Imperial Court Hatching

The Introduction

To say Shy was delighted at the turnout for his most secret clutch would have been an understatement. The geneticist was ecstatic, candidates arriving from all corners of the Nexus, colleagues and associates reaching out and responding with acceptance and names of candidates they would be bringing personally to his Labs.

Princesses, crown Princes, new allies and old faces- Shy found his reach across the Nexus spreading, and felt hope. 

Soon, he would reconnect the Vella Crean to the Nexus, and he would bring his Empress new allies. 

‘You need to stop tinkering with the eggs, Shy’ 

Darasath’s voice was warm, amused in his mind- the Light Court Queen choosing to communicate with the scientist privately. 

“They need to be perfect.” he answered, running a hand over the thick eggshell, looking down at his tablet. “Absolutely perfect.”

Had the number of eggs grown, as the candidates had started to arrive? Maybe. Had Shy laughed and clapped his hands with glee as he met each candidate personally, seeking to understand the strengths they brought to the (Vella Crean) clutch? Definitely. Maybe with each visit he had snuck back down into his Labs, tweaking and tampering with a specific egg. This was Shy’s first public project in years- he was proud, arrogant, and he would not humiliate himself in front of his audience. 

He leaned down, whispering something to the largest egg, petting the surface and tweaking something just slightly on his tablet. 

“Absolutely perfect.” he repeated, his green eyes gleaming. 

‘I am quite sure the eggs had been uniform in color before’ Renoth’s voice was suspicious. ‘And I do not remember there being so many that we would need even more of Clan Vecira to keep watch.”

Shy smiled. Preened, as if he had been complimented. “They will be perfect, Renoth, Darasath. A new line of Court dragons to bring us into the future” To the Vella Crean.

‘If you say so.’ 

The day of the hatching was early morning, the Labs bright with ‘sunlight’, the breeze cool. Pigeons popped into each candidate’s quarters, anxiously announcing that ‘they must make it. Now. now now please. Straight to the hatching sands. The eggs. They wibble and wobble and ooooooh! Go before Master gets angry!’ 

The Labs shifted and groaned, the roof that had partially covered the hatching sands opening up, the ground expanding, sand rushing in as it accommodated itself for a large gathering and audience. Pale, glossy rock and marble streaked with gold rose, twining up through the sand, shaping itself into benches, railings, outposts for dragons to land and rest. 

Imraan the Architect stood amongst the movement of the Labs and grinned at Desh. “See? Does this answer your question about how we planned on holding all of the visitors?”

Desh uncrossed their arms. “Affirmative.” The golem like creation watched as vines crept up from the ground, twining itself around railing, crawling up against the walls, tiny white flowers blooming in bursts. “What is the purpose of the excessive botany?” 

Imraan grinned sheepishly. “To make it pretty?”

“As you can see, Director Kutoth” Ari gestured to the labs as it remolded itself into a large, public space. “Our Architect will be able to use his abilities at the Refugium to build out our residences, ensuring that we utilize both natural and new materials with very little impact on the Refugium itself.” she smiled, and her tablet pinged. With a frown she looked down at the orange error alert. “Malfunctioning pigeons?” she said to herself. “Excuse me, Director. There is a small- minor, minor” she smiled, a big, toothy, insincere smile. “Issue I need to address.” 

Monique watched as Shy smoothed down his hair for the hundredth time, adjusting the long and glittering nail extensions, tugged at the accessories that dripped across his brocaded qipao.

“What do you think?” he asked as he primped and preened in front of the mirror.

“Shiny.” she commented blandly. 

Shy smiled. “Absolutely Perfect.”

“Your timing has improved,” Faust commented dryly from the doorway.  The short, bald scientist stood in his typical outfit.  He had refused outright to trade the labcoat for a fancier coat of Shy’s choosing (possibly due to it being Shy’s choosing), but had instead opted to switch his standard white turtleneck for a high-necked shirt of violet satin.  The small splash of colour added to his starched white coat and white pants made for a surprising upgrade to the man’s traditionally bland appearance.  Faust tilted his head slightly, the usual indication that he was giving a subject a more thorough examination.  “Less than an hour today.  Your daughter, on the other hand, has been in need of ‘five more minutes’ since this morning.  Perhaps you’ll have better luck at coaxing her out of her room.”

Shy let out a laugh. “It is her first appearance in front of our new allies, my dear Faust.” he responded, sauntering over. “I am sure she has her own thoughts for a very memorable entrance.” 

“Hm,” Faust said as he caught Shy’s chin in one hand.  “She does take after you.”

“Well, of course I do.”  Striga’s arrival came to the tune of metallic heels clacking against the floor.  She strode up to the collection of people in Shy’s room, still affixing the last drippy string of gemstones to one ear.  “He’s the one with some fashion sense.  How do I look?”

The younger, female version of Shy took a step back and twirled for her family members.  She wore a form-fitted qipao that shimmered from deep green to deep violet depending on how the light caught it.  The colours repeated themselves in pins and clips throughout her intricately woven hair.  

“Stunning, as ever,” Faust replied automatically.  He looked between Shy and Striga, and then Monique behind them.  “Are we ready to leave now?”

The Hatching

The candidates were asked to gather directly on the hatching sands, visitors and members of their party invited to watch from the stands. Refreshments, adorable little pastries and maybe short drinks of ‘sterner stuff’ made their rounds. The eggs, all twenty of them sat resplendently in the middle, Clan Vecira perched on ledges directly above the eggs. 

“Twenty?” Ari, frowned as she followed Monique and Shy onto the stands, her lips moving. “Shy- there are se-” she stopped. Scowled. “What did you do?”

Shy sighed as he wriggled his fingers in greeting to the candidates, snuggling into the seat right between Doctor Schroeder and Director Kutoth.

“I don’t know why you keep attacking me with those four words, my dear.” he said, as he settled down hip to hip, patting Doctor Schroeder’s hand fondly. “Now then,” he crooned. “We did not have a chance to catch up at the impromptu gathering, my dear doctor.” 

The arrival of Faust and Striga in the seats behind them had an almost immediate impact on the atmosphere of the stands.  Doctor Schroeder’s already visible discomfort at Shy’s nearness took a turn for the worse when Faust chose the seat directly behind him.  Yet he was a man of science and culture, and he kept his tumultuous emotions in check as he responded.

“Faust did a fine job in your stead.”

“I quite enjoyed our chat as well,” Faust quipped from behind the graying director of the Abstract Destiny.  “You simply must stay for tea when all of this is done.”

Shy clapped his hands together. “That would simply be delightful,” he chirped, eyes gleaming with pleasure. “We have a few things we will need to discuss.” 

Director Kutoth, who made a point of picking a target to focus his attentions on far below, curled his fronds in agitation.  He hadn’t liked the tension between the two men at the party, and he certainly didn’t like being trapped in the same vicinity as them now.  It came as a relief to him when the arrival of the candidates drew the attention of those gathered in the stands.

The first to arrive was a pair of young women and a tall, devilishly handsome man in a tricorn hat.  Jaliath, who waved at the stands and blew kisses to a few of the spectators.  Behind him, Eeny and Sabrilla walked side by side, both ladies looking elegant and poised in their colourful dresses.  A whoop from the stands drew Sabrilla’s eyes upwards, and she blushed and quickly looked away after catching sight of Thayer.  The young, blonde heir to the Dragon Throne waved energetically, then laughed at her flustered response.  He leaned back in his seat and made a comment to Philippe, who sat beside him.  

Philippe laughed, then nodded to the sands as two more people approached the eggs.  Tiale and Randaril, both of them looking slightly nervous but excited, stuck close together as they moved forward.  Randaril spared a look upwards for his brother, and a mixture of emotion flashed across his face.  Apprehension at first, then calm, then he raised a hand and gave the blue-rider of Isla a feeble wave.

Behind them came the towering figure of Janardan and the proudly composed Dietlinde Rosenheim.

“I hope Greer behaves in the apartments,” Director Kutoth muttered as he watched his son move up to stand with the other candidates.  The tralvisk, Greer, was not known for his good behaviour when separated from Janardan, but he had not been allowed to join his master on the sands that day.  Too much risk to the young hatchlings, as he’d been told.

Another small group of candidates followed after them, none of them really walking together, but ending up in the same section of semi-circle forming around the trembling eggs.  Sylden looked poised and composed, and stood in sharp contrast to Beryl, who had chosen to wear her armour to the hatching.  The third in their small knot was Shan who, even when standing before the eggs that might hold his future partner, still had his attention riveted to a data pad held in his clawed hands.

From up in the stands, though he made not a sound, the towering, four-armed construct of Desh flashed an emoji across his blank mask:  D:<

Four more candidates stepped onto the sands, collectively making quite a flashy entrance as each one bore some striking accessory.  Arion with his bright golden wings walked with purpose beside the red-skinned Hzash, while behind them came a pair of siblings dressed in matching violet outfits.  Vaeden quickly raised a hand and waved to Striga, who responded with a kiss blown in his direction.  Devera grabbed her brother’s hand and shoved it back down at his side while simultaneously giving the red-eyed woman in the stands a wary look.

“He’s quite cute,” Striga said as she resettled in her seat and leaned close to Faust.  “I think I might want to keep him.”

“I believe I’d object to that,” King Van stated.  When had the tall, dark-skinned man arrived?  How had he slid into a seat beside Shy’s daughter without her noticing?  

Even Striga looked a bit put-off by his sudden presence, but she smoothed the surprise from her features and met him with a warm smile.  

“You’re welcome to stay too, your highness.  I quite enjoy the company of your family.”

“Striga,” Faust admonished, his tone sharp.

The red-eyed woman rolled her eyes but settled down, leaving Van with his own bemused thoughts while his children took their places.

The last to arrive and join the semi-circle of candidates was a late entry to the list of candidates.  A noble woman named Ivioletta, who moved with purpose to take her place and kept her expression guarded.  She greeted no one, did not spare a glance for the stands, and stood at the end of the line with her hands clasped before her.

“That’s all of them,” Ari said, checking her clipboard.  Then she paused and gave Shy a hard side-eye.  “That is all of them, right?”

Shy frowned, looking up to the skies. That one egg that was almost perfect. Left alone because he had not been able to meet his ardent fan. Well, if he was late, the egg would keep. Shy shrugged in response. 

The eggs that Renoth swore had been white, uniform in color, size, and shape, were mottled. Two resplendent gold eggs sat in the center, not eggs with a golden sheen, but with a shiny golden texture. An odd pair of eggs, one overly large, one overly small, sat nestled together. 

The other eggs were just as odd, some streaked with metallic markings of bronze and silver, others mottled in patterns and textures. One egg seemed to have odd bronze markings that shifted in the light, while yet another had tiny curls of flame that seemed to flicker. 

“Are we ready?” Shy mused. 

“You can’t control the timing of the eggs, Shy.” Ari muttered, to which he raised a brow. 

As if in response to the words, a pale egg with gray markings cracked. An odd tap tap noise continued within, and the first hatchling to mark this clutch peered out with curiosity to watch and judge the spectators. 

The hatchling’s face was smooth, a pale gray lavender shade, with dark markings across the top of her head, and two small nubs where horns should be. 

“The crest and horns normally grow in for Court dragons, do they not?” Dr. Schroeder asked.

Shy nodded. “But this is a special court.” his lips curled into a feline smile as he gestured. “The crest will, with age- the ‘horns’, are also quite special. One of a kind really.” 

The purple hatchling pushed at her egg, her movements gentle, deliberate. The egg tipped forward, upending the hatchling onto the sands- her wings splayed open, revealing darker undertones with a pearlescent sheen. 

The markings tracked its way across her body, up her four paws. She stared, quizzical on how she had ended up in this predicament, and let out a plaintive cry. 

“You can figure this out, Saniyath” Sylden called to the hatchling.  She took a few steps forward, the quick glances she cast at the stands making it clear she didn’t like being the center of attention.  Saniyath needed her help though, so as the hatchling flipped from side to side in an effort to right herself, Sylden quickly crossed the remaining few steps and knelt down beside the violet dragoness.  With a light nudge, the hatchling rolled onto all fours, wings flipping out behind her, and creeled at her new bond.

I was being so careful too, Saniyath complained.

“It was just a little miscalculation.  Come on,” Sylden said.  She scooped the dragonet up in her arms, grimacing as the hatchling’s uncoordinated movements stabbed a wind spar against her arm, then carried her off to the side of the sands to await the other hatchings.

The overly small egg was next to hatch, wibbling and wobbling before exploding into a shower of egg shells. The- hatchling? Teeny tiny? Was a stunning red, a metallic shimmer to his hide with odd flares of light that caught and sparkled. 

The hatchling flared his wings, which appeared almost paper thin- and marked with the oddest pattern of birds and trees.

“Did you,” Ari whispered furiously. “Imprint that poor baby with the screen in your bedroom?”

Shy ignored his aide, instead patting Dr. Schroeder’s hand. “A regular sized dragon won’t do for Xiao Shy, would it?” he mused. “Look,” the hatchling beat his wings once, twice, and the odd speckle of birds and branches seemed to shift and shimmer, with one decidedly small bird deciding at that moment to hide in the branches. “Magic,” he whispered.

“Ah,” Xiao Shy said, his tone so soft that only those closest to the sands could hear him.  “You would be Apoleoth.  I didn’t think I could feel any hungrier, but it seems that much is shared across our bond as well.”

Yes, please tell me we eat soon, Apoleoth said as he stumbled toward the short man in the elegant robe.  

Xiao Shy bent to retrieve the minute dragonet.  It was a good thing Apoleoth was as small as he turned out to be.  The other hatchlings would have been too much for the diminutive Shy to handle.  This one, though, curled up in his arms as if made to fit in that space and cooed at his rider as they tottered off to the sidelines.

A pale, narrow egg wiggled, rocking and knocking into their neighbor egg. It cracked, but instead of the regular snap the sound was oddly distorted. Wet? The top half of the egg slid off, and a rather dainty, bemused blue let out a curious chirp. 

She poked once, twice at the neighboring egg, reaching out with soft paws to knock the egg over onto its side with a resounding snap. Leaning heavily against the other eggshell, she spread her wings, glancing almost coyly at the audience.

Her pale hide was a shade of blue away from white- with scale-like markings shimmering in the light. Her wingsails shimmered, a dark blue closer to the ocean on a sunny day- and she shimmied, just a little bit, enjoying the attention. 

“Shajahanth,” Jaliath called, striding forward to greet the preening blue.  Before he could reach his new bond, the egg unfortunately squashed under the water dragon snapped. Crackled. The distinct scent of smoke filled the air, with a very irritated verbal, “get OFF ME,” snapping through. Sand seemed to fizzle, and with a shout, the hatching trapped under the blue exploded with a roar. 

Red, with flickering flame markings across its torso and three limbs raged as the hatchling scrabbled out from underneath the blue, letting out a distinct huff. 

“Easy now, Suirenth,” Hzash called, jogging forward to join Jaliath in front of the squabbling dragons.  At the same time, the iridescent man and the red-skinned man grabbed their respective hatchlings and pulled them apart.  Suirenth continued to spit and hiss in Hzash’s grasp, while Shajahanth affected a look of pure victimization and pressed her head against Jaliath’s chest.

He ruined my moment, she complained.

“There there,” Jaliath soothed her as he carried her off the sands.  “We’ll have moments aplenty once we get back home.”

The egg with the unusual metallic markings that shifted in the light shimmered, the markings moving in small, concentrated circles before seeming to settle directly into the shell. Monique leaned forward from her seat, letting out an amused noise as the egg exploded.

“You do like your entrances, don’t you, scientist?” she said out loud. Unlike the first, the egg shards were sharp, spraying in all directions. 

I’m sorry.”  The voice that emerged from the egg was female, soft- apologetic as she looked around her. A bright, shiny, metallic copper with wingsails that gleamed and sparkled, the markings that had danced across the egg shell had settled onto her hide, not quite attached, moving and shifting as if it was a layer of protection. “I don’t know my strength yet,” the copper said again.

“That’s okay, Aminath” Beryl said.  The elven woman in the bulky armour stepped forward and knelt on the hot sands.  She held out her arms as the copper dragonet bounded across a short distance before flinging herself into the woman’s chest.  Beryl chuckled as she caught her new bond and lifted her up.  “I’ve never trained a dragon how to fight before.  This will be interesting.”

Together they moved off to the side as the other eggs shook and shivered out of the remaining debris of Aminath’s egg explosion.  Save for a few which had been blanketed by wide leaves – Desh looked towards Imraan, a question mark on his blank face- the Architect shrugged. 

“Not me.” 

As if sensing the danger had passed, the leaves curled inwards, vines shifting and moving across egg shells, curling around the pale gray side of a purple hatchling with shimmering green wingsails and markings on her face, across the base of her wings, and her front two paws. 

“Do all of your… hatchlings exhibit such unique gifts?” Director Kutoth asked.

Shy smiled. “Of course, now, imagine what we could do at the Refugium…” 

On the sands, a woman quietly detached herself from the dwindling semi-circle of candidates.  She took a few tentative steps forward, her eyes repeatedly travelling to two men seated on the opposite side of Philippe.  Tiale enjoyed being the center of attention little more than Sylden had, but she couldn’t ignore the tugging on her mind from the little vine-marked hatchling.

“Nanyehith,” she called, and the dragonet turned to croon at her.

I’m here, Tiale, the dragonet said.  I will be here with you forever more.

Tiale remained quiet as she scooped the dragonet up in her arms and cradled her close to her chest.  She kept her head down as she carried her new bond off to the side, but those nearest that side of the sands noticed a smile on her face and a wetness on her cheeks.

The movement of the vines shifted egg placements, crowding eggs together. In an instance, three eggs hatched together, a series of cracks, creels from hatchlings announcing their arrival and a flurry of legs and wings tumbling together enthusiastically. 

Two hatchlings seemed particularly tangled, a big-boned bronze with dark markings across the top of his body, lighter, complementary markings across his underbelly.

The other was a bright-hued female with distinct cracks in her hide that seemed to shimmer a brighter, more molten pink. 

The male was the first to stop the tussling, stilling in his movements and turning his head towards the candidates, the tear-like markings on his face reflecting metallic undertones in the light.

He froze, spotting his intended, and with a triumphant cry quickly untangled himself to bound out and over towards his bond. 

Ivioletta did not react, save an involuntary intake of breath.  The hatchling bounded into her mind as eagerly as it careened into her shins.  She bent to touch its head and keep it from falling over as it sorted out legs and wings.

Ivioletta!  Ivio?  Ivy!  I am yours and you are mine.

“You are going to have to learn some etiquette, Rudevith,” Ivioletta said in a measured tone.  

In response to her words, the bronze hatchling snapped to attention, his entire body rigid and upright, and vibrating with pent up energy.  For the first time since her arrival, Ivioletta smiled and gently stroked his head.

“Come on,” she said to the eager hatchling.  “Let’s get you off the sands.”

The female red continued to sit on the sands, distinctly put out at having lost her partner in crime. Her hide glimmered in the light, the cracks shifting with colors as she looked towards the candidates. 

She perked up abruptly, her eyes fixating on a girl with hair as red as her hide.

Oh, there you are!  Can I help you hunt the troll now?

“Salamasinath, you’ll need to grow up first,” Eeny replied.  She met the dragonet halfway across the sands, scooping her up into her arms before carrying her off to stand with the others on the sidelines.

In the stands, a whoop went up from Quart, Eeny’s companion turned bodyguard.  Beside him, Laerdys Trix clapped excitedly for the new pairing.

Before spectators had a chance to look for the third hatchling, one of the pair of gold eggs decided it was their time. A loud, bold crack snapped through the hatching sands, followed by a stunning explosion of egg shards in tiny glittering pieces of gold. 

Ari wiped at the gold dust that landed on her eyelids, frowned. “Is this spectacle your doing or the hatchlings?” 

Shy beamed up at his irate aide. “I don’t know what you mean, my dear.”

The gold egg revealed a stunning, lean-formed golden dragon- not a pale shade of yellow or a coppery shade of gold, but a deep warm gold full of inner heat and fire. 

The hatchling stood on all four paws, stretching out his wings with the speckles of gold and glitter dust, head held proud. 

“A male gold,” Van commented. 

“A King.” Shy’s eyes gleamed. “An Imperial King” 

“Apheidath,” Arion barked abruptly.  A grin spread across his face as the regal golden hatchling marched toward him.  He knelt to meet the little dragonet on eye level.  “You match my wings.”

I believe it’s more accurate to say your wings match me.  Either way, we are definitely going to be the most impressive creatures in the sky.

“Once you can fly,” Arion chuckled.  The golden king scoffed and lifted his chin a little higher.

Give me a day, he said.

As if taking a cue from their golden brethren, the second gold egg cracked. One. Two. Then a spiderweb of cracks, revealing a gold dragon with-

Shy frowned. He rose. He peered at the brightly colored gold dragon whose hue had been hand crafted by him to complement the Director and bring out his warm undertones- and turned chilled green eyes at Faust. 

“What, my dear Faust,” his words were pleasantly Arctic, “have you done to my hatchling?”

Faust frowned, his attention riveted to the not-fully-gold dragonet down below.  Though he tried to maintain a calm posture, the way his knuckles whitened as he clenched his interlocked hands told volumes of his feelings on what he saw.

“I was…” he said in a measured voice, “helping.”

Shy’s expression darkened. To fix the hatchling now would be to admit he had made a mistake. Him! The most renowned geneticist! His features abruptly smoothed into a polite and disinterested smile. “We will need to discuss this later on, my dear Faust.” 

The pale gold was a perfectly stunning shade of creamy, metallic gold- except for the cracks. The undertones of blue, from a pale glassy shade to the starry night. Cracks, almost as if a blue hatchling had been dipped in gold paint. 

“And what type of gold would you call that, Shy,” Ari asked.

Shy narrowed his eyes. “Fool’s Gold. We will call it Fool’s Gold.” 

A snarl twisted across Faust’s thin lips, but he remained silent.  Striga gave her papa a gentle, consoling pat as the blue-streaked hatchling stumbled forward.

Janardan, the hatchling called out.  Janardan, I feel… funny.  My hide itches.  But I know that you are mine.

The towering, red-toned murdon from the Refugium stepped forward.  Even kneeling, he towered over the little hatchling, but the bright gold dragonet did not seem to mind.

“Al-Kahinath,” Janardan said.  “Here, let me look.  I’m not sure what happened to you, but I will take care of you.”

Janardan gathered the creeling gold up in his four arms, one hand scratching an itch behind the hatchling’s eye while another worked at a spot just behind their left wingsail.  Al-Kahinath melted against their bond, crooning in absolute delight.

Where had the third hatchling gone?  Ah. Tracking its way slowly, patiently towards their intended.

The slow and steady progress of the hatchling was an amusing diversion: until the largest egg decided it had quite enough of this, and hatched.

Eggs had exploded, cracked, collapsed. This egg, dramatic as it was, seemed to punch out in three different sections. A dark paw, a pale silvery blue, and a creamy shade of gold punched out from three distinct parts of the egg. 

The rest of the egg shattered, revealing not a multicolored hatchling, but three small boned hatchlings. One was dark hued almost black, with bright gold markings that seemed to flare and gleam at different intervals. The second, a pale shade of silver blue, with identical markings. The last, a creamy gold with flared markings in brilliant light. The triplets landed on the sands with a distinctly amused chortle of laughter, their dusky wingsails spreading out as they, quite contently, remained sitting. 

Faust leaned forward in his seat, his chastisement of a few minutes before forgotten as he examined the three hatchlings.

“Shy…”

“Hmm?”

“Those three were never on your list.  What are they?”

Shy beamed. Annoyance at the fool who had damaged his gold forgotten at the pleasure of knowing his three gifts had hatched. “A parting gift.”  

The third hatchling had slowly and surely made his way in front of his intended- who was still, quite busy staring into his tablet. A deep, warm shade of copper with bright flecks of molten gold scattered across the top of his wings, paws, tail, and neck, he shimmered in the light, pale gold wings curled tightly around his body as he waited patiently to be noticed.

And waited.

And waited.

From the stands, a loud clang rang out as Desh slammed one metallic fist into the railings in front of his seat.  Across his mask flicked a series of emojis in quick succession:  D:<   !!!   DX   (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

The noise did what the patient presence in his mind could not.  Shan looked up from his data pad, then down at his feet.

“Oh hello, Alarith,” he said.

Hello, the dragonet replied.  What’re you reading about?

“The interconnection between albinism and heterocromia and its impact on the expression of other recessive genes.  Primarily if it can be mitigated,” Shan said.

Sounds neat.  Will you tell me about it?

Shan considered the request a moment, then bobbed his head in a quick nod and motioned for the hatchling to follow him.  Alarith eagerly jumped into his shadow as the dragon man headed off the sands while reciting the contents of the article he’d been reviewing.

Ari shoved Shy. Hard

“He is your son,” she hissed. “You needed to mark his hatchling all over with your molten gold signature?” 

Shy looked back, smiled. “But look at how beautiful my son’s dragon is.” 

“How many siblings do I have,” Striga muttered under her breath behind him.

Beside her, Faust’s features remained locked in a frown, wrinkles lining his brow.

“I thought the purple dragon people project was just a hallucination from the gas leak all those years ago,” he said.

Shy blew Faust a kiss and a wink. 

The scatter of laughter and applause at Shan’s belated bond was quickly followed by two eggs that slammed into each other, light arcing and flashing between the two eggs as they shattered together on impact. Bright, metallic purple hatchlings spilled out onto the hatching sands, one with stunning gold wingsails and metallic arcs of lightning flashing in intervals across her hide, the other, shimmers of gray and silver. 

The three triplets let out a delighted cry of welcome, only for twin arcs of bronze and grey lightning to flash towards them in a sizzle. The creamy gold hatchling bouncing forward, amused, delighted at this show of violence.

“Asantewaath,” Devera shouted, “stop that.”

“Devarayath,” Vaeden chimed in, “that’s not nice.”

The charge the two purple dragonets had begun toward the waiting creamy gold ended in a puff of sand and tangled limbs.  The bronze marked one came up first, an inquisitive chirp directed toward Devera.  The gray streaked one huffed and shoved his sister off to the side, then picked up his tail high in the air and marched smartly toward Vaeden.

They started it, Devarayath said.

“Pretty sure they didn’t.  I was watching,” Vaeden said.  

We finished it anyway, the bronze streaked Asantewaath said, a cry of indignation matching her mental words.

“Alright, but no more of that,” Devera said as she scooped the purple and bronze hatchling off the ground.  Her eyes flicked up to the stands briefly, and she dropped her voice to a whisper.  “Unless you want to fry that red-eyed… lady.  I wouldn’t mind that.”

The siblings moved off with their hatchlings, leaving the triplets alone with the remaining eggs.

Staring quite mystified at the purple pair of dragons, the triplets tilted their heads together, conversing silently, looking towards the candidates, and letting out a resounding grump of disapproval. They craned their heads, towards the dragons, towards the spectators, towards the-

Three pairs of eyes lit up with purpose as they scrabbled forwards, ignoring the candidates to head straight towards the stands where Shy sat. 

“Shy, I swear if you-” Ari said.

“Hush now, my dear,” he crooned. “These delightful hatchlings are not for us. But for our esteemed guests.” He glanced slyly towards Dr. Schroeder, Director Kutoth, and his current favorite Mad King. “You can’t expect me to send away my most important guests empty handed?” 

Steel clanged and screeched beneath claws as the hatchlings eagerly stumbled, pulled, and flopped their way up the tiers to their intended targets.  It looked to all others present as if the three star-marked hatchlings were intent on piling onto Shy.  At the last second, the dark one veered toward Director Kutoth, the light one toward Doctor Schroeder, and the creamy gold one toward Mad King Van.

Icelos,” said the dark one.

Morpheus,” said the light one.

Phantasos,” said the creamy gold.

“We are coming home with you,” they cried together.

Ari frowned. “What do we call them?”

With a pleased and all too delighted expression, Shy clapped his hands. “Crowned Imperials.” 

“No, the color, Shy.”

“Crowned.” 

Ari rolled her eyes and added to her notes.

During the chaotic guardianship of the triplets and the brief fight that followed on naming conventions, the hatching of a green and blue dragon was missed. The green dragon, a deep, chromatic shade of green, had pale copper wingsails and a dusty layer of sand and copper across her hide.

The blue was a deep, metallic blue, with pale wingsails and a green pattern of lights that seemed to flow and ebb across his hide. He was less fascinated with the movement on his hide, and more fascinated with the dusting of tarnish on the green dragon. 

This comes off,” he exclaimed, rubbing just a little bit more to expose a deeper shade of green. 

Ow, stop that,” the green (now copper-ish) dragonet protested.  She batted at her brother, and the blue responded with a whine and playful snap at her paws.

“Mauryath,” Dietlinde exclaimed.  She ran forward and scooped the tarnished dragonet off the sands.

Woah!  Ow!  Ow ow ow, Mauryath protested.  The green-marked hatchling grimaced as she pulled her wing free from Diet’s arms and flopped it out overtop of her embrace.  Then she crooned and nuzzled the Heimdall officer.  Better now.

“I’m sorry, Mauryath.  I moved too fast.”

It’s okay.  We’ll work on patience.  She hesitated, rubbing at her own tarnished hide with one claw..  I think we’re going to need a lot of it.

As the newly bonded moved off to the sides with the rest of the freshly minted dragon riders, a quick, high pitched pinging filtered through the stands.  Faust cursed and touched the wrist watch beneath his sleeve, examining an illuminated message.

“What is it, papa,” Striga asked.

“Problems with the Pigeons.  Again,” he growled.  The bald man stood abruptly and began edging his way out of the stands.  “I’ll deal with this.  Excuse me.”

It took Faust only a few seconds to extract himself from the crowd.  He took up a brisk walk back to the nearest entrance to the labs while the attention of the onlookers returned to the sands.

Delighted to see his clutch brethren bond, the blue dragon continued to play on the sands, clambering over to a large egg that was showing the beginnings of hairline fractures across its shell. 

A gentle and almost dignified knock, followed by a deep and glossy bronze paw. Then a secondary paw. Finally, a head with silver streaks that ran across its muzzle down to his neck. 

Randaril stepped forward, one of the last candidates remaining on the sands.  He gave Sabrilla a sympathetic look as he moved toward the silver-streaked dragonet.

From the stands came a triumphant cry- Philippe on his feet with a distinctly pleased expression on his face, his eyes fixed on his brother. “I knew it!”

“Knew what,” hatchling and Randaril asked in unison.

Randaril looked down at the little bronze daintily picking his way out of the fragments of his shell and smiled.

“It doesn’t matter, Menelith.  I’m glad you’re here.”

Satisfied with the appearance of his bronze brother, the blue dragon paced towards one of the final eggs left on the sands. He paused, hopping from foot to foot, and impatient, knocked the egg over with his front paws. 

Come out.” he complained. “Come out and play with me.

The egg landed on its side, shattering, pale egg shells mixed with pale hide touched with just the faintest shade of pink, with wingsails of a soft white yellow, and – eyes that whirled molten gold. 

“What is that?” Monique asked, fascinated. “You wouldn’t so blatantly claim a dragon as your own, would you?”

Shy let out an affronted gasp. “An albino, my dear.” he responded. “The base of the genetics is half me, is it not?”

Ha ha, look at you,” the blue laughed as he bounced around his albino sister.  “Your eyes are a funny colour.” 

My eyes are normal.  Your hide is a funny colour.  It’s all swirly.

It’s called a pattern,” the blue quipped back.  He struck a pose, his wings pointed up in the air, before snapping them back down against his sides and dropping his front in a playful gesture.  “Come on!  Let’s play.

“Off the sands please,” Darasath called to the two hatchlings.  The golden dragoness was among the few dragons permitted to be at the hatching.  She and Renoth had worked hard to see this hatching day.  She dipped her head down to greet the hatchlings as they came bounding up to her.  It was odd for her to see so many unbonded dragons, but not unheard of.  She would tend to the hatchlings until they decided where they would be going.

Two eggs remained, almost matched in size. One shivered, the other wiggled, and both went still. But Shy’s eggs seemed to have a flair for dramatics, and the egg that had shivered exploded, scattering dust and egg shells. 

Neatly, quite primly amongst the madness, a pale gold dragoness sat with her wings tucked in against her sides. She raised her head, a bold blue flower curling open on her forehead. Revelling in the attention, the dragoness spread her wings, a delicate multi petaled blue flower marking the base of her wings, and a small bird sitting on a branch within her innermost wingsails.

“Kanishkath?” Sabrilla called out, and the little bird in the wingsail flew up, across the rest of her wings to the very trip.

The dragoness attempted for a regal nod- but excitement won over as she scrabbled up, running towards her bond with a joyous laugh.

You and I, Sabrilla, we have so much to accomplish!”

In the stands, Bane sniffed and wrinkled his nose.  He rubbed the sides of it, as if trying to expel an acrid scent.

“What’s up,” Thayer asked of his brother.

“Nothing.  It’s just…”  Realization crossed the large man’s face, followed by a quick return to the neutral guardedness he preferred.  “It smells like blood.  The hatchling smells like blood.

As Sabrilla moved off with her new friend and ally, those keeping count of the remaining eggs made a startling realization.  One egg remained.  Shy had made a miscalculation.

The Death Court 

“They’re here!”  The shrill squawk of noise came from a slight figure who popped into the air above the sands.  Just long enough to deliver its message, before vanishing again.  A few seconds later, another of the downy-haired, white winged figures appeared.

“They’re here!”

“They’re here!”  

Pop, pop, in and out.  The Pigeons began appearing one after another, their high-pitched voices overlapping, trailing off into mad giggles.

“What’s going on,” Doctor Schroeder demanded.  He fixed Shy with a disapproving look.  Yet before the geneticist could answer, a new sound filled the air.  A wailing, whining keen with no beginning and no end.  And then the sky darkened.

It was not a supernatural source that stole Shy’s sun from the sky.  It was the shadow of hundreds of dark wings, all of them appearing within seconds of each other.  The dragons appeared and circled overhead, their voices raised in barks and bellows to each other as they coordinated their appearance.  They did not begin to descend upon the lab structure until five shapes blinked into view near the sands.  

Three of the dragons looked familiar, bearing the markings of Light, Dark and Blood Courts but… twisted.  The Blood Court gold had too many spikes and the spines on her neck of a Dark Court.  The Light Court green supported a crown of spikes atop her head and spiky tips to her crest that shouldn’t have been there.  The Dark Court gold looked the most normal of the trio, though she too bore extra spikes and spines that didn’t seem right.  And then there was the little black one that followed after them.  The fledgling trimmed in blood red claws, with a bloody crown of spikes atop her head and riding down her spine.  This last one most resembled the dragons in the sky.

The four dragonesses approached the sands, then parted, leaving room for the last of their number to stalk forward with the grace and poise of a hunting feline.

The blue dragon with green wingsails was smaller than the Court dragons, yet his presence exuded control and power.  The curve of two great, red horns protruded from his forehead, one of which had been roughly severed halfway along.  He prowled forward, head and body low, until he stood on the sands, in the midst of Shy and his patrons.  Then he stood up straight, and his scarred lips pulled up in a mutilated grin.

My dear, dear Shy, the blue dragon intoned, his rich mental threads reaching out to all those in attendance.  He wanted an audience, and they would witness him whether they wanted to or not.  I was so hurt when I did not receive a direct invitation from you.  I had to go out of my way to learn the details of this prestigious clutch of yours.  Thankfully… the blue dragon trailed off, raising a foreclaw as another Pigeon popped into the air nearby.  The creature wailed as the claw brushed past it, then went streaking off into the sky.  I have my sources.  Now then, I assume you’ve been an absolutely abysmal host and haven’t even introduced me to your friends.  So allow me to reintroduce myself.  The blue dragon’s grin grew wider, the scarred side of his lip stretching and wrinkling from the strain.  He stood with his foreclaws together, wings half-spread in a powerful pose.  I am King Naxi’im, and this is my Death Court.

With the introduction made, the airborne dragons descended en masse toward the ground, screeching and bellowing and howling all across the labs.  They landed on buildings, on trees, on the ground, and some even crashed down around the stands.  The four dragonesses surrounding Naxi’im hissed, baring their fangs in eager displays to those now trapped in their seats.

And now, dear Shy, I will be taking my new hatchling.  And I hope you don’t mind, but I promised my Court that they could play for a while.

Shy stared up at the skies, at the arrival of court dragons twisted into darker, sharper forms. They were- beautiful, and while the bassy voice was hard to ignore, in the beginning, he could not help but ignore it. 

What were these beautiful creatures that were arriving at his Labs? A stunning mix and hybrid of his Light, Blood, Dark. Had he not done the same, tried to build upon the base of the Vella Crean? 

Was this what the Oracle had meant, about genetics, about lineage being the way back to the Vella Crean?

Stunned at the realization that it was not his lineage, but that of another, he caught the end. 

Naxi’im. He knew that word. He knew what it meant, had heard it whispered in the aftermath of the Fool’s end. The Death Court. 

Shy’s eyes, that had been so glassy with admiration and avarice for this dark horned creatures, darkened into amusement. Into arrogance.

“Shy-” Ari started, standing alongside him. 

“Find the Fool,” he murmured.

Shy stood, arched a brow, and smiled. 

“Dr. Schroeder, Director Kutoth, Van,” the last was a purr. “I apologize for the unplanned… guests we have this afternoon.” He glanced at the doctor and the director who might require protection, at the Mad King who would, hopefully, demonstrate his skills. 

He stared at the blue dragon with red horns who claimed dominion over a hybrid line born of his projects. He dared to falsify his claims as a candidate, and then interrupt this glorious hatching? A day attended by the strongest and brightest of minds in the Nexus? A humiliation. 

No. 

“You are welcome to try,” he challenged. 

TO BE CONTINUED