A Wise Man's Heart Is Seldom Cheerful

The deep reds of late sunset still burned across the ocean, and anyone standing near the entrance to the Hatching Caverns could see it if they only looked out across the open side of the Bowl and towards the horizon, but the faint purples of falling darkness consumed most of the sky and fell across the entryway just to the edge of the Sands. Zalqueth noticed and sniffed in annoyance, deliberately turning away — he could recognize it as lovely, but all that provoked in him was a sense of resentment that such a thing dared exist in a moment he was already being forced to share with someone else.

It wouldn’t do to draw attention to it, so he pretended it didn’t exist — just like that stupid brown didn’t exist.

((I am not listening to anyone who may happen to be blabbing their ugly fat mouths right now,)) he announced to the Sands at large, deliberately keeping his back to Ceretith and his eyes on the audience in the stands instead. ((You all may admire me now, free from distraction! You may also give gifts! Just place them over the side onto the edge of the Sands there.))

He raised his head, looking at the people seated on the lowest tier of the stands in front of him expectantly, his best approximation of a smile on his face and in his mindvoice…

…until he realized that their eyes were being drawn away again, to the nearby Gem Without Price egg, which was rocking rhythmically from side to side.

((You there!)) he demanded of the egg. ((Stop that!))

((You can’t even keep their attention compared with an egg.)) Ceretith observed snidely, rolling his eyes as he slowly walked across the ground, spindly legs making the movement appear more like tottering than walking with any kind of grace, ((Do you really think you should be blaming anything other than yourself now?))

Hasheth meanwhile was watching the Gem Without Price with fascination, ((I wonder who could be in there…)) she murmured, unknowingly echoing the thoughts of all the spectators, ((Hopefully Zalqueth won’t get too jealous..))

((Not. Listening,)) Zalqueth insisted stubbornly, focusing instead on the egg. Stupid rocking egg. ((Stop moving like that. You look ridiculous!))

The egg, however, did not stop rocking — it did wriggle for a second though, a hiccup in its rhythm, as if the occupant within had been startled by the voice outside.

((Hello?)) it asked. ((Is someone out there? Oh wonderful! I /thought/ I heard voices!))

Ceretith chuckled softly and made his slow, way over to the egg, stopping just shy of it and folding his ridiculously long wings in so as to sit, ((Yes brother. There are two of us out here…well three if you count a sibling skulking in the shadows.))

((Oh he knows I’m here!)) Hasheth enthused, getting to her feet before she remembered Ceretith’s little trick on Zalqueth, ((Oh..)) she said again, this time with disappointment, ((He’s just still lying. I’m still invisible.))

Ceretith meanwhile just shot Zalqueth another smirk, ((You should come out. Our brother Zalqueth here is so very keen to meet you.))

The Gem Without Price egg shook happily in place, rocking forgotten. ((Oh, and I am very keen to meet /him/! Both of you! All three of you! And our mother, and whoever else there may be! Just a moment… I think I might be cracking.))

Zalqueth flapped his wings in alarm. ((No no no! Stay in there! Stay!))

Indeed, there was a small crack beginning at the base of the Gem Without Price egg, and as its occupant pushed and struggled enthusiastically, it began to spread upward. ((Wonderful! Here I come!))

((No!)) protested Zalqueth, shoving into the egg suddenly with his shoulder as if somehow tackling and suppressing it would prevent it from hatching.

Of course, it did just the opposite — the egg teetered a moment, with a squeaked ((Eep! Oh my!)) from inside, and then rolled end over end, right into another egg nearby. The crack spread cleanly up the side of Gem Without Price and broke it open, tumbling out another young blue.

The new blue lay on his back for a moment, dazed, then his vision came back into focus as he spied the golden face of his mother above him. ((Why hello, Mother. So nice to meet you in the flesh at last! Your voice has been ever-so-soothing to me while I waited to be born!))

Tameketh rumbled softly with amusement as she looked down at the little dragon who had hatched from the egg she’d tended to so carefully, ((It is good to see you here in the world at last little one.)) she greeted, pleased that he’d at least acknowledged her presence, ((Might I know your name?))

((Well done idiot.)) Ceretith snickered at Zalqueth, ((You smashed his egg for him…giving him a grand entrance. AND he’s talking to our mother…something you never did. You really are hopeless aren’t you.))

((Hi brother.)) Hasheth murmured from her place in the dark, ((I am so glad that Zalqueth didn’t hurt you…not that you can hear this.))

Zalqueth wheeled on Ceretith, nostrils and wings flaring in his fury. ((I have had just about enough of you, you… you…. /brown/ dragon!)) It may not have been an insult coming from anyone else, but from Zalqueth it was certainly intended as one. ((You’ve done nothing but pick and prod since you hatched, and I’ve done nothing to you! You are ugly and spiteful, and I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting you!))

The new blue, thankfully, was distracted by his own conversation, or else he might have been disturbed by all this. ((Skalmith, Mother!)) he replied happily, rolling over to right himself. He was larger than Zalqueth, but not so brightly-colored — a smoky slate blue, his face, forelegs, and spine mottled a darker navy color that blended and smudged at the edges. ((Pleased to meet you at last! And you, sister!)) he acknowledged the green in the shadows, nodding his head towards her. ((Why are you hiding over there? It’s a great big bright world — far too interesting to deny, don’t you think?))

Hasheth squeaked, flailing off her vantage point.

((You…can hear me?)) she asked, little head popping up uncertainly from behind the mound of sand, ((How can you hear me? I’m invisible. I don’t exist…))

Meanwhile Ceretith jus huffed a sad, slightly condescending sigh at Zalqueth’s outburst, “Of course I understand brother. You are angry because you want the attention to be focused solely on you…and of course you can’t stand to blame yourself, so you blame the others around you for your own misdoings and mistakes.)) He tutted sympathetically, ((Maybe you should ask yourself who the enemy really is here…))

((I /deserve/ all the attention!)) Zalqueth protested hotly. ((Me! And all you want to do is turn everything around backwards and confuse me and everyone else, and… whatever it is you’re doing! I don’t deserve to have you here annoying me! Why don’t you go bother Skalmith? He looks ugly and stupid too! You would probably like each other!))

((I like you both! Ha!)) Skalmith called back over his shoulder, seemingly unbothered by the insult, before turning back to Hasheth. ((Why of course I can hear you! You’re speaking, aren’t you? Come out, come out! Come embrace your brothers!))

He reared up, gesturing expansively with his wings, only to stumble a little on still-wobbly newly-hatched feet. ((Whoa! Perhaps I should be more careful!))

((That’s it.)) A new voice spoke suddenly from nearby, a new, warm, female voice, and the Green Will Always Grow Egg wobbled before it neatly cracked revealing a lovely green, who shook herself free of egg goop before moving forward, ((I have had enough of your bickering.)) She informed Zalqueth and Ceretith, ((You, brown, let him have the attention. You clearly do not care about it as much as he does. And stop tugging his tail.)) And then she looked at Zalqueth, ((And you…stop with those unkind words. Imagine how you must seem to the people watching you. No one will admire someone who is rude Zalqueth. No one.))

There was a brief moment of silence before the new green turned to Skalmith, ((And as for you. Yes you should be more careful. There is no point barrelling along too fast and injuring yourself. That would be idiotic.))

Quietly Hasheth slid back down out of sight and Ceretith…after opening his mouth to object to a green bossing him around, shut it again mutinously.

((Fine.)) He muttered, subdued.

((He started it,)) Zalqueth sulked, sitting down hard on his rump and glaring at the sand in front of him petulantly.

Skalmith cocked his head at the new green sadly. ((Well I hardly think it’s fair to throw around words like “idiotic”, either. I only got a bit over-enthused, no harm done!)) He turned to regard her more fully, shaking his shoulders as if shaking off the brief hurt inflicted by her words, and approached enthusiastically. ((Welcome, sister! What is your name? I’m Skalmith, so pleased to meet you!))

((And I’m ending it.)) the green huffed at Zalqueth, shaking her head, ((It’s done now.))

Seeing that Zalqueth looked to be sulking…or upset, Hasheth slowly crept around in the shadows, heading over to where the blue had hatched.

((Idiotic only if you hurt yourself doing so Skalmith.)) the new green reassured him, unaware of the movements of the other green, before sitting herself neatly down, ((I am Danuath. It is very nice to meet you as well Skalmith. And you too Ceretith and Zalqueth.))

A little shadowed green hand stuck out from the darkness beside Zalqueth and dropped something against the sand with a soft ‘plumph’ as it landed. It was a perfect curve of shell from Zalqueth’s egg, showing the distinctive markings, and was clearly intended as a present.

((Didn’t even do anything to him…)) Zalqueth was grumbling, when the sound of the shell hitting the sand caught his attention. He looked at it for a moment, trying to remember where he had seen such markings before and then suddenly brightened, getting up to nudge at it fondly with his muzzle. ((Well, /someone/ here has some respect at least! I got a gift!)) He turned and shook his tail mockingly at his siblings. ((No one else got a gift! Only me!))

Skalmith gave an enthusiastic bounce and head-bob, nearly stumbling again, but managed to catch himself at the last second. ((That’s beautiful, brother! Congratulations on winning… whatever it is you won!))

((It was a /gift/,)) Zalqueth corrected haughtily. ((An /offering/. Of which only /I/ am worthy.))
Skalmith gave a little shrug, unconcerned. ((Well, congratulations just the same! When good fortune favors a brother, it stands to reason the rest of us may inherit it eventually too!))

((Doubtful,)) grumbled Zalqueth.

((Indeed…)) Ceretith murmured from nearby, ((Congratulations on being gifted a piece of your own egg shell. That must be some treasure.))

((Ceretith.)) Danuath scolded, giving him a scolding look and fluttering her little wings, ((It’s a thoughtful gift. Someone wanted to give him something with meaning.))

((Or it could have just been there all along.)) Ceretith pointed out, ((Since the only dragons I see are us…))

((It was meant to be a nice gift.)) Hasheth murmured quietly…ignored as usual.

((This is growing tedious.)) Ceretith yawned, eyeing them irritably, ((Or rather. You lot are. I may well leave you soon. Go claim the attentions of those white robed people.))

The candidates, previously of such little interest to Zalqueth, suddenly became a lot more interesting now that they were part of Ceretith’s intentions. ((What? NO!)) He looked from Ceretith to the crowd of white-robed youths and back again. ((That’s /my/ audience, and you can’t have it!))

Snatching up his piece of shell — with more care than it appeared — Zalqueth ran off towards the candidates, kicking up sand as he went.

((Listen to me! You are /all/ mine!)) he called to the candidates, but then the whirl of minds and faces in front of him were suddenly confusing. No, those were ugly, no those over there were awful, no, unworthy all of them!

All except one!

((No, not all of you! You’re all terrible! I only want the best! The best, you hear me Safrim?))

Skalmith watched as his blue brother rushed to his intended candidate. ((Oh my. That’s… that’s /beautiful/!)) he sighed, sitting down heavily, staring after Zalqueth in a wistful sort of way.

((A much better fate than he deserved,)) a grim voice observed from behind the group of dragons. The Etched Grandeur egg was in the midst of cracking, pieces falling away as long, pale bronze legs and tail and, finally, head emerged from holes in the egg. It looked quite ridiculous, this walking egg with dragon limbs, but the bronze himself didn’t seem to even notice, staring after Zalqueth as he was. ((Haughty and demanding and immature as he was. Those who seek attention so desperately should have it withheld from them forever.))

((Oh…)) Hasheth murmured, listening to the great stirring of people up in the stands at the bronze dragons arrival, ((That is good that Zalqueth went and claimed his audience. He would have hated that…))

Ceretith meanwhile was less than pleased by the arrival of the bronze.

The Idiotically happy blue was malleable, the firm green had no real authority and he had just removed that itch of an annoyance Zalqueth. It should have been his moment to really begin sewing the seeds of discord amongst them, so as to better advance himself in their eyes of course, but a bronze put pay to that idea.

Especially since he sounded far from warm and fuzzy.

((And who, pray tell, are you?)) he asked the new arrival, keeping his voice smooth and charming.

((And why should I tell you?)) the bronze asked, mirthless gaze leveling on Ceretith. ((So that you can use it for your own ends? Firestarter, instigator,)) he spit. ((Your kind is no better than his — nothing more than trouble. Would that I could but turn your own poison back upon you.))

Skalmith, momentarily taken aback by the bronze’s harsh judgment of his siblings (however privately he might have agreed, on some points at least), gathered himself up and pushed himself forward, determined to make the best of it. ((Please brother, no disrespect intended — we would only like to know what to call you so that we may all be friends! It would be awful if we had to make up a name for you. I’m afraid not everyone would pick something as flattering as whatever you were born with.))

((The words of a fool, however honeyed, are still merely foolish,)) the bronze replied, though he did pause momentarily to think. ((But your point stands. You may call me Gavilth.))

Hasheth bristled at Gavilth’s words, drawing herself up to a rather impressive height, although still hidden in the shadows, ((Do not call Skalmith a fool.)) her voice rumbled out of the darkness, the pitch eerie as it resonated throughout the caverns, as though it came from all around…a disembodied voice, ((There is much to be said for being a positive force.))

Ceretith looked around, not wanting to admit how truly unnerved he was by that strange, spectral like voice, ((Well bronze.)) he sneered at Gavilth, deliberately not using his name, ((This is all yours to deal with.)) And he hurried across the sands, twitching every so often as the glows flickered, making shadows move, ((Come on!)) he called out, as he reached the white robed people. ((Yes you, don’t gawp like a simpleton. We have much to do when that bronze oaf gets eaten by whatever that was.))

Danuath meanwhile decided to intercede as mediator, ((Gavilth,)) She said, her voice even, ((Welcome. We are glad you have joined us. Skalmith here is not really foolish, just exuberant, and that kind of energy is a good thing, especially when channelled the way it should…yes?))

Gavilth regarded Danuath flatly, extending his wings seemingly without effort, cracking the rest of his egg and allowing it to fall harmlessly and completely away from his now-revealed pale bronze form. ((We shall see,)) he allowed.

((Gavilth,)) Skalmith repeated, clicking his tongue even though he was speaking in his mindvoice. ((Gavilth, Gavilth, Gavilth. Yes, that is quite a nice name. I like the sound of it. Authoritative, yet pleasing to the ear. A fitting name for a bronze, yes!)) He punctuated this last point with a little bugle — or rather, quite a big one, as the sound that came from his big barrel chest was more than he perhaps intended, or than one would expect from a baby blue dragon. ((Names are ever so important, especially for one destined to /be/ important!))

The bronze looked from Skalmith back to Danuath silently, and if he could have arched an eyebrow, he would have.

((He likes to articulate his thought process?)) Danuath shrugged her shoulders, stretching herself slightly, ((There are worse things are there not Gavilth? Laziness, cruelty, vindictiveness, sloth, gluttony.)) She patted Skalmith lightly with her tail, ((He is a diamond in the rough. Potential is important as long as work is given to realise it.))

Hasheth meanwhile had dropped her wings and blinked after Ceretith back to the dragons closer to her.

For a moment there she had thought…

(I’m invisible again…)) she moped, flopping on the sand. ((Huuuuuuuu…))

((Failings are failings, idleness is idleness, vices are vices,)) Gavilth disagreed, but something about the way he readied himself and looked around suggested that he at least relented enough to agree to disagree. ((And speaking of sloth and idleness… why are all these eggs unhatched? They had best all be dead rather than lazy enough to /be/ dead.))

((I can’t say that’s a fair comparison!)) Skalmith commented. ((But if you two /must/ talk about someone like they’re not here, better them than me, hmm?))

Danuath shrugged, eyeing the eggs as well, contemplative rather accusatory, ((You hatch when you are meant to I think…)) she pointed out quietly, moving through the eggs, ((After all you are efficient it seems, and far from lazy…and yet Zalqueth or Ceretith were the first to Hatch. I do not think it is a mark of future attitudes.))

((I was third.)) Hasheth moped sadly, sliding down her hill of sand into the darker shadows, ((Invisible…and unwanted. Even Skalmith doesn’t hear me now. This is so unfair.))

((Before me is mildly commendable,)) Gavilth argued. ((After is /late/.)) He turned to Danuath and Skalmith. ((You two. If you care to prove your worth, then help me oust some of these lazy good-for-nothings so that they can be punished as they deserve.)) Without waiting to see if they would obey, he turned his attentions to the eggs again, selecting a likely victim.

Skalmith chuckled a bit, both in his mind and audibly — an odd chortling sound for a dragon to make, and one that shook his shoulders visibly — and inclined his head towards Danuath. ((He’s a bit too serious, don’t you think?))

((I try not to judge.)) Danuath shrugged, ((He’s focused though. Which can be a good thing of course. Come Skalmith, we’d best stick together yes?))

And the little green moved to join the bronze as he approached the hapless and unfortunately chosen The Storm Within Egg.

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