The Vella Crean
The Vella Crean Weaponsmaster watched as Ekaiver and Rycoft sparred. She called out and immediately the two men stopped, jumping apart and watching her with wary eyes.
“That sword is too heavy, it puts you off balance.” She looked down at the table and picked up a pair of long knives with slim hilts and onyx blades. “These might be more suitable.”
Ekaiver took one from her gingerly, and frowned. “For hand to hand, maybe. But on dragonback?”
Maya snorted. “You think you’ll have much fighting to do on dragonback, at Dawn Watch?” she asked. “You will be on the back of one of the Scientist’s new designs. The dragon will be able to protect you.”
“Will they?” Rycroft asked. His tone quiet. He picked walked over, picking up a tall and slim speer, hefting its weight before spinning and throwing it with accuracy towards the target.
Scattered applause broke out as Monique clapped from her seat in the stands. She had taken a liking to the “pretty one” and trailed after him like a shadow.
‘Maya’ Ciaracath spoke. ‘It is time. The eggs are hatching’.
The weapons master nodded. “Tell the others. The eggs are hatching.”
The day was bright, the sun high in the sky with relatively few clouds to block its path. The sands did not hum with dragons; it was not the Scientist’s way. But dragons watched, pensive over a large brood of eggs that shivered and jostled on the warm sands.
“I am surprised he opened this event to the public.” Naeodin remarked as Onesto rearranged a shawl over her shoulders. “I’m surprised he opened the Guard to the public at all, instead of keeping it a private affair.”
Monique laughed as she took a seat next to the Empress, wriggling back until she was nestled comfortably on the pillows. “He thought about it. Bringing in the candidates one by one, having them meet their match. But somebody.” her golden eyes slid towards the mild mannered cleric. “Taught our boy the importance of free will, and now he is trying to prove that he isn’t quite the evil controlling mad scientist people think him to be.”
“Those words come quite easily to you, don’t they little one?” Naeodin chided.
The Oracle sniffed. “I know what they call him, I know more, but I should not repeat such dirty words in your hearing.”
Naeodin laughed. “I am quite sure I have heard them all when it comes to our scientist.”
The Imperial Guard clutch was hatching. A clutch that started as whispers and gossip, a strategic word placed here and there. If the Scientist was disappointed that more of his Imperial progeny had not returned, he did not show it. He was busy, he reminded many (often unprovoked), he had to devise a plan to protect his city, and while the Council may speak of peace treaties and detentes, he had to ensure that should the optimistic hopes fail, his city was not left unprotected.
Not like before.
Visitors shuffled into the sands, escorted by tall and gilded Projects with golden eyes. Pigeons popped in here and there, offering refreshments and snacks. The eggs continued to shiver and jostle on the sands, patient, waiting for the odd group of dragonriders and candidates to arrive.
Inside the Labs
Nimra looked up from where she was patiently braiding Eeny’s hair into thin rivlets, bringing them together in partial waves and adorning small white flowers here and there.
“The dragons are going to hum.”
“Hush now, Nimra. They do not hum on the Vella Crean.” Premis chided.
Nimra shrugged, threading in another pale stalk into Eeny’s bright hair. “They will sing in their own way, and we will have to go watch the children bond.” leaning back and tilting her head left, then right, she smiled, nodded. “Perfect. Let us go princess, let us go see what the eggs hold.”
“Do you think Shy intended this as a way to recruit an army?”
Atlas frowned as he held the door open for Conradi. “I don’t think he considers the candidates his army.”
Xuno left out a snort of disbelief. “The ‘candidate classes’” he bunny eared the words deliberately “to do with strategy and tactics on warfare? Calculating attrition?” his eyes glinted with humor. “Are you naive Atlas? Or just in denial?’
“The scientist might not consider us his army, but he definitely considers some of us ‘his’” Conradi muttered as he strode past the cartographer. “Which way to the hatching sands again?”
The wall on the left side glowed, and small arrows started appearing, pointing them in the right direction.
“This has never happened before.” Atlas’s frown deepened.
Xuno shrugged. “The Labs have taken a liking to me.”
Cassia looked over, her expression amused. She had grown used to the surprise visits by the three oddly feathered ‘raptor queens’. “Yes, Chou?” she asked. Cassia was certain the raptor’s face brightened.
“The babies are cracking!” she chirruped, bobbing her head.
‘Ouch’ Cassisk supplied, amused.
“Hatching? I will tell the others.” Cassia rose from her position near the raptor fledglings, gently moving a few errant ones out of the way.
Arriving at the Hatching Sands
The Projects had learned to stay on the good side of the siblings, but from a distance. A far, far distance. There was something about the glint in their eyes, the careful calculative gleam that did not sit well with the unnamed projects.
“Daddy must be proud.” Rin murmured, looking down from the stands as the eggs started to hatch.
“He does not seem to like that term.”
Rin made a small noise of acknowledgement, a low purr in her throat as she peered forward. “Do you think he has hidden a surprise for us in this clutch?”
Raiden leaned forwards. “Like an easter egg hunt? Should we crack them open and see?”
Dragon candidates flew in, taking their position amongst the candidates.
“You look like Darasath.” The albino Imperial commented, craning her head up to look at the albino light court.
Vaumeth’s eyes whirled with amusement. “I look like you too, don’t I little one?”
The albino Imperial’s eyes widened and she let out a crow of laughter. “You’re special, like me. Although Darasath says everyone is special.” her voice went mock whisper quiet. “I know I’m super special. Shy tells me all the time. So you must be too.”
Vaumeth laughed. “Maybe a little bit, little one.”
A pair of tall and pale female twins watched from behind the doorway, giggling and whispering themselves.
“Should we introduce ourselves?” Nimra asked.
“And do more damage than good?” Premis answered. “We will break her heart and then he will be upset.”
Nimra giggled. “But it is fun to see him so upset.”
The twin continued to giggle and laugh as they passed the scientist and his new (and old) guests.
Shy arched a brow. “Ignore the twins, please.” he said, patting Calariel’s hand. “Now, let me know if there is anything you need. The Crown Prince is a treasured guest here at the labs. I wish you luck, my dear.”
Calariel nodded her head as she walked across the sands to join the other candidates. Sabrilla followed soon after, Kanishkath trailing after her bond. “I need to vet our new recruits.” she informed Shy. “I will be their Queen after all.”
Shy nodded, attention pulled away as he watched spectators arrive. His feline green eyes gleamed with avarice as he watched Voivode settle into one of the seats, but the Lord did not seem to notice, his own gaze intent and entirely focused on Kamali. The Mouse anthro’s ears twitched as if the gaze held weight, but he steadfastly continued to speak with good cheer to Ekaivar, ignoring the arrival of the enigmatic lord.
Ari counted the candidates as they walked onto the stands, some confident, others unsure, many looking mildly amused by the pigeons that urged them forwards, shuffling them into groups of their own choosing.
She looked down at the tablet she had in front of her, frowning. There were too many eggs compared to the number of candidates.
“Is this all?” she asked quietly.
Solin looked up from where she held a matching tablet. Ari had adopted her as one of her own, and had delighted at the particularly adept way Solin seemed to be able to keep track of the candidates.
She nodded, a sharp and efficient movement.
“Shy, we’re ready.” Ari spoke in a low voice that somehow managed to carry to the Scientist, who nodded his head.
“Very well, we will begin now.” he murmured.
The eggs were impatient, cracking and rocking and snapping into two, revealing richly colored hatchlings. Hornless, crestless, they looked no different from the Court dragons that had hatched on these sands for decades.
“I would have expected more of a” Imraan paused, wiggled his fingers and did jazz hands. “Shazam, something spectacular.”
Desh turned his head and a question mark flashed across his face.
The Architect shrugged, watched as a pale, pale hued bronze shivered, shadows coalescing around their body as if he was shrugging on a cloak.
“Shadow is not an elemental.” He remarked openly.
“The scientist does not seem prone to stick to rules, even his own.” Desh commented by his side.
“A bronze is said to be good luck.” someone remarked from the stands.
“This city needs all the luck it can get.” another voice murmured.
The bronze looked up, amused as his eyes looked through the milling candidates, pausing for a moment before heading in a straight line towards one of the visitors.
An ‘eep’! Followed from behind him as a blue hatchling hurried forwards, following in step. The two hatchlings headed towards Saria and Faelyn, the bronze pausing in front of the Malakym with a tilt of his head.
“I can help you.” he announced, his words calm, confident, more world weary than a hatchling’s voice should be.
A candidate tried to reach out to pet the blue hatchling, and immediately the blue turned, snarling, eyes swirling red as they backed up into Saria.
“Nayimath.” The young woman admonished.
Shiqinth flew down on wobbly wings and landed with a laugh next to Salamasinath. They peered over the edge of the stands and watched as eggs continued to hatch. “Are you excited?” he asked. A little blue dragon freed themselves, and immediately moved towards their clutchmate’s aid, using their teeny tiny claws to poke at the neighbouring egg.
Salamasinath peered down as well, nodding her head. The cracks in her hide glimmering rosegold before shifting to darker, more vibrant hues. “Is that what we looked like?” she asked, her eyes swirling with amusement as the little blue successfully freed a much larger brown hatchling, and seemed to fall back for a breather. Something glinted, rosegold at first, than darker, vibrant hues.
“We were probably much more beautiful.” Shiqinth proclaimed. They were Imperial, were they not? Shy was always telling him what a beautiful boy he was. The blue Imperial’s tail swayed back and forwards and he leaned over to jostle his clutchmate. “Are you really going to leave?” he asked.
Salamasinath laughed. “When we are bigger, maybe.” she answered, her eyes taking a more amused whirl as the blue and brown hatchling trudged towards the candidates. There. She was not wrong. Their hide glistened and glowed the way hers did!
A little squeak, a half snarl, and both hatchlings paused as a much smaller green scrabbled towards them, letting out yips of annoyance at being left behind.
Salamasinath’s eyes continued to whirl. Amusement, concern, curiosity, as the trio headed straight towards her princess (a queen, Salamasinath told herself) and her huntsmen.
The little green paused in front of Eeny, tilting her head. ‘I can help you, on your quest.’ she supplied, looking towards the stands where the dragons watched. Her eyes met the Imperial Red’s and the little green ducked her head once shyly. ‘If you’d like.’
“And we will help you Quart.” the blue’s voice was clear, sweet. The female blue turned and nudged her brown sibling who let out a grunt of assent. “We’ll train, and grow stronger. We’ll protect the Princess with you.”
Ari frowned. It was a trick of the light, surely. A coincidence that the Guard that had selected the princess seemed to mimic and match the Imperial red.
It was not odd to see the raptor queens on the sands. The green, red, and yellow feathers were becoming a common sighting at the Vella Crean, even as far in as the Empress’ quarters. They had taken a liking to a few candidates, following the wherling master from Dawn Watch like … well, wherlings.
If the guard medic and the wherling master had been recruited to look after the domestic ‘herds’ of raptors, well. It was an interesting activity. Sentient, willing to follow direction, and maybe with intelligence above a firelizard and below a wher, the raptors were proving to be a fascinating study.
A small egg snapped open; it was the only way to explain the two halves cracking with such force that they flew in either direction, leaving a rather disconcerted looking blue hatchling in the middle. He let out a yip of surprise, and seemed to shrink, growing tinier in front of the spectator’s eyes.
“I thought they were supposed to be elemental?” Lane quietly asked Shy.
Shy smiled. “Shadows, voids. Size manipulations. You could say these were all aspects of some type of element.” he responded archly.
A large, dark colored green hurried over, thwacking the blue hatchling on the head. The blue let out another startled yip of surprise, but stopped shrinking, pausing instead to look up with a querulous ‘rowl’ towards the candidates.
‘Noisy’ Cassissk commented, amused as Cassia walked towards the blue who was growing larger again, until it was back to its original size.
“He’s just shy, aren’t you Kausalyath?”
Seemingly pleased with themselves, the green walked amongst the eggs, letting out an unhappy bellow that caused the eggs to shiver. She stopped in front of one, and nudged it with her muzzle.
The egg rocked back, away from the hatchling.
The green let out an irritated huff and walked away, just as the egg hatched, revealing a small red hatchling who let out an affronted sniff.
“I was not ready.” she said outloud.
“But I do not want to wait any longer.” the green responded, nudging the red. The green herded their clutchmade towards the candidates, stopping in front of the wherhandler and daughter.
“I am Hedvikath.” the green stated solemnly, nudging Jiran’s hand.
The red hatchling sniffed. “And I” she announced. “Am Caciath, Leosida.”
On the sands, a delicate looking blue hatchling picked at the shards that covered their hide with a look that could only be disgust. Turning their head and letting out a sneeze, they picked their way through broken shards towards a large egg, peering up patiently.
It did not take long for the egg to hatch, one crack, then another, then a shattering of eggshells. A hefty brown hatchling peered out at kicked at the sands, seemingly with their hindlegs; sand flew in graceful arcs around his head, making remarkable patterns that had Shy turn with a pleased smirk to his guests.
“You’re showing off, aren’t you Khadith?” Xuno remarked from the sides. The arcs of sand wobbled briefly as the brown picked himself up and trudged towards his bond.
The blue followed, letting out an annoyed noise.
“Entirely so, I agree with you there Capriath.” Conradi murmured, stepping forwards the small hatching and reaching out to pick them up into his arms.
The largest egg with a distinctly gold sheen cracked, splitting open and revealing hide a brilliant shade of molten gold.
Ari scowled, recognizing the distinct shade. She saw it every day, didn’t she? In eyes of her family. Her eyes narrowed as they snapped towards Shy, and a dark sheen slicked across her gray pupils.
Shy beamed, shrugged. Raised his arms in an innocent ‘what happened?’ manner, and mouthed. ‘Pay attention’.
The hatchling looked up, peering at the stands and the candidates, turning their head just so, to let the light catch their hide. They walked gingerly across the stands and stopped in front of one candidate, heaving out a sigh as they leaned against them, peering up with whirling rainbow colored eyes.
“I am here.” the King spoke, his words soft. “I am here now.”
Rycroft hesitated, hand reaching out to touch the molten gold hide that held just an odd streak of white. “Sithiath?”
A glossily burnished red and a green were next to hatch, with hide holding marks that seemed, very suspiciously similar to an Imperial who regularly visited the Labs.
Ari pushed her tablet into Solin’s hands.
“Where are you going?” the candidate asked.
“To talk to. Him.” she muttered. “He said he would not tamper with the Guard.”
Shy froze and moved, turned ever so carefully towards his aide. “Now, Ari.” he cooed. “They need to match, don’t they? People need to know who they stand with.”
Ari’s eyes narrowed. “Tell me these are the only two.”
The Scientist hesitated.
The red and green with darker rosette markings had quickly made their way towards Ekaiver. The red nudged the candidate. “We need to go. Eat. We are busy!” he proclaimed. “We need to grow big. Bigger! For Sylden. For Dawn Watch.”
The green peered up at Ekaiver, and shook her head. She looked towards the stands, turned and towards Shy. “Where is she?” the green demanded.
‘Late, but she’ll be here.” Shy promised.
“What am I going to do?” the green whined.
“Stay with your clutchmate. Sylden will be here soon.” Shy promised again.
A blue and a red hatchling walked in tandem, weaving their way through eggs that continued to rock and jostle each other. They paused in front of one small, quivering egg, gave it a delicate sniff and moved on.
The hatchlings moved in an odd synchrony, stopped every so often and examining their clutchmates with polite interest before moving on, as if they needed to spare a glance to decide who amongst the hatchlings were good enough to join them.
They stopped in front of a delicate looking green who creeled at them in response. Nodding their heads and nudging the green along with them, protecting them on either side, they stopped in front of Kamali, blinking whirling eyes of amusement.
“We’ll take you on adventures.” the blue promised.
“We’ll accomplish something grand together.” the red added. “Won’t we, Kamali?”
The green creeled, craned her head up, and then took a quick step past Kamali towards the stands, letting out a more querlous yowl as she demanded her sponsor to come down from the stands and fetch her. Immediately.
Voivode stood up, moving with grace. “Other hatchlings seem able to speak in words, why do you call for me so?”
‘You understand me, don’t you?’ came silky, dulcet tones.
“That one smells wrong.” Tiskaya stated, tugging at Shy’s sleeve. Her eyes shimmered gold as she wrinkled her nose. ‘What element is she?”
“Blood.” Shy stated.
“The sponsor works blood magic, the child will help augment his powers.”
“What is in it for you, Shy?” Lane asked.
One of the larger eggs shivered and trembled, a fine web of cracks appearing across its surface until it burst in a gleam of light.
A pair of twin dragons, shimmering gold and bronze sat surrounded by a circle of crushed egg shells. They looked towards the stands and bounded over straight to Rin and Raiden.
Raiden peered down. “Yes? What do you want?” he asked.
The Bronze-King’s eyes whirled with amusement. “You. Come down. Fetch me.” he demanded.
Rin peered down at the twin companion who stretched up, raising their paws and expanding their wings, as if they could cross the distance between them. “I suppose you are mine, then?”
“If you are worthy.” the bronze retorted, her tone soft and cloying.
Eggs continued to hatch. One in particularly seemed unhappy with the attention and the noise. A red hatchling crouched, snarled, and a beam of bright red pulsed from her towards the stands. Immediately a bronze hatchling spread their wings and an arc with the same bronze shimmer flared, capturing and neutralizing the beam of red.
A brown reached out and nipped at the red.
“Manners.” the hatchling advised.
The red sniffed, turning angry swirling eyes towards the stands. “I caught that thought.” an indignant sniff. “I didn’t appreciate it. I am not a lizard.”
The brown chuffed the red hatchling, and nudged her towards the candidates, who continued to complain in a querlous voice that she was a beautiful dragon.
“The most beautiful. Aren’t I, Solin?” the red hatchling demanded.
The pale woman paused, her eyes carefully taking in the little red. She nodded once.
“See?” The hatchling let out a happy noise. “Solin agrees.”
“I am Darasanth.” the brown hatchling looked towards his clutchmate, and towards Solin. “I will help you keep her in line.” he promised his bond.
A tumble of eggs hatched simultaneously, bright colors flashing on the hatching sands as small, chubby little hatchlings rolled into one another.
Two purple hatchlings seemed more than happy to play amongst themselves, ignoring the candidates that jostled for a better look.
The darker purple looked up with a decidedly cheeky expressions and whispered something to their clutchmate, who giggled.
“Maybe they are as special as we are.” the pale purple commented, sending her thoughts across the hatching sands to the albino fledging. ‘I think I am quite special too’ the hatchling teased.
Liuceth let out a delighted laugh as she bounded across the sands. “Of course you are Amalith!” she answered.
The darker purple waited more patiently, watching Vaumeth with amused eyes. “Will you come for me? Or will I have to go to you?” she called out.
A dark, dark brown and a pale green collided, but seemed no worse for wear; the green laughed, a delighted peal of laughter as she stared up at the sky, a little bemused.
Colors shifted across their hide. Just a little bit.
“Aren’t you going to get up?” the brown asked their sibling.
The green looked up. “Won’t she come for us?”
The brown looked towards and the stands.
Beryl frowned as her eyes connected with the browns.
The brown beamed.
Beryl looked away.
The brown looked down at their green sibling. “No, I don’t think so. I don’t think she’ll be coming for us.”
With a long suffering sigh, the green gathered herself up, and trudged towards the stands, her sibling following closely behind her.
“Mine?” she asked hopefully, looking up with soulful eyes at Beryl.
Liucheth laughed from the sands. “Beryl! Look! Friends!”
The eggs that tumbled and hatched were stunning to look at, and the spectators were starting to understand the theme to some of the markings. A brilliant purple with a subtle slash of silver against their hide, a large bronze with a deep blue floral marking the residents had seen on a visiting queen.
“Some would say you were branding the dragons, Shy.” Nimra admonished from her seat in the stands.
“Brand them? How vulgar.” the Scientist’s lips pursed together in a disappearing frown. “They are the Guard. It would have been, maybe a little bit more impressive had all of my children returned.”
A purple ignored the chatter in the spectators stands and walked with careful, precise steps towards one of the candidates.
“Your gifts taste funny.” she said outloud, placing a paw on Calariel’s leg. “But I can get used to it. I’ll help you.” A little flash of silver danced across her hide. “I’ll help him too.” she promised.
A pale hued brown and a dark hued blue tumbled and wrestled, rolling round and round on the sands until they bumped into Desh with a thunk.
Desh looked over at Imraan with a questionmark on his face.
The Architect laughed. “I believe they are yours now, my friend.”
“I am Zhaleth, and this is Rahmath.” the brown chirped, eyes whirling with color.
“Mine.” Rahmath added, nodding her head. She leaned over to nibble at the edges of Desh’s feet.
The large and stunning bronze that had neutralized the red’s light bolts picked their way through the eggs, nudging at hatchlings and sending them on their way. A large boned brown and a slim purple fell into place behind him, a dark marking blazing on their hide. Something seemed to dance through their wingsails, a little bird flying across the Guard to ensure they were good enough for the Queen.
“They are ours?” Sabrilla asked breathlessly and three pairs of eyes turned towards her.
None of the sweet natured stumblings and yips, the guards were entirely in control, disciplined.
The little blue bird that lived in Kanishkath’s wing returned, and the queen let out a happy noise. “They will do.” she answered primly. “They will be the beginning of our guard, Sabrilla.”
The young leader’s eyes turned towards the stands, and Shy nodded. “I will protect your Warren, Sabrilla.” He smiled, a brief curve of his lips. I will protect you.“
Naeodin sat in her mechanical wheelchair, a purring Shiqinth sprawled across her lap, Onesto standing on guard behind her. “The hatching passed uneventfully.”
“A coincidence, I’m sure.” Shy murmured, taking a slow sip of his tea. “The Death Court did not attack and make a scene. Maybe they do not care about us any more, or maybe they are busy.”
“Maybe the peace delegation is helping.”
Shy’s smile deepened, his eyes gleamed. “Of course.” he simpered. “I am sure, your talks of peace is working.”
The Empress of the Vella Crean laughed. “Your pandering has not gotten better, dear boy.”
For a moment the Scientist’s expression cracked. “Dear boy.” he echoed. “I was once your elder, then your equal. Now I am just a boy.” he murmured quietly. A trace of loss, regret crossed his features as he gently set the tea cup down on the table.
Naeodin waved her hand. “It is just age, and I am still here. Tell me then, this Guard. They will protect the city?”
Shy nodded. “The dragons, the riders. They will stick to your foolish and naive notions of peace, and they will protect your city, while I fix the Courts.”