Ash let out a deep breath. The bonding had played out just like the instructors had said. Bait a hatchling forward with its treasure, ease its agression with food, and settle down to play afterwards.

The entire ritual had only taken a few minutes and Ash watched eagerly as the second bonding started without the large scarlet reacting.

After the second dragon, a medium purple, had successfully bonded, Ash tensed up. His turn was next. He turned his gaze back to the eight baby dragons sitting upright across the meadow.

Taking a deep breath, Ash looked hopefully at the large scarlet. Now it was up to the gods and luck.

Raising up a rough piece of quartz, Ash opened his mouth to roar out. Only for an ear-piercing shriek to cut him off before uttering a single squeak.

As everyone’s eyes gravitated towards the source, the culprit had already lunged in Ash’s direction.

A low whistle of admiration escaped one of the instructors before he clapped both hands over his mouth in horror and squatted in consternation.

A baiting attempt that was interfered with might send a hatchling scurrying back to its mother if its survival instincts overrode its anger.

Every other instructor however, didn't even bother to spare a glance at their ashamed colleague. They were to busy holding their breath at the sight before them.

The current meadow runner was the runtiest hatchling of the bunch, a slim small black, normally to be considered the unluckiest option. But this one wasn't running. It was flying!

Wings flapped desperately to stay above the meadow grass as the black ball of scaled fury raced forward.

Ash blanched as the flying wyrmling reached him much faster than the previous meadow runners. He quickly kicked open the sack at his feet before trying to backpedal. The boy prayed that the irate dragon wouldn't reach him before it smelled the food.

It was an unanswered prayer, as awkwardly flailing wings propelled the dragonling over the tasty distraction and straight towards Ash. Face paling, Ash sidestepped the scaly missile just in time to avoid a flash of fang.

The baby dragon let out a disappointed chuff after teeth stopped short of its target. Trying to turn and failing, the small dragonet tumbled out of the air.

A few instructors exchanged uneasy looks at the fall, but once the hatchling appeared unharmed they eagerly resumed watching to see how this would all play out.

Ash was feeling bewildered; this wasn’t how his bonding was supposed to happen. While the dragon was scrabbling wildly to right itself on the ground, Ash retreated to place the jerky between them.

When the small black finally twisted upright to face the human again, it suddenly froze. The irate hatchling had finally noticed the size difference. Staring up at Ash, the small dragon let out a mournful hiss.

Relieved that things had slowed down, the shaken boy could at last take a clear look at his attacker. And then a second look. He’d seen plenty of dragon variants back at base, but never one quite like this.

The small black's scales were a dark grey, deepening to black on the edges. It had a long sinuous body like a snake with short spindly legs. Not exactly exuding the rugged strength typical of dragons. Only the horned head and scaled wings were proof of its’ proud dragon heritage.

While the furious hatching was glaring poisonously at him, Ash was warming up to his potential partner. It was lacking in size and bulk, but was already capable of flying. Maybe it would prove capable of carrying Ash sooner than the other boys as well.

As his musing came to an end, Ash finally realized his arm had gone numb holding out the crystal. Watching closely, the small black gave out a sad keening cry as the boy awkwardly dropped his arm.

Wincing as he lightly shrugged his shoulder, Ash slowly knelt forward to set down the crystal beside the meat pile, the hatchling throatily growling in response. It wasn’t until the Ash scooted back slightly that the impatient dragon hopped forward to coil protectively around the rough quartz, vigilantly clacking it's teeth at the hopeful boy.

Ash wondered if perhaps this hatchling was simply overly possessive compared to the ones in the previous rituals. Everyone had heard stories of dragons greed before afterall.

Collecting his thoughts, Ash steadily reached out for a handful of jerky, hoping to befreind the dragon with food. However, the hatchling let out a distressed hiss when the boy's hand got close.

Alarmed, the dragoness across the meadow abruptly got to its feet with an answering snort. Stamping the ground, the adult dragon looked across the meadow towards its baby. The man next to her smoothly moved to gently pat her snout soothingly.

Ash shivered as he felt the ground shudder, but he couldn’t stop now. He snatched a strip of jerky from the pile and dropped himself prone onto the damp grass with his hand extended out.

Eventually the sinuous hatchling stopped it's crying with cautious curiosity. In response, the stomping across the meadow also stopped.

With things having calmed for the moment, the relieved youth started moving. Waving a distracting strip of food in the dragon’s face, Ash felt elated as the black's head rose up to bob from side to side following the jerky. Things were finally going back to normal.

After a minute of coaxing, the small dragon partially uncoiled while still leaving it's tail anchored to the quartz. Haughtily ignoring the prone boy’s presence, the black extended out to nibble on the jerky in Ash’s hand.

With the power of food, Ash was finally able to reach out and touch the small black hatchling!


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