Hope Is Something You Give Yourself

Some of Ista's newer residents might have laughed at the natives' insistence that it was shaping up to be an unusually cold winter for the island, but there weren't many who would deny that the radiating warmth of the dry, crowded Hatching Cavern was a welcome respite from the chilly rain that had been coming down steadily all afternoon. The Istan sky was thickly grey, the ocean down below dark and choppy, and though there hadn't been so much as a single growl of thunder or spark of lightning, it didn't look as if the rain was going to stop anytime soon. The candidates stood in a loose semi-circle before the eggs, white robes sticking wetly to their shoulders – waiting for that first egg to crack, with the excited murmur of the crowd and the faint steady sound of the rain outside serving as a soothing sort of white noise, a counterpoint to the growing hum of the dragons reverberating in their skulls and sternums as keenly as it thrummed in their ears.

All at once, the humming stopped. The murmuring stopped. A resounding crack echoed through the cavern, the rain and gasps of surprised, baited breath its only background noise.

The Right to Rule egg split as loudly and arrogantly as possible right up the middle. It hadn't even been rocking half as much as most of its smaller neighbors, but as the shell began to split, there was no doubt which egg was hatching first, no matter how hard its siblings might be trying. The shell fell away – not quite a perfect split, but close enough – and a small, lithe young brown dragon stepped out, one foot sure in front of the other. His wet golden-brown hide, like a fine ale, glistened in the cavern glowlight as he blinked at the world for the first time, took one last glance back at the shell that had confined him, and kicked one foot back to knock it away. His past was just that: the past.

((Well well, seems I've already won. And here are the prizes laid out before me, waiting to be picked at my leisure. Perfect.))

Which of course was when the Honour Restored egg exploded, the dragon inside giving a mighty (well it was mighty in his mind anyway) roar as shards of egg fell around him. Finally the sand and dust settled revealing a handsome red brown dragon, large wings spread as he glared around at the ruins of his egg and up at the other brown on his mound of sand.

((Finally…)) He growled, lashing his tail behind him, as he stretched out his limbs and wings, ((That was getting intolerable.))

The first brown picked his way down carefully — not that it was that far, but he was still freshly-hatched, after all — and joined his new brother, walking around him, sizing him up, before finally stopping in front of him and sitting down, seemingly unbothered by the fact that the second brown was quite noticeably larger than he was.

((Well,)) he said, ((you should have broken out sooner then, shouldn’t you? Second born, second best, and no one to blame but yourself, really.))

((I am NOT second best!)) The larger brown seethed, puffing himself up with indignation as he glared at the smaller, smug brown, ((You were hatched first just because….because….)) he groped for a reason, ((Because your egg was thinner and faulty!))

((Tell yourself whatever you have to, if it makes you feel better,)) said the first brown, with a careless shrug of one shoulder. ((It won’t make it true. With that sort of attitude, though, I’m surprised you managed a second-place finish. Congratulations on not being as much of a disappointment as you look like you would be.))

((HEY!)) the red brown hissed, furious, embarrassed and annoyed that no sooner had he hatched than he had to deal with…well…this, ((Well you’re awfully titchy for a brown.)) he sniped back, turning his back on his brother and stalking off, ((Almost like…like…insulting a green girl you’re that small! Your egg had to be faulty to produce something so….itty…bitty.))

As though sensing the conflict brewing the Everything in Balance egg wobbled as the brown stormed past it, and a little crack appeared at the top.

The first brown didn’t even look down at himself, but he did flex the toes of one foot, pausing to examine his claws as if supremely bored. ((I’m exactly the size I need to be, if you must know — but then, I wouldn’t expect you to even recognize adequacy if it slapped you in the face, let alone out-and-out perfection. Have you considered that you might just be an overgrown oaf?)) He glanced back up. ((Oh, you seem to have broken something, by the way. Be a dear and plug that egg back up, will you? We don’t really need any more competition out here right now. Well… actually, it wouldn’t hurt me, but you could probably use as much of a handicap as we can give you.))

((Argh!)) The brown seethed, and turned back towards his infuriating brother, wings snapping open with annoyance, only to reel back, startled as his wing knocked heavily into the Everything In Balance Egg causing it to wobble on it’s spot.

It rocked for a moment and then stilled, before the top cracked once more and a blue head serenely ascended to look out at the feuding browns, ((It is foolish to fight.)) he informed the two browns, seemingly perfectly content to sit there, head poking out of his egg shell, ((For none can hurt you, unless you give them the permission to do so.))

((What?)) The red brown stared at him like he was crazy, ((What the blazes does that even mean! Scrawny over there started it!))

((It does not matter who started it.)) The blue closed his eyes contentedly, ((It only matters who has the strength to end it peaceably.)) one eye opened once more ((Now….what are your names mm?))

((Lurzanth, since you don’t seem to know it for some reason,)) the first brown replied, tail twitching. ((I expect you to remember it.))

((I don’t know why anyone would WANT to remember it.)) the red brown snarked back, but subsided under a reproachful look from the blue, ((I’m Kuruzoth. True son of Ista Weyr.))

((As are we all.)) the blue hummed serenely, still ensconced in his egg, ((I am Rohoth. and….what is that delicious smell?)) he leant over, little blue nose twitching towards the inviting scent of the meat awaiting the hatchlings off the hatching grounds, and the egg tipped, falling to the side.

But it did not break.

Simply it fell and then rolled off the mound, beetling along the sands of the Hatching grounds while Rohoth, still inside, chortled along with it.

Kuruzoth slapped a wing over his face in embarrassment.

Lurzanth got to his feet, lifting each back foot in turn and shaking the sand from it. ((Well, I see you’ve made yourself a friend who operates on your level. Don’t let me stand between you two and your idiot-bonding. You might want to help him out there, Kazumoth — look at him, I doubt he’ll be able to hatch on his own.))

((It’s Kuzuroth…I mean Kuruzoth! ARGH!)) he flapped his wings, ((Shut up Runty.)) he growled storming after Rohoth’s egg, ((Must you be so embarrassing?)) he demanded of the blue, kicking the egg, sending it rolling off again, ((Why is this so complicated!))

((Life is the most complex of states.)) Rohoth observed philosophically as he rolled past Lurzanth again, chuckling softly as he went, ((It is only when we meet death, that we discover death is simplicity itself.))

((Oh shut up.)) Kuruzoth growled.

((I'm glad you've reconciled yourself with the fact that you're probably going to meet death sooner than most,)) Lurzanth observed drolly as Rohoth rolled by. ((Let me try giving some deep, meaningful advice… hmm, let's see… how about “he who does not break free from his egg will never know what it means to be hatched”? Or how about “to roll around Sands is foolish; to walk on one's own claws is true wisdom”? No? Ah well, the two of you are boring me, anyway. Karazith's little tantrums are only amusing for so long.)) He glanced back over his shoulder, considering, then looked back at his brothers. ((So why don't we make a party of it, hmm?))

And then, without warning, he kicked back hard with one hind leg, shattering the already half-cracked Hidden Potential egg, unseating it just enough to make it spill a small, dark green dragon out onto the Sands.

She tumbled forward head over heels with a surprised little chirp, landing on her rump, back legs splayed out to either side and wobbly front legs supporting her, wings spread, and big shiny baby eyes gazing out at the bright world before her. There was a collective gasp and then soft sigh of admiration from part of the audience – those whose hearts were easily warmed by adorable baby-faced creatures, anyway — and she blinked, taking in the faces of her captive audience.

((Oops,)) said Lurzanth smugly, assuming the crowd was reacting to him. ((How clumsy of me.))

((Hey!)) Kuruzoth abandoned Rohoth, he wasn't going anywhere anytime fast, and rushed back over to hover awkwardly, ((Who does that!?)) he flicked his tail at Lurzanth, ((You could have hurt the little thing!))

((It was indeed a very foolish thing to do.)) Rohoth chimed in, his egg rolling over to join the group, and his sideways tipped face giving the little green a reassuring smile, ((To act and not think of others is a dangerous thing.)) he winked at the little green, ((Welcome to the outside world little green. Might we have the honour of knowing your name?))

The green looked up at Kuruzoth, then at Rohoth, and at Lurzanth, and then back to Kuruzoth. She glanced over at the crowd for a split-second before coming to a decision.

((My name is Kojith, and I think he did hurt me,)) she said, curling in on herself a little, eyes wide and sad. ((Why would he do that? I never did anything to anyone!))

Lurzanth huffed. ((Please. It’s hardly my fault if you aren’t hardy enough to take a little tumble.))

((Look at her!)) Kuruzoth flapped his wings irately, narrowly missing smacking Rohoth's egg again, (( She's a tiny little helpless green! As a squidgy little thing yourself you should be more caring! What's wrong with you!?))

Rohoth hummed softly and eyed the little green thoughtfully, ((They perhaps are very alike…)) he mused to himself softly.

((You kicked Rohoth,)) Lurzanth pointed out with a half-shrug. ((I didn’t do anything that you didn’t do yourself. The only difference is that I actually did it right. You can’t even accidentally succeed at something, can you?))

Kojith took an experimental step forward, stumbling a little on wobbly baby legs, squeaking a little with dismay. An adoring murmur rose from the lowest tier of the Stands nearby, and she didn’t miss it; the second step she took was somehow even more awkward than the first, and she drew one wing in close to her body. ((Ow,)) she squeaked. ((Ow!))

((You’ll notice that Rohoth isn’t INJURED!)) Kuruzoth insisted, pointing dramatically at Kojith, ((SHE is.))

((She isn’t.)) Rohoth disagreed, causing Kuruzoth to whirl around to face him, sending a great spray of sand in Lurzanth’s direction.

((What do you mean!)) Kuruzoth flailed his limbs and wings, gesticulating wildly at the dewy eyed green, ((Look at her! Of course she is! You don’t know anything!))

Lurzanth threw up a wing to shield himself, but wasn’t quite fast enough to block it all. He shook his head irritably, spitting out sand. ((Watch where you’re flinging yourself, you oaf! And as for whether Rohoth is injured or not, well, that’s a matter of opinion. He sounds addled, to me.))

Kojith sat down heavily, wing still tucked, looking up at Kuruzoth pitifully. ((He hurt me, and now Rohoth is calling me a liar, too! I don’t understand what I did wrong!))

She ducked her head and covered it with her good wing, making sorrowful little noises.

Kuruzoth hovered, torn between annoyance at Rohoth, intense dislike of Lurzanth and a desire to comfort Kojith in some way. But…as he floundered for something to say to reassure her, he realised…

…he had nothing.

((There, there…)) he said awkwardly, standing in front of her before lightly patting her head with his wing.



((There, there.))

Rohoth just shook his head at the brown’s folly and finally seemed to have enough of his egg. He closed his eyes and a moment later it fell away from around him, revealing a tubby tummy on a moderately sized blue dragon, ((He who is swayed by feigned tears, shall always be played as a fool.)) the blue murmured to Kuruzoth, ((Those are feigned tears my dear Kuruzoth. Trust me.))

((Wing-crippled, tongue-crippled, and brain-crippled. What a trio you three make. Tch,)) Lurzanth scoffed. ((None of you are delusional enough to think you’re going to attract one of these servants for yourself with the way you’re carrying on, are you? Well… I suppose you might be able to snag one of the little sickly ones or something. Are there sickly ones? I sincerely hope not. What an insult that would be.))

Kojith stopped snuffling and peeked over her wing suddenly, eyes keen. ((Attract a what?))

((Them,)) Lurzanth waved a wing, indicating the candidates. ((The help.))

The little green’s eyes narrowed appraisingly as she looked over the crowd. ((Hrmmmm.))

((They are meant to be our partners.)) Rohoth informed the two, ignoring Kuruzoth’s silent sputtering as he stared at Kojith, ((They will be ours for life, provide us with care and then join us in the skies.)) he fixed his attention slightly more on Lurzanth, ((Partnership….implies equality Lurzanth.))

((As if he could get one that is the equal of the one I will choose.)) Kuruzoth sulked, stalking off in a huff, annoyed that Rohoth had been proven correct about Kojith. The little sneak. Cute little sneak. ((ARGH!)) he vocalised his frustration before stalking back and sitting down, grumpily, ((I don’t want a servant. And I don’t NEED a partner.))

Lurzanth sighed. ((“Ours for life, provide us with care,”)) he repeated. ((Yes, that is the very definition of “servant”, I think. And mine will be the best, because I will choose the best, and I will force him to be mine! You three… well, I suppose you can always beg or bribe one.))

((Servant, partner, snack — I don’t care,)) Kojith piped up. ((I just know I want one. Some of them look very nice, don’t you think? But if you just take one, how will you know it’s the best?))

((Because the best recognizes the best when it sees it,)) the brown replied matter-of-factly.

Kojith sank down to the Sands with a fluttery little sigh of her own. ((Oh, how will I ever find my own?)) she wondered, with a stealthy little glance at the crowd.

Kuruzoth rolled his eyes at Lurzanth’s proclamation, ((And of course in your head you are the absolute best.)) he snorted, getting back up onto his feet, ((Because you’re delusional. And your head is so far up your own-))

((Kuruzoth…)) Rohoth interrupted from his place sitting on the sands, his forelegs resting on his protruding stomach, ((Your insults fall on deaf ears. He does not care one jot.))

The red brown scowled at the blue before turning back to Lurzanth, ((You’ll get the best perhaps…of what’s left. Because you’ll only get the leftovers, of what I didn’t want.))

And with that the brown stalked off towards the Candidates, tail lashing at the air as he went.

Rohoth watched him go and then, with a sigh he too got to his feet. ((Someone needs to keep an eye on him. And he seems a good one at heart…)) he eyed Lurzanth and shook his head slightly before following Kuruzoth’s path, ((You know a hasty decision is rarely a wise one brother.))

((Take all the time you want to decide,)) Lurzanth called after them. ((Well-considered decisions by idiots are still idiotic!)) He shook his head, amused. ((This should be fun to watch.))

Kojith pulled her wing in again and flopped her way gingerly to Lurzanth’s side. ((You aren’t worried they’ll take yours?)) she asked in a small voice.

((Oh, not a chance,)) the brown said. ((I’ll be surprised if they don’t trip over the first one they come to and accidentally pick that one.))

Kuruzoth stopped in front of the candidates and considered the faces before him. Some were completely unsuitable, some smelled kind of funny. That one had a blobby nose. He made his way down the line getting more and more agitated at how unsuitable they all were.

((MOVE)) He shouted at them, the little baby dragon voice emphasised by him pushing into their midst, wings flapping, ((You’re hiding the perfect one from me.))

((Anger will get you nowhere fast brother.)) Rohoth informed him, sitting before the candidates and taking in a deep breath, smelling that wonderful meat smell again wafting in from the lower caverns, ((It will be worth it to make a sensible decision.))

((You don’t know anything!)) Kuruzoth informed the blue before stopping before a boy, standing with two others, ((THERE you are.)) he stretched up to his full height, wings spreading as he looked into his chosen one’s face, nose to nose, ((You were hiding from me. And you are the very best, aren’t you Ravelan? We’ll show that stingy brown Lurzanth, just who is the best brown pair in this clutch!))

((Aaaaah…)) Rohoth sighed contentedly, getting to his feet once more and slowly moving forward to stop in front of the white robed figure he’d chosen, ((He will need our help and guidance, as will the others, won’t they my rider? We will have much work to do. But for now…take me to that delicious smell!))

Dragons did not typically laugh out loud, but the sudden spread of Lurzanth’s wings, his head thrown back, made it obvious enough to those who couldn’t hear that he must be laughing in his mindvoice even so. ((Ahahahaha! The imbecile chose the wrong one! Didn’t I tell you? Did you see it? What a pathetically mediocre thing!))

Kojith, however, wasn’t really listening anymore. She didn’t care what Kuruzoth was choosing, or what Rohoth was choosing — what really mattered was what she was getting, and she aimed to get her piece before Lurzanth, or anyone else, could swoop in and steal the choice bits away.

She tottered her way towards the candidates, wobbling a bit every so often for effect (to be fair, it wasn't all an act — she was still working on that stable footing thing), and when she felt she was close enough, she flopped down in front of them, eyes big and sad, and creeled in the most heartbreaking way she could muster.

((I doubt anything worth having would be attracted to something so broken and pathetic,)) Lurzanth called, shaking his head. ((Ridiculous.))

Several of the candidates did, however, take a step forward as if driven to help the poor little baby green. Most of them stopped themselves and pulled up short, though, as their training and the constant reminders to be careful with the desperate baby dragons finally paid off; a couple of them actually moved to gently help right her.

She didn’t notice those, though. Now that the semi-circle had shuffled a little, she could see someone who had been blocked from her admittedly short vantage before, and suddenly she knew exactly what she wanted.

((Oh!)) she exclaimed, and the joy in her tone wasn’t at all feigned. She squirmed away from the well-meaning hands that weren’t setting her free quite fast enough for her needs, slicing open the top of a foot in her urgency to escape. ((You’re exactly what I wanted!)) She fell once more on her way to her chosen, scrambling faster than her little legs could keep up with, and in her attemp to throw herself covetously against the candidate’s legs, instead flopped on the sand in front of her chosen. Well. Might as well roll with it, she supposed. ((I’m Kojith, and I… I mean…)) She turned her biggest, saddest, shiniest eyes up to her candidate. ((I’m so hungry and alone… you’ll help me, won’t you?))

Back amongst the eggs, Lurzanth snorted in disgust. ((Ugh. It’s like all my siblings are blind! I do hope the rest are better than those were. I’ll be bored out of my mind for the rest of my life if I have to spend it with a bunch of useless idiots!))

Outside the rain continued its heavy patter and Lurzanth, unmindful, stared down the candidates before him as if he was considering which snack to choose and—


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