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As the pair bonded, the instructors were pleasantly surprised at how quickly the youth had recovered the situation.

“He’s got a cool head that one”.
“Toughest bonding I’ve ever seen”!
“Seems like a promising lad. He's a smart one”.
“With that level of calm he might be a future flight commander”.
“That black is pretty impressive. I've never heard of any dragon flying that young”!
“Me either”!
“Able to fly before bonding, what a surprise”.
“Its size though. Doubt he'll carry the boy any time soon”.
“Hmm, it is pretty puny. You’re probably correct”.
“Yep. So thin and short, might be a long while before it gets big enough”.
“No need to worry about it right now. None of the dragons will carry a rider anytime soon”.
“Yes, Instructor Vorre is correct. Ah, take a look, the boy succeeded”.

As the adult's discussion winded down, Ash had finished bonding with the contrary hatchling.

The little beast had entered a food coma while Ash sat nearby. Its tiny belly bulged while it relaxed, having coiled back around the quartz. The boy was slightly disappointed the hatchling didn’t play with him like the others, but was very happy he had finally gotten his dragon. Ash had waited years for all the older boys before it was his turn. Plus, the gorged black didn’t seem to mind his presence anymore, so he sat on the ground idly scratching its perfect tiny scales.

As he ruminated over his whole bonding, Ash shivered. If the mom had charged over, he would have been turned into meat paste.

After questioning looks from the remaining unpaired boys, the instructors waved the go ahead for the next trainee to start.

With the rituals resumed, Ash’s mood slightly soured at how easy it was for the next trainee. But it was tough to stay put-out after his new partner started snoring. He was so enthralled with his new partner that he didn't even notice when the large scarlet bonded.

After a period of time to hang out with their new partners and enjoy their new status, an instructor spoke up and grabbed everyone's attention. “From this moment on, you are all truly dragon-boys and I hope you are ready for the responsibility. You are now your dragon’s caretaker. You are responsible for feeding it, playing with it, and talking to it. You’ll do everything, so that one day when your dragon has grown strong enough, it will carry you into the skies. Only then will you be called dragon-rider. You all have one week to get acquainted with your dragon before we resume training. You had best be prepared to work twice as hard. Does everyone understand”?
“Yes sir”!!!
“Now grab your partner and fall in”.

As the group set off down the mountain the mother dragon gave a quiet chuff as if to say goodbye to her babies. Accepting a understanding pat from the nearby man, she knelt to allow him onto her back. In a gale of dust, the dragon and her rider were in the air and were soon out of sight.

Ash looked down at the dragon curled up in his arms. The little guy hadn't woken up when he had picked him up and was still persistently wrapped around its rock.

Following one of the instructors in single-file, the boys steadily left the grassy valley behind as they entered a narrow ravine.

Stumbling on a rock Ash quickly regained his balance, but not before the little one in Ash's arms was jostled slightly. The sleepy hatchling looked up at the boy with heavily lidded eyes and a raspy hiss of discontent wafted enough jerky breath to wrinkle Ash’s nose..

Ash recalled how he now needed to talk to his partner. It didn't really matter about what either. “Oi, you’re trouble aren’t you? Attacking me and now you're tired. I’m tired too you know. I had to wake up early to stand outside your cave, and I haven’t eaten since last night”.

After a short while the dragon was lulled back to sleep as Ash droned on.

The sun had finally peeked over the mountains by the time the group exited the ravine.

Ash tiredly raised his head to peer down the path. At the bottom were stone buildings nestled underneath a fortified stone wall that stretched wide between the arms of the mountain they were descending. It was the legendary Skyfort, and Ash's home.

The fortification defended not only the dragon grounds, but also the training grounds of all dragon-riders.

A waiting instructor at the end of the path led the newly bonded pairs to their new quarters. To an area dedicated to the housing and feeding of dragons. As the boys had dragons now, they could no longer sleep in their old dorms. As there was a need to distance the dragons from the soldiers who manned the walls, the dragon-house the boys were led to sat alongside only a few other giant structures on the outskirts of the interior of the wall.

As the exhausted dragon-boys trudged through the dragon-house, each pair was assigned a simple stall with a feeding trough and a wooden bench for the boys to sleep on. Their old bunks in the dorms would soon be claimed by unpaired trainees.

Ash deposited his coiled dragon atop a fresh pile of hay in the middle of their stall. As the black dragonet laid there snoring, the youth pondered aloud, “What am I going to name you”?

A raspy rumble was all he got as a reply.

Ash broke out into a wide grin. Stooping down to rub his sleeping partner’s head. “That’s perfect! I’m going to call you Rasp”.

Fighting off the urge to lay down he took off for breakfast with a skip in his step. Once Rasp grew bigger, he’d be a dragon-rider!

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CATaylor

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