Keep Your Wits Around You True Adventures Never End

The Impression of a large handful of their siblings seemed to go entirely unnoticed as Tanikith bounded around Chamralth like an excited puppy.

((I can get you more egg pieces, if you’d like!)) he promised. ((Like the broom that sweeps the dust from your kitchen, or the spoon that ladles your soup on a cold winter’s day: wherever someone is in need, Tanikith will surely be there!))

Chamralth turned the offered piece of eggshell over and over in her hands, admiring the colors and the way the light reflected off the shell. ((My, Tanikith, you certainly have a… way… with words!))

((I’m not sure what you mean, but thank you just the same! You have a bit of a way with.. uh… things… yourself!))

Chamralth giggled. ((Things, hmm? Why Tanikith, you naughty boy. What sort of ‘things’ do you mean?))

Tanikith stopped bounding around, looked at her, and cocked his head. ((Uh… I don’t know. I just didn’t know what to put there, but I wanted to be nice. But hey, everybody’s good at something, right? So you must be, too! Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll figure out what it is eventually!))

Chamralth gazed back at him flatly, unamused. ((Oh.))

The lazy, broken laughter of another green broke the silence.

((Ha, admit it, sister — you deserved that,)) observed the new green. She was sprawled out ungracefully against the remaining half of her egg, the Depths Below The Surface egg, half-leaning against it, half lying on the ground beside it. ((A player gets played. By an idiot, at that.))

Chamralth wrinkled her nose in distaste, looking the new green over. ((Ugh. You’re hideous. Your hide doesn’t even match *itself*, let alone anything else! How do you plan on not looking ridiculous in your fighting straps?))

The other green shrugged. ((Eh.))

Tanikith dropped the piece of shell that he had just picked up, bounding over to greet his new sister. ((Hi! I’m Tanikith! And I think your hide is nifty!))

((Thiprith,)) she greeted him coolly, after a moment’s consideration. ((And ‘nifty’? Who actually *says* that?))

((I do, I guess! Nifty, huh?))

((Yeah, you’re a real winner. I can tell.))

((Thanks!)) he replied brightly. ((Is there anything I can help you with?))

Thiprith shrugged again disinterestedly. ((Nope.))

((Oh.)) He looked a little crestfallen. ((Well… if you think of anything…))

((If I think of anything, I’ll throw a rock in your direction. We’ll call that the Tanikith-signal. If I miss, you win. If I hit you, everybody else wins.))

((Oh, I like it! Yes! If you need me, use the Tanikith-signal!)) He practically danced.

Off to one side, two of the remaining three unhatched eggs on the Sands were rolling around haphazardly. They had passed one another several times, even bounced off one another once or twice as cracks finally began to appear in the shells. It was really only a matter of time before disaster happened.

Like the unluckiest of ships that sailed upon its figurative seas, The Sea is a Cruel Mistress egg ran aground — directly into the equally-furious Something Semi-Precious egg, which had been rolling directly at it. Both eggs shattered at the impact, both baby dragons flinging forward at the sudden stop… directly into each other. A shiny bronze head connected hard with a pale brown one, sending an audible wooden clunking sound echoing through the Cavern.

Both dragons fell back, dazed.

And then both dragons immediately got up into one another’s face, muscles tensed for a fight.

((Imbecile!)) the brown snapped. ((Watch where you’re going!))

((Me?)) the bronze asked incredulously. ((How about *you*? What were you steering with, your *ass*?))

((Such language! Not only are you a directionless idiot, you’re clearly without any sort of poise or class! How can you expect to lead anyone if you act like just another gutter-born heathen?))

((Hey buddy, I never said I was gonna lead *anybody*! I’m just trying to get hatched, you know? You’re the one who had to go and get all violent about it!))

The brown’s tail whipped angrily. ((Pathetic. You make me sick!))

((Your *face* makes me sick,)) the bronze shot back. ((Literally. See, here it comes!)) He turned his head aside and pretended to retch, complete with over-dramatic barfing sounds.

The brown shuddered and turned away, disgusted. ((If this is what we have to look forward to leading us into battle, we’re all going to die before we even get out of this cave!))

((If it’s a battle you’re looking for, snot-face, you don’t need to leave the cave — you’ve got one right here! Bring it on!))

Chamralth sauntered her way between them, giving a little sway of her hips with each step. ((Boys, boys, boys! No need to fight! I’m sure it was all just an accident!))

Both dragons stopped to watch her, tension hanging heavy in the air.

((He started it,)) the bronze accused finally.

((I’m going to finish it,)) the brown retorted.

((Shh.)) Chamralth nuzzled the brown’s neck soothingly, just once, then looked back up into his eyes. ((Do you have a name, noble brown?))

He sat up straighter, lifting his chin a little. ((You may call me Nambrinth, son of Tameketh and Ronageth, born of Ista and destined to be its greatest protector!))

The bronze made a face. ((Or you can just call him ‘Poncy Presumptuous Bastard’. Same thing really.))

Nambrinth crouched again, readying himself to fight. ((Don’t you dare cast aspirations about my parentage!))

((WE HAVE THE SAME PARENTS, DORKNOZZLE!)) the bronze reminded him, crouching, too.

((Boys!)) Chamralth pleaded again, rather put out by the fact that she couldn’t seem able to keep their attention on her despite her best efforts. ((It’s not worth fussing about! I’m sure there are better things to fight later. Like… rocks. Or… whatever it is boys fight for fun.))

Thiprith, still lounging against her egg, laughed. ((Dorknozzle. That’s great. I don’t even know what that is, but I’m using it.))

((It looks a lot like Nambrinth,)) the bronze explained with his eyes still on the brown, wickedly mirthful.

Before the brown could reply, Tanikith bounded right into the center of them all, nudging both other males aside and very nearly toppling Chamralth.

((Hi!)) he introduced. ((I’m Tanikith!))

((Nice to meet you, Tanikith,)) the bronze replied, ignoring Nambrinth’s indignant sputtering and stretching out on the Sands as if he hadn’t been ready to fight just moments ago. ((I’m Orowenth.))

((Hi Orowenth! Don’t fight — we’re all brothers here, right?))

((And sisters,)) Chamralth reminded, cheek twitching.

((And dorknozzles,)) Thiprith supplied helpfully.

((And eggs,)) said the Let The Magic Grow egg, which had been shaking uselessly off and on for some time. ((Which is a dreadful way to be, let me tell you. I think I’d much rather be a dragon. Would one of you fine gentlemen or ladies mind offering a bit of assistance? I seem to be a bit confounded!))

Tanikith sprang into action immediately. ((Never fear, Egg Who Would Be Dragon! Here I come!))

And before anyone could stop him, or explain that it was probably a bad idea, he was running full-tilt at the Let The Magic Grow egg, head lowered.

((I’d tuck in and turtle up if I were you!)) Orowenth called helpfully to the dragon inside, but that was all anyone managed to get out before Tanikith impacted with full force into the side of the egg. It wasn’t strong enough to stop his momentum — he kept right on breaking through, catching the unsuspecting pale powdery-blue dragon inside right in the stomach with his head as shards of egg flew everywhere. The two dragons rolled together across the Sands before landing in a heap, the much smaller and more slender new blue practically buried beneath Tanikith’s muscular bulk.

Igribith would have been proud.

((Bet you half a herdbeast one of ‘em’s dead,)) Thiprith proposed in the momentary silence that followed.

Nambrinth swivelled his head sharply to fasten her with a glare. ((Have a bit of decorum, would you?))

((If you’re giving it away for free, sure, thanks,)) she replied coolly.

Tanikith scrambled to his feet, shaking himself off proudly. ((And there we go! Problem solved! No need to thank me, my friend — it’s all in a day’s work!)) When the small pale blue didn’t move, he leaned over the still body. ((Er… friend…?))

((*Somebody* owes me half a herdbeast,)) Thiprith said smugly. ((I don’t know who, but *somebody*.))

Chamralth crouched down, eyes wide and fastened on the still blue on the Sands. ((But he can’t be…! It was only a little tumble, right? I mean…)) She looked to Orowenth helplessly. ((How do we check to see if something is dead? Does anyone have a stick?))

((A stick?)) he repeated, puzzled.

((To… you know… poke him?))

((Are you serious?!)) Nambrinth demanded, (figuratively) throwing his hands up in exasperation and disgust. ((Every one of you is afraid to touch a dead body?))

((Oh!)) squealed Chamralth, ((he *is* dead!))

Tanikith nudged the blue body worriedly. ((Friend? Don’t be funny. Tell them you’re not dead!)) He looked back up and back at the other dragons, eyes whirling with concern. ((What *is* “dead”, anyway? Is it like being sick?))

((Something like that,)) Thiprith supplied, when everyone else was too horrified to say anything. She sighed and got to her feet. ((Welp, nothing left to see here. I’m blowin’ this place. Leave that herdbeast by the door when you guys get around to it, huh?))

With that, she slunk off lazily towards the candidates, winding her way through the crowd, taking advantage of the fact that most of them were still focused on the remaining dragons to bump against one occasionally and startle them.

((Oh hey,)) she settled finally, winding around the legs of her chosen, ((speaking of herdbeast, how about a bite to eat, huh? Hatching is hard work, and I’m starved!))

Chamralth, meanwhile, looked as if she was about to cry, or be sick — possibly both. ((Oh Tanikith… dead is worse than sick! Far worse! How can Thiprith be so cold?))

((Says the green who wanted to poke his corpse with a stick,)) Nambrinth snorted.

Orowenth rolled his eyes, finally getting to his feet again. ((Oh, don’t be so stupid. He’s not dead! If he was dead, we’d all know it by now! He’s probably just stunned or something!))

He stretched, stalking his way across the Sands to Tanikith and the small prone blue’s side. ((Hey buddy… wake up. Come on, stay with me here.))

Chamralth dared to inch closer, unaware she was holding her breath. Nambrinth, suddenly feeling very foolish (and angry that Orowenth had perceived what he had not) followed his brother.

((You there!)) he ordered the blue on the Sands. ((Stop lounging about! Get up!)

((Don’t be a dick,)) Orowenth snapped. ((He might not be dead, but he might be hurt or something. Huh. I sort of wish I had that stick now…))

As it turned out, there was no need. The blue stirred finally, coughing a little, and rolled over, looking up at the three (now four, as Chamralth found the courage to join the rest). ((Am I… am I missing the party?))

Tanikith threw himself at his new brother excitedly, nuzzling him roughly. ((Nope! You’re right on time!))

Nambrinth sat down, giving a little ‘hmph’ and something *almost* like a smile. ((Well. I think Thiprith owes *us* a herdbeast.))

((Hey, gentle!)) Orowenth warned Tanikith, pushing him back a little. ((I think the guy just had the wind knocked out of him. Let him catch his breath before you go knocking it out again!))

The pale blue nodded gratefully as Tanikith moved back, and sat up, shaking his head a bit to clear his eyes, which had been watering with pain as he lay on the Sands. ((Yes, thank you very much. One moment I was in the egg, the next I just couldn’t quite seem to catch my breath! I do believe I’ll be fine now.))

((I’m sorry,)) Tanikith blurted.

((No no, nothing to be sorry about at all! No harm done — and I hardly want to start my new life holding a grudge! Why, you were only trying to help — and what a brave hero you were! If a bit… enthusiastic.)) He chuckled softly, getting to his feet. He wobbled for a moment, coughed once more, but then seemed acceptably steady. ((Thank you for your concern, my friends. It warms my heart to know I’ve such loving compatriots! Your manners could use a bit of polishing, I’m afraid to say — I was perfectly capable of hearing your conversation when I was still in my egg, you know — but we can always work on that!))

((Well, I’m happy you’re going to be alright, handsome,)) Chamralth replied, stretching her neck out to blow a bit of sand off the blue’s shoulder, ((but I really think that’s quite enough excitement for me for one day. I think I smell some meat that has my name on it, and I doubt any of you are going to be nice enough to go get it for me.))

((I’ll—)) Tanikith blurted.

((No thank you,)) she interrupted. ((Thanks just the same, Tanikith, but I’ve had more than enough of your help right now, too. Catch you later.))

Chamralth gave one last appraising look to the four males, one last smile, and left to find her candidate at last. Someone who’d be sure to get her whatever she wanted, someone more reliable than her siblings…

And there they were.

((Why hello there,)) she greeted her chosen candidate. ((I think we make a beautiful pair, don’t you?))

Nambrinth watched her go with narrowed eyes. ((…You know, I think that lady is a tramp.))

Orowenth’s laughter surprised him. ((Oh, I don’t know… I think she’s pretty great, myself.))

((You *would*.))

((Not my fault you’re jealous that she likes me better.))

((NOW SEE HERE…!))

((Gentlemen, *please*!)) exclaimed the pale blue, pushing himself between them. ((This is supposed to be a joyous occasion! Let’s not sully it with roughhousing, or with foul language!))

((Yeah, we’re all brothers here!)) Tanikith agreed. ((Not-Dead Blue is right!))

The pale blue chuckled. ((I’m sorry, I’ve neglected to give my name, haven’t I? How rude of me. You may call me Larcsforth — with a ‘c’ if you please.))

((Sure thing, Larcsforth-with-a-c!))

Larcsforth (with a c) seemed about to speak, but then merely sighed and shook his head good-naturedly.

Orowenth glanced from Nambrinth to the blues and back again, then finally turned his head. ((Yeah, okay. I promise to stop if he promises to stop.))

Nambrinth bristled. ((I didn’t start!))

((You’re starting now!))

((No, I’m— )) the brown stopped, drawing himself up to his full height, obviously restraining himself. ((You know what? I am going to be the bigger dragon here. I am going to ignore you. Because that is how a mature Wingleader would handle you.))

Orowenth laughed, actually bugling out loud for emphasis. ((Wingleader? You? HA!))

((WHAT’S THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?))

Larscforth sighed, glancing at his blue brother. ((Tanikith… the atmosphere here is getting a trifle unpleasant. Perhaps we should go seek better company elsewhere.))

Tanikith beamed at him. ((Aw, I think they’re fine company, Larcsforth-with-a-c! But if you want to go on an adventure with me, well, I’m definitely your man! Come on, Elwic!))

((…Elwic?))

((Uh yeah, you know — “L-W-I-C”! It’s easier to say than Larcsforth-with-a-c! And it’s sort of like a nickname… you know, since we’re buddies now!))

((But it would be “Elwac”, wouldn’t it? And… honestly, Tanikith, my name is simply Larscforth!))

Tanikith cocked his head at him, confused. ((Simply Larcsforth? Well two minutes ago it was Larcsforth-with-a-c! Make up your mind!))

((Heh. Well… just call me Larcsforth. That is my final answer. And… my, Tanikith, I believe I see someone over there waving for you!))

The big blue stopped short, following his brother’s head-nod with his eyes to look towards the candidates. ((Huh? I don’t see anyone!))

((Go find them, old chap! Why, they may need your help!))

((THEY MIGHT!)) Without a moment’s hesitation, Tanikith took off running for the candidates, practically knocking over anyone in the front who wasn’t quick enough to move. ((I’M COMING, BUDDY! HANG IN THERE!))

When he found who he was looking for, he didn’t even stop — just kicked up sand as he changed direction while still running full-out and threw himself at his candidate. ((I’M HERE! See, Luicion? I’ll never let you down!))

Trailing along behind him (at a safe distance), Larcsforth glanced back over his shoulder one last time at the arguing brown and bronze. ((I would hurry, if I were you two,)) he called. ((The rest of us have already gone — so one of *you* is destined to be the last, it appears!))

Both dragons stopped arguing immediately, watching him, then turned to look back at one another… then suddenly both bolted towards the candidates, determined not to be last.

Larcsforth, for his part, was already absorbed in his search. ((Let’s see now… you all seem very nice. Why, I’m certain you are. They’d not allow you out on our beautiful Sands otherwise, I’m sure. I do hope I’m not offending anyone by choosing only one. That’s just the way it goes, I’m afraid.))

He sniffed delicately at one boy’s leg.

((Ah, it’s not you, pardon me.))

Carefully, he picked his way past a couple of other candidates, side-stepping smoothly at the last moment to avoid getting run over by Nambrinth, who had already spied the one he was looking for.

((Orsultan!)) the brown called strongly, coming to a stop before the boy. A glance to his right, at the bitter, envious eyes of Orowenth, told him all he needed to know — that the bronze was still searching. That he had won. And, of course, he was already smugly aware that his candidate was the best of the lot, anyway. ((We’ve a responsibility — one we have to take, since it seems some *others* who shall not be named can’t be bothered! We’ll show them all a thing or two, won’t we?))

((Rat-bastard,)) Orowenth muttered, stalking darkly through the candidates. Ugh, why were they all so… not right?

((Tut-tut,)) Larcsforth chided absently. ((Language! Why a gentleman never…))

The blue trailed off (which was just as well, because Orowenth wasn’t of a mind to listen).

((Oh,)) the blue spoke again finally, when he could catch his breath. ((Oh my. What a beautiful little lady! What a perfect tiny darling!))

All thoughts of Orowenth, or any of the other candidates, faded from his mind as the focused on the most perfect creature he was sure he had ever seen. He strode up confidently but without swagger — all poise and grace — and bent his neck, lowering himself into a sweeping gentlemanly bow before her.

((Tigrun, my heart, my darling lady… will you do me the honor of allowing me to escort you for the rest of our lives?))

Orowenth glanced back only long enough to realize that his blue brother had Impressed, too. Last. He was last.

Damn it! This was all Nambrinth’s fault! The big jerk had distracted him. No… he had *allowed* the big jerk to distract him. Ugh. It smarted to realize it, but *maybe* it was sort of his own fault. Maybe.

But it wasn’t his fault that all these candidates were awful! He looked from one to the other, sparing not a single glance for any of the girls, and offering only barely more for the males. Maybe “awful” wasn’t a fair estimation, but they weren’t what he was looking for, and it was getting increasingly annoying. There were tons of them out here! Why not one for him? Everybody else had one! Had somebody deliberately hidden his from him? Was it Nambrinth? THAT BASTARD.

But no, no… Nambrinth had been on the Sands the whole time. He couldn’t have done it. But who else would do such a thing to him? What did he ever do to anybody?

Frustrated beyond his admittedly-already-thin patience, Orowenth dug his talons into the Sands in the midst of the candidates and roared his distress for the entire Cavern to hear.

Some of the candidates instinctively moved back, and the crowd of bodies around him parted… just enough for him to spy something different, something special, off the Sands entirely, lingering towards the entrance.

((Are you hiding?)) he demanded, shoving through the crowd to rush to the side of his candidate, desperate love and anger clear in his mindvoice. ((Or is someone hiding *you*? Mallahan, did someone try to hurt you? You tell me the truth!))

And thus the Hatching came to a close and Tameketh gave a trumpet of triumph. All her babies had hatched, and all of them had Impressed. 22 new riders had left the Sands and the Gold was satisfied.

Sirasri turned to R'fan beaming at him widely as everyone began moving towards the entrance of the Hatching Sands.

“We did it,” she said, and leaned into him with a relieved sigh, “Thank goodness.”

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