warning for: death/corpses.
There were three eggs half his size, bigger than any he’d ever seen. They were lying in partially broken shards. The shells were dark, mottled brown, with strange flecks of colour that shimmered at different angles.
Next to the eggs were three, downy-feathered dragonlings. Two of them lay still, feathers stiff and eyes shut. One’s tiny mouth was opened, as if in a half-formed cry. He wanted to start crying as he looked upon them. They were only half his size, but they were so little.
The third one was the closest to him. It was shifting around in the nest, and upon seeing him, began to make chirping noises. The feathers along this one’s body were damp, and the egg still wet and messy. He let out several little small gasps, forgetting how to breathe properly, and his eyes began to sting. “Oh,” he whispered.
Then the dragonling raised its little head and hissed at him. It was a feeble effort at best, and it was curled into as tight a ball as it could. He began to shiver, head swimming.
“Cassius,” Rowan called quietly, somewhere below. When he didn’t respond, they tried again more insistently, “Raz. What was that?”
He didn’t know if he could respond. He was completely paralysed, save for the tremors rushing through him. He tried to take in steady breaths, and mostly failed. “Dragons,” he murmured, hopefully loud enough for Rowan to hear. The dragonling hissed at him again, and then shuddered, and its head fell weakly back to the nest.
“Drag— dragons?!” Alanna squawked. Then came another muffled squawk, as though someone had covered her mouth.
“They were hers,” he said, tears leaking down his cheeks. He scrubbed them away. “The dragon they killed. They’re hers. Two of them— Only one survived, she must have recently—” He hiccupped.
“Are you sure? If you imprint on them, the mother…” Rowan trailed off, whether thinking better of their words or realising that Cassius probably knew already.
The dragonling shivered again. Carefully, he edged further into the nest. Its eyes, vibrant amber with a blue shadow around its catlike pupil, drifted to watch him, but did not raise its head again.
She. She had the beautiful, prismatic colouring of the dragon they had brought down. The other two had only two colours, one a beautiful blue and tawny, and the other speckled green and red. The one in front of him was multi-hued, pale colours that would eventually become vibrant bleeding together with her feathers. She was so pale she was almost white.
“Hi,” he said, in a voice as soft as he could muster. She lifted her chin. “Hi, I’m Cassius. You’re very cold, aren’t you?” Whether in response to him, or as circumstance, she shuddered again, and blinked heavily. “Does anyone have any food with them?”
“I stole some two muffins from the kitchen,” Ember responded. “They’re here, in my pockets. Should I throw them up?”
“Yes,” he said, never looking away from the dragonling.
One of the muffins landed behind him, and the other hit him in the shoulder.
He picked them both up. Whether it was the smell or the sight of his movement, the dragonling raised her head again, her tiny ears twitching forward and nostrils flaring. “Here,” he said, and tore off a piece he gauged to be about bite-sized for her. “It’s not meat, but it’s food.”
As soon as he placed it next to her, she darted forward like a viper and scarfed it down. She began to shift clumsily, so she was on her belly like a cat. He placed the second half of the muffin in front of her, and she did the same, making little cooing noises now.
When he held out the last piece for her, now having her rapt attention, she lunged forward before he’d even set it down. She got the muffin, but razor-sharp teeth tore through the back of his hand. He gasped in surprise and yanked his hand back, cradling it to his chest.
She stared at him, finishing her muffin piece slowly now. Oh no. She’d smell the blood, and she’d recognise that he was meat.
Then she began to make a low whining noise and stood up, her full height about the size of the guild’s large mouser, Lore, and crept forward. He froze, unable to think beyond she’s going to eat me.
Stretching out her neck, she whined again. Unsure what possessed him to do such a thing, he held out his hand. She began to lap at it with her tongue, and when he flinched, she paused. Then, she grew more delicate, watching him all the while.
The pain slowly receded from his hand and he stared at it. It hadn’t closed or stopping bleeding, but it tingled as if numbed, and the blood flow began to slow. The wound shimmered faintly as his hand moved a little.
Then the dragonling stopped and crawled into his lap. She shoved her head into his abdomen, but thankfully, her horns were only stubs at such an early stage. She pressed herself as close as she could and curled up, shivering.
Awestruck, and utterly forgetting about his hand, he ran his fingers lightly across her flank. She sighed, nestling even closer.
She was cold, not blood thirsty. She was still damp, and it was freezing in here.
He took off his jacket carefully, so as not to disturb her, and blanketed her form. She snuggled into it. He gently picked her up, and when she did not struggle or cry out, hugged her to his chest. She cooed.
As slow and cautiously as he could, he climbed down the nest. The other three were at the bottom, watching him with wide eyes and open mouths. Well, Ember had her hand over Alanna’s mouth, so he couldn’t tell.
Alanna shoved Ember hand away when he was on the ground and had turned to face them. “Raz!” she whispered, alarmed. “Your hand!”
He shook his head, cradling the dragonlings form with both arms now. “It’s okay, it doesn’t hurt.” He glanced down, where the dragonlings head peaked out from the coat. Her eyes were shut, and she was making soft snuffling noises from her snout. “This is more important.”
“Here.” Rowan bent down to the end of their woollen skirt, and with some difficulty, tore a strip off.
He tried not to look too surprised at the gesture. Rowan would never willingly destroy their clothes unless it was incredibly important.
They reached out and pried his hand away, enough to wrap the strip of the skirt around his hand and tie it off. “For now. We’ll fix it up later.”
Ember watched him with wide, worried eyes. “What are you going to do?” she asked. “They’ll never let you keep it at the Citadel.”
“They don’t have to know,” he said defensively, unable to help himself. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do with her now, only that he was never going to let anyone hurt her again. Not if he could help it. He would figure out something. He’d have to find somewhere where no one went.
“The Citadel used to be a stronghold,” he said. “But then it was repurposed for the Chronicler’s Guild, but there’s some places nobody ever uses anymore.”
“The dungeons,” Rowan said. “You’re right, they’ve been collecting dust for ages. I think they’d planned on making it into a storage place at some point, but it got scrapped. Everyone just ignores it now.”
He nodded eagerly, and stopped when the dragonling made another, more irritated whining noise. “I’ll build her a nest. It’ll be like a cave. I’ll make sure she’d warm, and I’ll visit her every day. I disappear all the time anyway, they won’t think anything of it.”
“We’ll all help,” Ember said.
Alanna still looked ready to be sick beside her and did not seem all that pleased about the idea, but at least she wasn’t outright protesting. And she’d never rat them out besides, she wasn’t like that.
“How will you, we, feed her?” Rowan asked.
He shrugged. “Nobody will notice a little meat going missing from the kitchens.”
“And you can hunt now,” Ember pointed out. He nodded but pretended he hadn’t heard that for his own peace of mind.
“She won’t eat a little meat forever,” Rowan warned, but they were still nodding along. “But we’ll figure it out. Together. There’s a place near one of the dry moats that we can sneak in.”
Cassius beamed, and glanced down at the dragonling. Her eyes were shut, her breathing soft and steady, but she’d melted in his arms. His chest began to warm at the sight of her, at his friends’ quick support. He was going to raise a dragon.
The dragonling cooed happily in her sleep.