Who Shall You Be When All The Dust Settles

Pieces of the A Strange Message egg were still settling on everything in the vicinity, but the bright blue dragon standing within the shattered remains of its shell seemed unmindful. His wings were spread, neck arched, one front foot poised and, without so much as moving his head to break the pose, he trumpeted a rather impressive (if babyish) dragon noise of triumph to announce his arrival to the world.

((Good day, good day! Sorry to keep you waiting! Thank you, thank you… but hold your applause, please — I’ve not yet begun to perform! Oh well, alright, applaud if you must!))

It had happened so quickly that Kerwalth hadn’t even had time to duck and simply sat there blinking in confusion, covered in egg dust, though Wuffryth threw herself down flat against the Sands reflexively in the instant after the egg erupted, unable to keep herself from giving a little squeal of fear…

…which was followed immediately afterward by anger.

((Who do you think you are, going around scaring people like that?!)) she demanded shrilly of the bright blue dragon, who took a very deliberate, measured step from his egg.

((Why my dear, everyone knows my name!)) he replied with what appeared to be genuine shock in his tone. ((Perhaps you’re behind on the times? You *look* a bit like the slow type.))

Kolikith growled at the new comer, annoyed as dust settled over everything, and he shook himself, dislodging some of it.

((She is not slow. No one knows, or cares who you are.))

((I want to know who he is!)) Thowrath blurted out, stepping up to join his brown brother in arms. Yes he and the other had had their disagreements, but the big bronze had not liked the way Wuffryth had shrieked in fear. And there was something about the blue…Thowrath wasn’t sure he liked it, ((Speak your name new blue brother!))

((None of you is a fan? Not one?)) The new blue looked around incredulously, then sighed heavily, shaking his head a little, as if terribly put-upon. ((And this is the audience I have to work with. Ugh. Well, I'll simply have to view it as a challenge, I suppose!))

He sat up proudly, tilting his wings in such a way that the nearest glows caught the full effect of their still-wet semi-transparency and made them shimmer fetchingly. ((I am known far and wide as…)) dramatic pause, ((…Kabridith!))

The momentary silence that followed was clearly meant to be filled by something other than what he actually got, because after a few seconds of silence his wings drooped a little and his mindvoice very clearly conveyed a pout. ((…You make me sad.))

((You make me *mad*,)) Wuffryth huffed.

((EVERYONE SETTLE!)) Thowrath’s voice boomed and the big bronze fluttered his wings again, eyeing everyone disapprovingly, ((We are comrades! Brothers and Sisters in arms. This quarrelling is beneath us. Now…Kabridith…that’s your name right? None of us have heard of you, but welcome to the fold.))

((You’re letting anyone in.)) Kolikith grumped, ((He scared Wuffryth. He exploded his shell…like you! He could have hurt one of us. At least you did it when no one was around. He’s untrustworthy.))

((Now now,)) Kerwalth spoke at last, deliberately moving himself between Kolikith and Thowrath, ((I'm certain our new brother meant no harm, just as Thowrath didn't. Perhaps it was reckless, but fighting about it now won't change the past. I'm certain he'll be more responsible in the future! We all learn from our mistakes, don't we?))

Kabridith, for his part, had tuned out the entire conversation halfway through Thowrath's welcome and instead taken to preening for Wuffryth's benefit. ((Don't take my dramatic entrance so personally, little green. It's all a part of the show, not intended to frighten, but to excite! Just to prove I mean no harm, I'll make it up to you, hmm? I can't show you how the egg-sploding trick is done, of course – a performer must keep his secrets if he's to keep his appeal – but I'll be happy to share some other secrets that will help you improve your image so that you can become almost as attractive as a shadow of me!))

Wuffryth looked down at herself. ((There's nothing wrong with my image! Can't you say even one nice thing?))

((Of course I can! If the chubby look was “in”, I'm sure you'd be considered absolutely divine,)) the blue replied honestly, examining his talons.

((Did you just call her tubby?)) Kolikith’s attention was grabbed back away from Thowrath and Kerwalth and back, sharply, to the posturing blue, ((Thowrath, he just insulted Wuffryth.))

Better to let the oaf charge in. He’d handle things out here.

Thowrath stared at the blue and then huffed in exasperation, thumping ungainly across the ground to shove the other dragon forwards, over towards Wuffryth.

((That was unkind!)) Thowrath scolded, ((She is our Sister. Worthy of our respect, our loyalty and our praise. Apologise brother!))

((Or he’ll make you.)) Kolikith added slyly.

((Or I’ll make you.)) Thowrath agreed, nodding.

Kabridith stumbled into the sand in front of Wuffryth, landing heavily. He turned his neck to look at Thowrath, mouth agape and clearly scandalized. ((Apologize?! Are you mad? I was *complimenting* the fat little sow! What do you want me to do – lie to her face?))

Wuffryth stared at him for a moment, taking in a series of shuddery little breaths, and for a moment appeared to be hovering right on the verge of tears and fury… but at the comforting touch of Kerwalth, who appeared at her side and nuzzled her shoulder with his muzzle, the tears won out. She curled up into a little ball on the Sands and, though her eyes might not show it outwardly, began to cry.

((Oh, don't cry,)) Kerwalth soothed. ((There are plenty of dragons right here who think you're just beautiful!))

((You better do something about that.)) Kolikith grumbled, nodding his sleek brown head at Kabridith before making his way back over to Wuffryth and wrapping a brown wing around her, ((Ignore the ignorant blue,)) he crooned to her, ((Have I not always been by your side lovely Wuffryth? Listen to me…and you won’t be crying…))

Thowrath meanwhile scowled down at the blue. He was his brother.

But he was wrong.

((If you think I’m going to sit back and let you hurt our sister then you are wrong you…wrong blue you.))

And he thwapped him with his solid, treetrunk like tail.

Kabridith howled in pain and indignation. ((You disgusting, lumbering brute! You've no right to tell me what I can say, and to whom! Even if your hide did give you that right – and it doesn't – you're hardly worthy of the color, anyway! Why, everything you've said since I've arrived has been drawn right from your tongue by Kolikith, anyway, you great wooden parrot!))

Wuffryth pulled her wings back from where she'd had them covering her eyes, glancing up hopefully at Kerwalth and Kolikith. ((I'm… I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get so upset! He was just so mean!))

((He was…)) Kolikith soothed, nuzzling her lightly, ((And that makes him ignorant and foolish.))

Meanwhile Thowrath stared at the blue. His honour was being impugned.

((Oh you will regret that.)) The big bronze said, and for once there was utter seriousness in his tone, ((I am a bronze son of Ista. And I parrot no ones orders!))

And then he roared at him, which…well it wasn’t impressive…considering that he was only a baby, and despite his big chest, he wasn’t loud.

But the roar was echoed by the huge gold head leaning over them, and then suddenly Tameketh was there in their view, big….

((Are you embarrassing me?)) She asked them cooly, eyes whirling, ((In front of all of Ista?))

((No mother.)) Thowrath hurried to tell her, and kicked Kabridith, ((Answer…))

((I don't need to be kicked to answer a simple question,)) Kabridith snapped at his brother. ((And no, Mother, I'm not embarrassing anyone. I was only trying to make a good showing when this band of hooligans ruined everything!))

((You made your sister cry.)) Tameketh pointed out, and lowered her head to consider the little blue. ((That was hardly making a good showing little one. Now. All of you.)) and she looked at all of them, ((Behave yourselves, and go choose yourself a person over there. Do your duty to Ista. And I will be proud.))

((I’ll make you proud!)) Thowrath blurted eagerly, almost wiggling with joy, ((You’ll see, I’m brave and determined!))

Kolikith considered and frowned. Wuffryth was listening to him, and so was Thowrath…he had control….if they went….

((Maybe we shouldn’t…)) he murmured as Tameketh’s head lifted out of sight again.

((But Kolikith,)) Wuffryth protested lightly, getting to her feet again and snuggling against his wing, ((Mother said so! So it must be right! And we should do what's right… right?))

((Things do seem even brighter over there,)) Kerwalth allowed, glancing longingly towards the candidates. ((Here is nice, but… somehow I feel like there's something beautiful there just over the horizon!))

Kabridith huffed, getting to his feet, too. ((Whatever. All I know is that there are too many dragons out here with names that start the same way that mine does, and two of them need to *leave*. Now, preferably.))

Thowrath eyed the blue, not trusting him, but seeing the need for the others to find their destinies. His own destiny awaited, he could feel it, but his brothers and sister came first.

((I suppose one of us should stay with him.)) Kolikith muttered snidely, unknowingly echoing the bronzes thoughts, ((Though it should certainly not be me. Someone who can keep him in line.)) He crooned to Wuffryth, ((And perhaps knock some sense into his little wooden head.))

((A leader puts others before himself.)) Thowrath bowed his head, ((Therefore I shall stay, and keep a watch over the boastful blue. Kolikith, you lead Wuffryth and Kerwalth to their glorious future.))

((Oh goody,)) Kolikith snarked quietly.

((A glorious future,)) Kerwalth echoed, his eyes still on the candidates, his body suddenly tense and practically thrumming with excitement. ((Yes… yes, I can see it! Forgive me, my friends, but I must leave you! I’ve seen my tomorrow and forever, and if yours is but half as bright as mine you will be sure to see it soon, too!))

With that, he got up suddenly and rushed — first at a halfway-attempted stately pace and then at a stumbling baby run — towards the candidates, directly to the pair of eyes he had been seeking all this time without knowing it. ((My rider! Today our life begins, and it will only get even better from here!))

Wuffryth watched all this with first apprehension, and then sympathetic joy. ((Oh Kolikith, look! How beautiful! He looks so *happy*!))

((Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say,)) Kabridith hmphed, deliberately walking away from Thowrath and back amongst the eggs, where surely there might be someone else who might be more appreciative of him! ((Out of those eggs, you lot! Come one, come all, to see the greatest sight you’ve ever seen!))

Out of all the responses he may have expected, or wanted, he probably wasn’t expecting laughter floating from the eggs, or rather one of the eggs.

Which one though…that was harder to see.

Meanwhile Thowrath watched his siblings longingly, feeling that tug towards the candidates.

((Surely it wouldn’t be so bad…)) he murmured to himself, and then looked back towards Kabridith, ((No…duty means duty. Stay.))

He shot a final glance towards the Candidates and was about to head off after Kabridith, when the cluster of figures moved slightly and he saw…he felt.

((Talgryan!)) He bellowed, charging across the sand, ungainly but with some speed, ((You will be the blade at my back, the partner I’ve always wanted! Together we shall be unstoppable, and I shall never leave your side!))

Kolikith, still brooding over the turn of events, rolled his eyes. ((Unbelievable.))

((Come on, Kolikith,)) Wuffryth wheedled gently, taking a few steps towards the candidates even as she looked back over her shoulder at the brown. ((This is where we're supposed to go. It feels right! If Kabridith doesn't want to go, then, well… that's his own fault and he deserves whatever he gets!)) She hesitated, glancing away, abashed. ((I didn't mean that. I mean… well, he's lost in a way, and I feel sorry for him. We can't force him, so all we can do is… well… hope he finds his way! Just like Kerwalth would say!))

Kabridith, completely unaware of the conversation about him (indeed, he had tuned his siblings’ chatter out by now), nudged eggs this way and that, looking for the source of the laughter. He wasn't sure whether he should be angry or not – it was hard to tell if it was gleeful or mocking – but at least it meant that *someone* out there was paying attention to him.

((Show yourself, whoever you are!)) he called, shoving aside the Fragments of a Bigger Picture egg, then butting his head against the Crossing These Lines egg. ((I promise it will be worth your while!))

The Fragments of a Bigger Picture egg rolled off, paying him no heed, but the Crossing These Lines egg gave a little wiggle before a dark mindvoice voice finally spoke from inside: ((Is it time, then? The call to arms comes, and it still so early? Is there to be no rest for a warrior, then? No respite even in the heated darkness of the egg?))

((Isn’t it a little early for the whole…’woe is me’?)) A perky female voice crooned out from nearby, and it was this voice that had laughed before, because she laughed again and the sound echoed around the other eggs, ((I think that’s something for when you’re older and more jaded right? I don’t have time for that…frankly. And I think I shant come out…cheers all the same…other person. I doubt it would be worth it…and I’m contemplating a nap right now…))

Meanwhile Kolikith sighed, and strode forward slowly, ((Very well, we should attempt to go after the other two…they’ll probably need us. And that Kabridith is hardly someone I’ll miss.)) He took a pace forward again and leaned in, considering the choices before him, ((I shall have none but the best.))

Wuffryth almost spoke up, but thought better of it at the last second. Why, the nice thing to do would be to let Kolikith have the very best just as he wanted, but… well… she wanted the best, too! Why shouldn't she have it? But… that was selfish! And Kolikith was her friend! She didn't want to be an awful friend.

The dilemma distracted her as she cautiously made her way to the circle of candidates, veering away from Kolikith without even realizing it. What was she supposed to do? What was the right thing? Somehow it felt like it would be very hard to surrender what she wanted to Kolikith if she ever found it, but wasn't that what a good dragon would do?

She wanted very much to be a good dragon.

With her eyes as much on the Sands as on the candidates around her, she didn't even realize she'd found what she was looking for until she nearly ran right into his legs.

((Oh!)) she exclaimed, jumping back a little as she realized her error, automatically looking up to see who those legs belonged to. ((I'm sorry, pardon me! I didn't mean to be rude, I just don't know what to do!))

Something in her heart warmed, and she took a hopeful step forward despite herself.

((You know, don't you, Granadan? What do I do? What's the right thing? Please help me!))

Across the Sands, Kabridith was regarding the eggs around him with distaste as they carried on a conversation as if he wasn't even present!

((Why should it matter whether we are young or old?)) questioned the dragon in the Crossing These Lines egg. ((It is the same world now as it will be then, and then as it is now. War awaits us, and I take no joy in it.))

Kabridith gave the egg another shove with his head. ((Then get out here and take in a show, instead! I promise it will give you all the joy you can handle!))

((Somehow, I doubt it,)) the dark voice replied, but it seemed resigned to coming out, anyway – as soon as Kabridith raised a foot to tap at it with his claws in an effort to break it open, the egg cracked before he could bring his foot down again and, with a few more blows from inside, pieces of the shell began to fall away until an entire section of the top of the egg just fell away. The sharp features of another blue dragon, this one cornflower blue with a blue-grey streak running down his back over his high ridges, reaching the occasional jagged tendril down the sides of the blue like lightning bolts, gazed back at Kabridith morosely from over the side of the remaining bottom half of the egg. ((I hear thunder. Does nature itself rage at us now, too?))

((You are such a dragon-downer.)) The female voice laughed again, ((Seriously, seriousness is all well and good and all but…you can’t be so…’the end is nigh…and beetles shall munch on my corpse. I mean…there’s more to life than just that. And as for the yappy one talking to you downerdude, you sound like a poser. I doubt you’re worth the effort coming out will take.))

Kolikith’s head, snapped up as Wuffryth chose her rider and rumbled softly.

((She found it. You can find it.)) he prowled into the group and then suddenly straightened up, sharp and alert ((There you are!)) He hurried forward and nudged the legs of his chosen, ((Come…we must not delay. There are things to be done…and wars to be won.))

The new blue didn't dignify the laughing voice with a response. If she wanted to keep on believing there was more to life than war, well… it would be cruel of him to disabuse her of the notion.

Though he wondered if it might not be even more cruel for life to teach her.

((Stay in your egg if you'd like,)) he said instead, pushing at the bottom half of his egg until it cracked, too, releasing him properly. He gave a little whip of his tail and stepped out past Kabridith. ((I've duties to attend to, whether I like it or not.))

((Finally!)) Kabridith huffed. ((Someone who's actually not too lazy to leave their egg! Is this place really full of such unappreciative dolts? You, my audience – pathetic as you are – do you have a name?))

((Helvonth,)) the new blue replied absently, looking around the cavern with appraising eyes. ((Shelter from the storm. Comforting in its unyielding solidity… but alas, only temporary.))

((…Everyone here is ridiculous.)) Kabridith whipped around, kicking the nearest egg and hoping it was the source of the female voice (though it suited him just as well if it wasn't). ((And as for you, giggly little voice – stay in your egg if you'd like. You don't sound like a particularly appreciative audience, anyway. Since your brain is clearly already rotten, your body may as well stay there long enough to follow!))

((Ooh ‘your brain is clearly already rotten’)) the green’s voice mimicked her blue brother’s perfectly, inflection, tone and even pitch somewhat, ((That sounds like a big bunch of hooey to me. I’ll come out when I’m good and ready…or when there is something interesting to do…))

((Well then do that,)) Kabridith huffed. ((You've now officially become boring; I no longer care.))

To underscore his point, he turned his back on the voice and began clawing and shoving at another egg. ((You there, Helvonth – stop standing there like an idiot and help me! We need more of an audience?))

((It seems to me that we have plenty of an audience,)) Helvonth observed, still looking around the Cavern. He cast his eyes over the crowd of onlookers in the Stands slowly. ((And as for breaking open eggs… isn't there enough violence already? Isn't it enough that we're hatched into it, bred for no other purpose? I'll do my duty and fight until my last breath, but I'll not be a part of unnecessary violence. And that, my comrade-in-arms, is entirely unnecessary.))

((He’s a bit of an idiot isn’t he…?)) And suddenly a little green with blindingly bright green colouring, appeared from behind the Play Me Away egg, ((And I doubt a forced audience would be overly appreciative.)) she called it to Kabridith and then gently pushed her egg over. It laid down lengthwise and the little green beamed before hopping up onto it, laying on her back so her little wings draped down either side and her little belly faced the ceiling, ((Call me if anything happens.))

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