"The Elder Scrolls told of their return. Their defeat was merely a delay... 'til the time after Oblivion opened, when the sons of Skyrim would spill their own blood. But no one wanted to believe... believe they even existed. And when the truth finally dawns... It dawns in fire!"Here There Were Dragons, and then they left for somewhere else... and now they are coming back, for better or for worse. As the natural apex predator species, their return inevitably upsets the status quo of the setting, kicking off a variety of conflicts, such as:
- The dragons are here and proceed to carve out a place for themselves in the setting, waging war on the other species.
- The dragons' return is imminent and one camp aims to assist it, while the other prepares to fight them and their supporters.
- The returning dragons are non-sentient and one faction tries to control them and conquer all the others.
- The dragons are benevolent and return because a conflict is afoot that requires their near-divine intervention.
- The dragons' return is just the first, symbolic portent of other calamities that are about to befall the world.
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Anime & manga
- In Fairy Tail this is a very important part of the Time Travel plot in the Grand Magic Games and to some degree the Myth Arc of the whole series. 400 years ago, dragons ruled the world and saw humans as food or pests, but one day, humans learned to fight against them and even defeat them. Dragons became more rare and reclusive, and humans became the dominating species. However, dragons were still known to exist until July 7th 14 years ago (7 years ago pre-Time Skip) when they for unknown reasons disappeared completely (though they still reside in some place inaccessible or not discovered by humans). Back to the time travel: In order to defeat the evilest dark wizard of all time, Zeref, the Kingdom of Fiore wants to go 400 years back in time, via a special gate to the past, and kill Zeref when he originally appeared. Unfortunately, when they open the gate, some dragons appear and wander into the present. Thanks to the complexity of time travel, at least three different timelines start from here: In the first, thousand dragons destroy most of the world and a few humans survive, living a miserable life. In the second, dragons also destroy a lot of the world, but more humans survive. However, the world is ruled by the strongest dragon of them all, Acnologia, and a certain evil human (Rogue) who can control dragons. In the third, the gate is closed before more than seven dragons can get through. These dragons come close to the killing a lot of people and causing destruction, but are fortunately forced to return to the past before any actual tragedy can happen, and the happy ending is earned. Acnologia on the other hand never vanished with the others. He's spent the last few centuries flying around the world, occasionally wrecking stuff on the way. Unfortunately, he's become a lot more active likely due to Zeref ending his self-imposed exile.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: Dragons have been functionally extinct for hundreds of years as of the beginning of the series, but at the end of the first book Daenerys Targaryen hatches three apparently-fossilized dragon eggs. They are accompanied by a distinctive comet in the sky and either cause or are symptomatic of (the TV show strongly implies the former) The Magic Coming Back in the setting. As hatchlings, they are a curiosity and a MacGuffin. Full-grown, they could be vastly powerful engines of war (the better part of a continent was conquered by Daenerys' ancestor, three dragons, and little else), but they also don't exactly come with an owner's manual, making them nearly as dangerous to their allies as their enemies.
- In Guards! Guards!, the Draco nobilis is believed to be extinct... until someone summons one right into Ankh-Morpork. It then proceeds to take over the city by fear and fire breathing.
- In Wrong Time For The Dragons by Sergey Lukyanenko and Nick Perumov, the last dragons (who also double as Royal Blood) of a parallel universe have been exterminated a few decades ago, but now several factions are trying to bring them back. Specifically, the main conflict comes from the fact that the former Dragonslayer believes that he made a grave mistake by ridding his world of the dragons, who protected the world from invasion from yet another parallel world. His opponents are more than happy to be rid of the tyrannical Winged Masters and believe that they can fight off invasions on their own. Even worse, the invaders are planning on creating a dragon of their own to lead the invasion. The former Dragonslayer wants to facilitate the rebirth of the Winged Masters to counter the Created Dragon, while his opponents summon a new Dragonslayer to kill both the reborn and the created dragons.
- Dragons in The Elric Saga tend to spend almost all of their time sleeping (they have to, so as to recharge their energies, as in 1 day requires something like 10 years of sleep), only coming out of their caves during extreme crises.
- Almost happened in Dragonriders of Pern: the dragon population had shrunk to a (probably unsustainable) size where they couldn't protect humanity from the Thread, so the protagonists have to find a way to bring back hundreds more. Lessa does it via Time Travel in a major crowning moment of awesome that almost killed her!
- Not dragons but in the Heralds of Valdemar series, no one living has ever seen a gryphon, although most cultures have legends or accounts of them being a friendly species. A mated pair showing up as advance scouts/diplomats, then, is a great shock to everyone.
- At the beginning of Inheritance Cycle, it's generally thought that dragons are extinct, other than King Galbatorix's enormous and menacing black dragon Shruikan, and perhaps any dragons that may live across the sea, far from where the events of the story take place. But the protagonist happens to accidentally steal and hatch the one dragon egg left. (Though you later find out that there was little accidental about it — the Eldunari [consciousness] of the hidden dragons altered the flow of magic to send the egg to him.) Then later it turns out that the evil emperor also has a dragon, and the king had two eggs left over, and both eventually hatched. In the final book, it was revealed that there was a whole cache of secret dragon eggs, which were re-claimed once Galbatorix was defeated.
- Inverted in The Immortals. All sorts of magical species return from exile in the Divine Realms where human mages had locked them centuries ago, except the dragons. Needless to say, the impact of the return is comparable with if not bigger than in other examples.
- In The Dragons Of Noor by Janet Lee Carey, this is pretty much the main plot.
- In the Deltora Quest series, the plot of the third set of books revolves around awakening the last of Deltora's questions who went to slumber because their kind was getting killed of by the Shadow Lord to destroy the Four Sisters which were planted by the Shadow Lord.
- The Liveship Traders and Tawny Man trilogies have the Fool trying to make this happen.
- Played with in Seraphina. After humans moved south and the herds died off, dragons retreated to mountains and declined in numbers due to reduced resources. This all happened around two thousand years before Seraphina, and at an unspecified point in the interval the dragons returned and war was waged. After the peace treaty dragons return in saarantrai, mainly to study.
- In Robert Reed's short story The Dragons of Summer Gulch, dragons went extinct thousands of years ago and all that is left are their fossilized and preserved bodies, which are extremely prized as their organs are a source of great medical interest. Local legend tells that the dragons will rise up and resume their rule of the earth, with only those that support them being spared. A treasure hunter uncovers eight live dragon eggs in the preserved body of an adult, which he intends to raise.
- At the end of Forge of Darkness, the first book in the Kharkanas Trilogy, the portal to Starvald Demelain, the first realm, is opened and the Eleint (also known as dragons), rumored to be creatures of myth, come flying in. Since they are creatures of Chaos, this is very bad news, although the exact consequences are relegated to the second book.
- The Dragonlance setting of Dungeons & Dragons. The events of the War of the Lance include the return of both Good and Evil dragons.
- It's a part of the background of Shadowrun, one of the first signs that the sixth world has arrived and magic has returned is when the dragons return. The first is the Great Dragon Ryumyo, seen by 250 people aboard a Japanese bullet train.
- Fireborn has this as the game's schtick. Once dragons ruled in an age of magic and generic D&D-esque fantasy. Then the magic and dragons vanished as a cataclysm reshaped the world. In the modern day, magic has begun to return, and dragons with it. Except that their souls have stayed around and reincarnated as humans all along. Guess what you get to play?
- Magic: The Gathering's Tarkir block is based around this idea. There's a twist though — the dragons truly are extinct, it takes time travel (in a franchise where time travel is no trivial matter) to bring them back.
- GURPS Dragons, a whole book about handling almost the whole range of Dragon Tropes in that game, has a full sample campaign setting and some short example setting descriptions built around the idea of dragons returning to the game world.
- In Warhammer, the dragons of Caledor who fought alongside the High Elves started falling asleep about 3,000 years before the End Times, and then started waking up again as the End Times approached.
- Drakan: The Ancients' Gates sees Rynn and Arokh bringing back the dragons Trapped in Another World in order to re-establish the ancient Order of the Flame, pushing back the forces of evil that have almost subjugated humanity in the meanwhile.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim revolves around the dragons, thought to have been defeated and driven out for good long ago, invading Tamriel in force, bringing chaos to the land — "in force" being the key part. Most of the dragons were killed off during the Dragon War, but the Big Bad has the ability to resurrect them as long as they're not killed by another dragon or a Dragonborn. Despite this, a few dragons did manage to survive to the current day, either by hiding out in remote places (Mirmulnir is stated to be this in one of the in-game books), making deals with humans for protection (Nafaalilargus from The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard), or both (Paarthurnax, leader of the Greybeards).
- The Dragon Age series takes it name from the current in-universe age, named thus because dragons, believed extinct for centuries in the setting, suddenly began appearing sporadically. Their return is taken as an omen of violence and upheaval in the new age—and, indeed, the first few decades of it were marked by a Blight (unseen in centuries) and the collapse of centuries-old Circle of Magi system, leading to a civil war.
- Furthermore, the supplemental comic The Silent Grove hints at an underground refuge for dragons, waiting to come back.
- Guild Wars 2 has the dragons coming back in the 250 year gap from the first game and spawning an entire Fantasy Axis of Evil with their mere presence. In the response, the five major races have banded together and defeating them is the overarching plot of the game.
- The backstory of Fire Emblem Elibe is that dragons and men used to live in peace, but then a war broke out 1000 years ago, and mankind sealed dragons away. In Eliwood's game, the plot eventually grows to the point where they have to stop Nergal from bringing dragons back into the world, because that would bring about another war between species that humanity isn't prepared for and, thus, the extinction of mankind.
- 7th Dragon and its sequel 7th Dragon 2020: Dragons appear and wage war against humanity. It doesn't help that the dragons cause the world ecosystem to shift to their liking, which is deadly for humans.
- Touhou backstory mentions the Great Dragon who helped create Gensokyo before departing for parts unknown; his return would be a sign that Gensokyo has gotten way out of hand. Iku Nagae is his messenger, who intervenes before things reach that point. Some fans speculate that the Brilliant, but Lazy gatekeeper Hong Meiling may be the Great Dragon in disguise, as her surname "Hong" refers to the rainbow dragon of Chinese mythology.
- In Dragon's Dogma, the Dragon's return causes Gransys to be overrun with monsters, symbolizing a period of strife after the long peace that the world has enjoyed for generations. With that, it's up to an Arisen to fulfill their destiny and face the dragon. That or make a deal with him so that he'll bugger off for a while and leave you an immortal, in the case of Edmun Dragonbane.
- In Dark Souls, the last of the original, true Everlasting Dragons were supposedly killed. However, Dark Souls II has the Ancient Dragon, who is stated to be one of the last real dragons (the rest, like the Guardian Dragon, are wyverns and lesser spawns of the original dragons). Its goal, if the growing population of wyverns in the Dragon Aerie is any indication, seems to be restoring its species in Drangleic. However, numerous factors, like how it drops a Giant's Soul and Nashandra describing it as a "false idol", indicate the Ancient dragon is actually a fake constructed by Aldia. Another dragon appears in Crown of the Sunken King. Sinh the Slumbering Dragon resides in the depths of the sunken city of Shulva, and woe to anyone foolish enough to disturb his sleep. Unlike the Ancient Dragon there doesn't seem to be any doubt that Sinh is a true dragon. Word of God is that the Everlasting Dragons are part "force of nature", so it may be that they can never truly be killed, and can come back in some form.