The World of Ash

by

CATaylor

A grassy meadow atop a mountain

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High in the mountains in the early morning light, waited a group of young boys.

War-orphan conscripts all, they stood straight at the edge of a green dew-covered meadow, arms down with feet slightly apart. The well-disciplined boys wore simple clothes, gray long-sleeved tunics tucked into equally rough brown pants. A serviceable uniform provided for trainees of the powerful military nation they represented.

One of these boys was named Ash.

Outwardly the youth appeared calm as he waited, quietly staring with bright-eyes at a dark entrance across the waist-high grass. In reality, Ash was struggling to keep up appearances since his mouth kept drying up. And he wasn’t alone in this anxious endeavor.

Others were keeping watch nearby as well. Spread-out along the field’s edge stood the other similarly nervous youths. Waiting farther behind in the treeline was a small group of instructors.

Finally, everyone’s silent vigil was rewarded by the sight of a mustachiod man with a weathered face and scaled armor exiting the cave. Trailing him was a creature of legend and the source of their countrys' might.

A dragon!

A large dragoness, but Ash and the other trainees were more concerned with the ten energetic hatchlings that stumbled out behind their fierce mother. Their glowing yellow eyes blinked rapidly as they stepped out into the dawning light.

Stopping short of entering the tall grass, the adult dragon settled onto the ground alongside the armored man with a heavy thump, and soon curious goat-sized dragonets were rearing up to peer around their mother.

The trainees eagerly studied the scaly dragonlings which came in all hues and sizes. And soon the colorful hatchlings were alertly staring back.

Everyone present took note of the largest, a heavy-set scarlet displaying an immobile pose. A big hatchling was the ideal partner for any potential rider since it was common knowledge that a large size signified a strong dragon in the future.

Ash tightly clenched his fingers around a lumpy chunk of quartz and took a discrete kick forward. Tapping his foot against a bulging brown sack at his feet, he let out a sigh of relief. It was almost time for the ritual and he didn’t want to mess up because he was missing something. Not that Ash had ever heard of a trainee failing the bonding before.

Reassured that everything was still there and ready, the boy returned his attention to the dragons across the meadow. All Ash could do now was wait for the ritual to start. His future partner would depend on luck.

Ash tensed up as the man standing by the dragons suddenly raised a fist above his head. That was the go-ahead signal.

The boy at the leftmost end of the strung-out line suddenly gave out a great yell. All ten baby dragons turned their heads toward the abrupt noise. While they soundlessly stared, the trainee raised a small item into the air.

The renewed silence was immediately shattered as one of the dragonets let out an alarmed hiss and charged fearlessly into the meadow. Ash was relieved to see that it was a medium green and not the large scarlet.

The tall cover hid the approaching dragonet from sight, but the rapidly parting growth gave away its location as the aggravated hatchling hurdled along. As the miniature dragon bounded out of the tall grass, the targeted trainee quickly kicked open the brown sack lying in front of him before rapidly taking a few steps back. The dragonet locked a furious gaze upon the boy, but came no closer to the threateningly larger being. Rising upright with a continuous hiss, the medium green flared its wings as far as they could stretch.

Despite its height barely reaching the boy’s waist, the posturing dragonling gave off a majestic aura. Morning light shimmered across rounded green scales that contained metallic flecks. Serrated teeth were on full display in an aggressive snarl while frosty breaths escaped into the cool mountain air. But the sharp gleam in the dragon’s glare exposed that the dragonet was far more than a simple beast. The trainee instantly felt enthralled by the gloriously beautiful creature, causing the green’s act of intimidation to have no effect.

However, the dragonling’s snout began to violently twitch. Despite trying to maintain its ferocious gaze, the green’s eyes followed its nose downwards toward a wide open sack out of which an meaty scent wafted enticingly. Overflowing with venison, it was an irresistible distraction for any growing dragon. Taking a back and forth look between the boy’s hand and the brown container, the dragonling chose with its stomach.

Closing its wings, the young scaly creature pounced, devouring one, two, three pieces of meat in as many seconds. Taking the opportunity while the little one was distracted, the boy sat down and held his arm out. And in his clenched grip was a bent silver spoon, the source of the little dragon's outrage.

All dragons were born with a desire to hoard. But only one nation had ever made use of this knowledge.

Small glittery objects were scattered all about the caves that comprised the dragon nesting grounds. And the night before the dragon-bond ritual the mother dragon's rider would stealthily enter the cave while the baby dragons slept and steal an item from each hatchling's hoard. A number of the oldest trainee’s equal to the number of hatchlings would then select an item from the stolen collection. This random test of luck prevented trainees from fighting over the largest hatchlings.

Once the bonding ritual actually started, the chosen item would have taken on the boy’s individual scent, causing hatchlings to associate the trainee as part of their hoard. The same logic applied to the jerky, associating meals with their future partner’s presence.

In no time at all, the medium green was sniffing around in an empty sack. Its little stomach bulged and it had forgotten its previous anger. Waggling the silver spoon and letting out a small cough, the boy sought to regain the dragon’s attention.

Pupils widening in alarm, the gorged green skittered a few steps away from the youth. But as the crouching human no longer seemed as big and imposing as before, the hatchling soon leaped forward with a roar to wrest back its precious object. Tiny teeth clamped onto the spoon and four legs churned backwards in an effort to take back the broken silverware. After a brief struggle, the trainee let the little dragon win. Everyone watching smiled in amusement as muffled victorious hisses sounded across the meadow. And a minute later the medium green was head-butting the trainee’s outstretched hand.

The instructors keeping watch over the bonding ritual smiled as another small bout of tug-of-war commenced. The dragon had accepted its playmate and the youth was no longer a mere trainee. He was now a dragon-boy.

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CATaylor

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