is she still trying to lift it?"

"No - she's asleep." Joanna slid her phone from her jeans pocket and flipped with practiced ease to her photos. There, showing the latest one, was Heaven. She was sprawled in the straw bed, her forelegs not tucked beneath her like you would expect, but splayed straight out, her teacup muzzle cushioned on the bedding between her fetlocks. The glossy shield - a warm gold, almost bronze - rested against her shoulder, its weight apparently familiar, though she'd never seen it before. The engraved N on the front was neatly hollowed and the lanterns in the rafters shone across the surface.

"Leave her," Becca said, looking fondly at the picture. "There's still a camera set up on the box - I'll just turn on the feed again when I get to the house, and I'll have Austin take it out when he does Late checks. You should head home; you've been here hours."

Joanna nodded, fished the keys to her VW camper from her pocket and waved goodbye, heading for the courtyard while Becca closed up behind her.


Heaven heard the familiar sounds of Joanna's footsteps receeding away from her door like listening through cotton wool. Her mind danced on the edge of sleep; the straw was warm and smelt faintly sweet, the shield's weight on her shoulder natural. And yet she was drifting, finding herself further and further from her bed. The stories her Mother had told her about her ancestors spiralled around her feet, golden words that stretched into ribbons of light, leading her from the grassy meadow she found herself in, towards the dark mouth of an old cave.

She looked around once, saw no one around, and trotted inside.

The walls were smooth and formed from hard packed earth, the path sweeping down, down, into the depths of the ground. The ceiling was cavernous; far, far higher than she was; on her spindly young legs. But it was strangely warm. There was a tang of copper in the air, the delicate tinkling noise of metal on metal. She kept trotting. There was no echo, no draft, no dampness.

It seemed to take a long time, and then the darknesss gave way to a bright golden glow. Coins. Piles and piles of coins; heaped taller than she could even jump. Most of them tiny, but some huge; larger than the feed bucket Mother was given in the morning. They weren't neat piles, and coins rained from the tops, skating down the sides and spreading across the floor. Jutting from the piles were other treasures; Rubies larger than any of the Lakewood goats; Sapphires bluer than the ocean and Emeralds cut with perfect precision.

And that was when the earth rumbled. The ceiling shook; dust quivering down. Heaven looked above, only now noticing the strange scars in the hard earth formation. They were gouges; criss-crossing and mapping out the space, but some were in long, viscious sets of three that told worse stories. The coins on the ground began to dance; more dust wafted down; A strange sound came from one of the holes carved into the cavern; part growl, part scream and all nightmare.

Heaven quivered, sinking back on her hocks, frozen solid. She felt it before she saw it.

It moved almost like a snake; a little side to side and low to the ground with the head swaying and tongue tasting the air. One second it was a ghostly noise; the next the dragon had filled the cave. It was enormous; its hide dark, burnished red and glittering where the scales caught the light shining off of the treasure. It had a thick, muscular neck and body, but its leathery wings were diminished; not suitable for flight. The tail was whiplike with no barb, but continuously moving in little coils, like a cat deciding when to pounce.

It climbed the nearest pile of coins, belly pressed low to its hoard, and reached its neck low, almost protective, even with the challenge shining in the milky eyes.

And then Joanna was there.

She darted in front of Heaven, placing herself between her and the beast, even though she had no hope of fighting it alone. The fear and panic knotted tight in her chest; heart fluttering like a bird trapped in a cage. She looked up at the dragon; saw the Milky eye focus and an inky pupil fold into a furious slit.

Her chest stilled and something like familiarity; like knowing, flared up in place of the blind terror.

The light was blinding; glancing off millions of coins and cut gemstones like a star going supernova. Heaven felt her body shift; raise up, become stronger. A weight settled into her back, right behind her wither; startling at first, until she realised she could feel Joanna's heartbeat through the light saddle, feel the implicit trust carried down the ribbon reins to a copper snaffle bit that hadn't been in her mouth a moment before.

The dragon shook its head. Heaven stamped and arched her neck. The golden armour mask over her face was strange but easy to move in; the plates down her neck were laid like scales, flexing with her movements. A pair of wings were spread across her shoulders and an even larger set over her quarters.

She was carrying Joanna. She was wearing tack - not just tack - Dragon tack. Something Mother had only ever told her about before. She could take part in the Annual Dragon Hunt. All they had to do...She set her sights on a glowing ruby beneath the dragon. That one.

She felt Joanna agree; the barely perceptible squeeze on the reins; the thrum of adrenaline through her seat.

The Dragon blew a breath; fire igniting in its nostrils and lighting up the cave. Heaven reared up.


Tucked safely away in the warm foaling box on Lakewood Farm, Helheim plucked hay from her haynet and watched her little filly dream of dragons, her hooves twitching in the straw.


First thing:

I really hope this is okay. I didn't want to spoil anything, so I didn't ask before. The concept being that Heaven is still actually a youngster (as I'm aging her slowly and drawing her chronologically), but I had this idea, and I really wanted to do it. The Lakewood bunch found a shield - probably while cleaning out the Gallery or the attic - and gave it to Heaven. Heaven was then told all the stories about Nordanners by her mother, Helheim, and as soon as she falls asleep, has a dream in which she encounters a dragon, and somehow finds enough courage to face it - imagining herself as a grown horse in the process.

Other info:
1. This was intended as an animation. I've actually drawn baby Heaven facing the dragon, but the file is SO BIG that it wasn't going to work. So instead, this is the static image of her as an adult.
2. I plan to still post the animated version, but will possibly have to crop out the dreaming Heaven, and size the whole thing down. I will try, though!
3. This has taken...2, 3 days? I'm not sure - whenever the group posted the '1 week left' announcement.
4. All totally hand painted. No textures, no references, no duplicating. ALL THOSE COINS WERE DONE INDIVIDUALLY KILL ME NOW
5. That dragon gave me so much pain. Couldn't get it to look right at all and re-sketched about 5 times. I love how it came out eventually though.
6. This is a 5000x7000 pixel canvas. It kept getting bigger so I had space for all the stuff I wanted in there.
7. I was considering leaving out the dreaming Heaven, but about 5 hours ago I went 'no; I planned for her; its going to happen' and now its 3am and I need sleep.

That is all.

A bonus image will be coming because I know exactly what I want to draw :D

I will also post a detail sheet for some close ups :)


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Art, characters, dragon design copyright to Tattered-Dreams
Nordanners belong to Cloudrunner64
Do not take, copy, edit, redistribute or manipulate.
Image details
Image size
5000x7000px 21.01 MB
© 2016 - 2021 Tattered-Dreams
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MissDudette's avatar
Tattered-Dreams's avatar
Way late but THANK YOU :D

I see I didn't get placed now the results are in, but it was a lot of fun to work on and I still love the outcome :)
MissDudette's avatar
Honorable Mention is pretty awesome for entering such a large show!  Congrats. :)
ReQuay's avatar
I can not applause this enough. 
The story is so well written, and does such a great job of keeping all of your characters in line with your plot while letting your filly explore the idea (or dream) of dragon hunting. 
And the art... just... how?
How can you draw everything so beautifully/amazingly/perfectly!?!?
The dragon looks awesome.  Heaven and Joanna are killing it in the dragon tack.  And foal Heaven with her golden shield is just plain adorable.  Plus all the details that you captured... and painting all those freakin' coins!
Truly, truly amazing!
Tattered-Dreams's avatar
Thank you so much!! :la: :hug:

And wow, the story was seriously such a rush-job XD. I just had an idea in mind but it was already 2am and I had to work the next day...I literally just threw it down, but its really good to know it feels right. Yeah, I'm still keeping Heaven a baby but this was too fun to let pass (And I very rarely write from the horse's pov anymore, so that was quite cool to do, too ^^)

As for the art...If I could tell you, I would XD I had an idea in mind and just sat for solid hours to get it out there. I did the first sketch late one night when the idea hit me. I came back to it to tidy up (the dragon took several different sketches and eventually I realised it didn't look right because I was trying to cram him into too small a space, so the canvas got bigger instead), did the lineart then painted both (top) Heavens together in one sitting. I coloured/shaded the dragon and blocked out the money piles as well as did most of the cave in another sitting and then did the individual coins, gems, chest, lighting effects and the bottom sleeping Heaven in a separate sitting that carried me through to 2am. Working on it in stages probably helped a bit, but honestly, I just kind of knew what I wanted it to look like and kept playing with things until it worked (the lighting effects to get it all warm toned in the middle were a handful of different filters that I sort of winged XD)

So, in short - I'm so glad the several attempts at sketching a dragon resulted in something that looks good :D The dragon tack will likely change a bit when Heaven is actually old enough for a real set, but I do like it a lot - the quarter guard especially ^^. Heaven sleeping with her shield I almost didn't do. I think it was about 11/midnight and the rest was done and I went 'no - I imagined it with her sleeping at the bottom, its gonna happen' three more hours later I really was done. I'm glad I did it, though - her splayed legs and the shield I adore - glad I'm not alone :)

I'm not even gonna start on the coins. Never again (probably). :D Thank you so much again!!
ReQuay's avatar
Wow, I think something like this would have taken me weeks to do... the fact that it was only a couple of sittings for you just shows how inspired it really was. 
Tattered-Dreams's avatar
Sometimes I'm lucky and I have the time for it when my Muse has the inspiration XD Other times...not so much XD
ShadowRaven1's avatar
I absolutely love the concept of this! I feel it's such a clever way to "show" a younger horse in the competition :heart:.
(Also I have to applaud you to sticking to introducing her pictures chronologically, I never have enough patience for that haha.)
Hats off to you as well for the stunning way you've portrayed metals in this, I'm jealous!
Tattered-Dreams's avatar
Thank you so much!! I just hope this idea of a dream is allowed for the event; it got into my head and wouldn't let go. I don't want to age Heaven up yet, but I really wanted to join the hunt with this concept in mind.

And haha; thank you. Honestly, the chronological thing isn't too difficult. I don't have as much free time as I used to and I'd kind of hate to age her up only to then miss half her life because I can't draw for two months. If I was able to draw more, she'd probably age faster. Its just a case of me having a list of images I want to draw of her as a youngster, and posting those before I post ones of her grown up :) (but it isn't for everyone, admittedly, and there's no harm in aging up your horse and just drawing them as a foal in flashbacks :D)

Also, I love painting metal :la: So shiny and fun with reflections - thank you again, really glad you like them!
ShadowRaven1's avatar
You're welcome! I'm not sure if it is but I really hope they won't deny you, it's so innovative! 

See that right there though! I have no patience xD. When It comes to wanting to draw them doing older things I don't know if I would be creative enough to come up with this as an option ;). I definitely make use of flashbacks to be sure ^^.

Teach me your ways :worship:. Seriously though, I'm glad you have fun with it because you're quite talented at making them seem tangible!
Tattered-Dreams's avatar
Same here (and thank you ^^) I liked the idea of playing with it a bit and doing something different :)

Haha, fair enough XD Honestly this is the first time I've really tried. Before this, Heaven only entered Nordanner events (or otherwise) that she could enter as a foal, but you're right that its a more awkward situation if you're keeping your horse young on purpose and then find a show you'd love to enter ... but its not for youngsters. Which is, I think, why aging up horses and then just doing occasional flashbacks is so much more common in HARPG; its more open from an art and RP perspective :)

If only I could. There's seriously such little method to it. I tried looking up photos of shields to help with the shading on the one at the bottom, but no images were cut in the same way, so using them as a reference was pointless. I just did it from imagination instead. Ultimately I go with what I think looks right, or could pass for looking logical XD In fact I seriously doubt its contours are at all correct. Coins are simpler, but still awkward to explain. Don't even ask about the gems. I've seen a handful of tutorials ages ago but can't remember them properly and in the end I just sort of hodge-podged it until they looked okay. I pretty much wing it until I'm happy, so I'm hopeless to you as a source of info :p. The only things I can really say are: 1 - know your light source. Once you know where the light's coming from, its easier to shade realistically. 2 - When shading metals, use higher contrast. The highlight should be sharp and bright, the shading fairly dark, almost too dark, and don't be afraid of putting highlights right next to shadows. Metal is very smooth, which creates the higher contrast.

That probably made little sense, but hopefully it is a little useful :) And thank you again for your kind words ^^
ShadowRaven1's avatar
I definitely agree with you on why the aging and flashbacks method is more common. I know that's, personally, what I use but again I'm impatient most of the time xD> 

Haha well you method absolutely paid off! I think using your imagination worked in our favor, they seem to "catch" the life as something metallic or gem like would. I'll definitely keep your tips in mind the next time that I attempt something along these lines. 

And again you're most welcome ^^.
MissDudette's avatar
This is really awesome Rachel!!  Gorgeous tack on your girl!
Tattered-Dreams's avatar
Thank you so much! I love the idea of wings incorporated into Heaven's tack (it just fits), but this set is a bit of a patchwork, honestly. The quarter plates I love, but the rest may undergo some changes when she's actually old enough to be fitted for a set - Still, I really love it as a starting point, considering not much planning went in XD
MissDudette's avatar
It'll be a great reference to look back on once the real tack starts to happen. :)  Gorgeous gorgeous work!
Tattered-Dreams's avatar
Definitely! I planned back when I bred Heaven that I'd draw an image of her at a blacksmith getting fitted for custom dragon tack so I can definitely use this in there somewhere...:D
MissDudette's avatar
Maeix2's avatar
That's a LOT of coins to draw :faint: 

Hehe, love Heaven's pose :aww: 
Tattered-Dreams's avatar
It really was. Very many. Never again. (or...well, maybe).

Thank you so much - Rearing horses are a bit touch and go with me (sometimes I just can't get them to look like they're not toppling over) but I think this worked out okay :)
Maeix2's avatar
Hehe, coin brushes have something going for them :D

This one definitely looks great. Perfect story-book pose :love: 
Tattered-Dreams's avatar
I've not seen any, actually. Sometimes I can use brushes, though, and sometimes I can't get the hang of them. I don't know if a brush would look as organic on this kind of scale... ^^ (could be worth a try if I ever do this again, though :p)

Thank you so much! I didn't think of it like that but you're right - it really is a storybook pose ^^
Maeix2's avatar
Some brushes, especially when you need to tweak a lot of the settings when working with them, certainly can give you a headache (or gives me one, anyway) :nod: Usually I find lovely looking brushes only for them to have been saved in the wrong format for the version of the program I want them for ^^; 
Brushes are fairly easy to make when you've already drawn the coins once though, so you could try that the next time around? 

It looks great :aww: 
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