Looking up at the quarter moon, the young dragon stretched his wings to a full fifteen feet, flapping them with unspent energy. There was nothing like flying under the cover of darkness, soaring high above the trees of Kilacomb. His stomach rumbled with hunger and he hoped his father planned on hunting before heading out. Shadow dragons hunted in pairs. While one flushed out the prey, usually a large deer or moose, the other waited patiently to make the kill. Just thinking of the warm flesh and blood made his stomach grumble even more.
“Daelyn! Let’s be off!” His father announced, his face wrinkled in a grimace of anger . Dealing with Saphira’s wrath was not an easy thing, but his son needed to know what being a leader consisted of. Staying home under the shelter of his mother’s wings was not on the agenda and being told what to do by a mate wasn’t either.
“Father, is all well with mother?” Daelyn asked, “is she very mad?”
“Yes, but she’ll get over it,” Baylor answered, “Let’s go hunting, I’m famished.”
Daelyn didn’t protest and flapped his huge wings, letting the air current take him up and away.
The first thing a dragon does when he finally gets to feel the wind beneath his wings is fly for the sheer joy of flying. Soaring up as high as they could go, Daelyn and Baylor shouted the language of dragons, tucked in their wings and nose dived towards the earth. With eyesight akin to an eagle’s, the pair scoured the land for the slightest movement on the ground and in between the trees. Twirling together just before they hit the earth, their wings sliced silently through the air as they ascended for a second round. It was a dragon air dance as the two joyously dipped and banked right, leveling off at just the right moment and ascended again. Movement near the edge of Lightacre woods caught Daelyn’s eye, an elk, by the size of it. Pointing a leathery wing, he tucked them in and rocketed downward toward the big animal. Baylor followed, but decided to let his son take this one, watching proudly as the young dragon zoomed in on his prey. He was proud of his son. Daelyn’s wisdom and strength for one so young would make him a good and wise leader. The Wise Ones blessed him and Saphira.
Daelyn breathed out slowly as he neared the elk. Twirling in midair, his huge back talons stretched out before him, he grabbed elk in an iron grip. He lifted the panicked animal high in the air as it thrashed and squealed in pain, dropping it from twenty feet to the hard earth floor. The fall had broken the elks back and it lay helpless on the ground. One quick snap of Daelyn’s steel jaws ended its life instantly. The hungry dragon devoured more than thirty pounds of warm, red meat by the time his father stepped in to get his share. When finished, they covered the kill with branches to save for Saphira.
Full and satisfied, the two let out a mighty belch and proceeded west. It didn’t take long to reach the stench of death and blood. From the cover of the trees, they cautiously observed the carnage from a distance. The first thing they noticed was the total silence. Not even a bird dared sing in this place of death. This was Daelyn’s first experience with something of this sort and the oppressiveness was hard not to feel. When they were sure there were no Atranochs in the area, they crept silently out of the woods approaching the charred bodies and gleam of naked, exposed bone. It was gruesome and sad, such senseless loss of life. Daelyn shivered with the dark energy of his surroundings, tears glimmering in his troubled gaze. Now he knew why his clan hated the Atranochs. The hate welled up in him, too, as he realized the fate his cousin suffered.
Baylor went off to the other side of the small village telling his son not to stray far and as the young dragon stood wondering how something could be so heartless, a tiny whimper caught his ear. Instantly alert, his muscles tightened with adrenaline, ready to fight or flee. It came from his right in the direction of a partially burned hut. Creeping up slowly, silently, Daelyn moved aside the broken debris and charred wood, revealing the body of young, female Chimarian. She was undeniably dead, her throat ripped out viciously, but the sound came from beneath her. Moving the body aside, Daelon jumped back with a loud snort of surprise, almost tripping over his long tail. It was a very young child swaddled in a thick, fur wrap. Untouched, but for a little dirt on its face, the child chortled with delight at the sight of the young dragon’s face.
“Father!” He yelled loudly, knowing he shouldn’t have, but not able to help himself.
Baylor heard his son’s alarmed cry and ran swiftly to where he last saw him, ready to do battle. He found Daelyn standing perfectly still, staring down at something in the ruins. Following his son’s gaze, he also snorted with surprise at the tiny child lying on the ground smiling up at them.
“Father! It’s a child!” Daelyn exclaimed, his eyes wide with shock.
Indeed, it was a child, Baylor observed and very much alive. He watched as the baby held out its tiny arms to Daelyn.
“Father, what’s it doing?” Daelyn asked, startled, “Why is it doing that?”
“I think you’ve just been chosen, son,” Baylor chuckled, “look at it smile at you!”
“Chosen? For what?” Daelon asked, confused.
“A big brother perhaps?” Baylor explained, “Whatever the case, we have to bring it back to your mother, she’ll know what to do with it.”
“Who’s going to carry it?” Daelyn asked, afraid of the answer.
“I think you’ve already been elected, son,” Baylor said, smiling at the young dragon. His shocked look reminded of him of another incident when Daelyn was just born. When Saphira asked him to hold his son, all he could picture was himself crushing the tiny bundle and adamantly refused.
“Trust me on this, Baylor,” Saphira said assured him, “He’s not as fragile as he looks.”
“I’ll drop him!” He attempted again to bow out of it.
“No, you won’t do that either,” she argued gently, “Now take your son.”
He remembered how it felt to have that small bundle placed in his arms for the first time. First the fear of harming him, then the wonder of him, so tiny and beautiful. He remembered the fierce protectiveness he felt coursing through his body as he vowed to protect his son with his life.
“We need to look for something to carry it with while we fly, Daelyn,” his father said.
“Look around for a big enough piece of cloth that might be made into a sling.”
“How about what is already around the Chimarian woman?” Daelon suggested, stepping closer. As he did, the baby cooed and smiled happily at him, laughing out loud with happiness.
“Father, why is it making such noises?” Daelyn observed, “and why doesn’t it have any teeth?”
“I think it’s laughing, if I’m correct,” Baylor told him, “humans turn their mouths up when their happy and down when they’re upset about something. That sound is laughter.”
Daelyn felt a strange stirring in his heart as the baby’s unwavering gaze fell on him. It had eyes the color of the sea on a stormy day. Green irises flecked with gold and rimmed with black, they stared at him without fear. Humans usually scattered noisily when they spotted a dragon, but this one had no fear, only curiosity. Using tooth and claw, he undid the sling around child’s dead mother, careful not to disturb the body too much. Lifting the child off the ground with his teeth, he was startled by its squeal of delight and almost dropped it.
“Careful, Daelyn, humans are a fragile lot,” his father warned, “Truthfully, I cannot for the life of me understand how they still exist! Do you have a secure grip? Hold it for a minute so I can check on something before we go. Just put the sling around your neck so your arms are free.”
Daelon did what he was told, finding it easier instead of holding the sling in his mouth, terrified he would crush it. As he watched, his father put his huge head to the ground, carefully taking in each scent. When he came to a Atranoch’s footprint, he breathed in deeply through his nose. Because a dragon’s sense of smell is powerful, he was able to detect and eliminate those scents which he didn’t need. What he was looking for was a scent of a different soil other than what was around him. He sniffed several footprints until finally, he found what he was looking for. The slight smell of salt. Unlike the Chimarian’s footprints, which smelled of rich, loamy earth, in the Atranoch’s prints Baylor detected the scent of the sea. The murderous creatures were living by the Sargonian Sea. Satisfied at his find, he was ready to return to the caves.