Something was different. Not wrong as such but something had definitely changed. He felt...larger. Or was it that the space was smaller? He had no idea but whatever it was he was now pushed against the sides of the walls roughly and he found it harder to remain comfortable and calm as he had before. He had no idea how long he had been in there but he had outgrown it, the smooth cool sides pressing against the end of his nose. He drew the line. He wanted out.
With a burst of energy that he thought himself incapable of, he shoved outwards; his head, his legs, anything that he could move pressed against his hard enclosure until something changed again. A loud crack jolted his mind and ears. Instantly fresh air flooded into his nostril giving him a hint at what lie outside. Strong smells and fresh air that seemed to flood his lungs and give him a new lust to be free and alive in this air. It was confusing, overwhelming but he wanted more. Driven on by some unknown force he shoved again, driving himself upwards into the crack until a piece fell away. Again and again he wriggled and shoved, he forced and pushed until finally he burst his way out, pieces flying off of him before he landed flat on his belly on a cool hard rock.
Around him lay the shattered remains of his egg shell, a few pale grey fragments lie scattered a few body-lengths from him by the force at which he had broken out. He wasn't used to the light that came from all directions and kept his eyes half lidded, trying to gather himself, trying to control his senses and trying to understand. New smells washed over him, the stench of animal carcass half rotted in the corner made his stomach growl slightly, the stagnant smell of standing water tickled his nose from the back of the cave and the undeniably dragonish smell that filled the cave and made him feel at home.
Sounds too floated over him, new to his ears now that he was out. From somewhere there was the soft dripping sound of running water, the strange howling that the wind gave as it passed his ears and behind him there was more cracking. There were more eggs, 2 to be exact, both were cracking and releasing a new small hatchling into the air but he paid little attention to them. By now he could sit up, his new legs beginning to function properly and adjust to his weight just enough that he could prop his body up, even if it was a little uneasy. His eyes began to adjust to the light and they revealed to him where he was sat.
On a round shelf in the middle of the cave he sat, one of 3 eggs that had hatched into the soft hay nest that had been created for them. The cave was basic; a tall, wide arch of rock and moss that filled the sky and strained his neck as he stared up into it's furthest reaches. His small mind couldn't comprehend all of it's cracks and crevices and he took to simply staring in awe as drops of water slid down the stalactite, hanging to the edge and then, just as he began to get a good look, dropped to the cave floor.
Curious now that he could see, he looked down over his body seeing that he had scales of the softest blue. A slight turquoise tinge to them as he shifted in the small rays of light. It amused him, so much so that he wagged his tail instinctively. This strange movement caught his eye and, forgetting his scales, he tilted his head back to look at the strange appendage behind him. It was long and slender, thickening at the base and hanging behind him with a flickering tip that always lie just out of reach of his playful paws. It never dawned on him that he could control it just yet.
"My, you are a pretty one, aren't you?" The words fluttered into his ears bringing some sort of comfort with them and yet he was unsure why. They were familiar to him but it was the first voice that he had ever heard. Confusion hit him but he turned his head to find the source. A large dragon, far larger than he, was sat in front of him, blocking him from the cave entrance and stopping the cool breeze he had felt on his scales earlier.
Staring up at the huge lumbering figure before him, his heart raced. The dragon was much larger than him and it's scales seemed to hold the very sun in them as they let off an unmatched glow of radiant blue light. He had not learned the words yet to describe such colours but to new eyes they were the most startling thing he could imagine. It's legs were strong and held the dragon up far more easily than his did now and watching the dragon closely he could see that it's piercing yellow eyes were locked on his own.
"You will be Cerul, my first hatched young one, and what a healthy hatchling you are." The distinctly female voice said once again, her body letting out deep purrs of happiness that made the hatchling settle down. His heart rested once again, finding comfort in her words and friendliness. Still he made no movement towards her, be it because his legs were still getting used to his weight or that he was still wary of the unidentified female.
"I am your Mother, Cerul. The one who lay you when you were but an egg. I will guide you my little hatchling and keep you safe from the violence of the world for now." She moved closer, her blue scales shimmering like an ocean tide as she curled around the nest. Huddling close to her newly hatched children, she coiled her tail until it reached her head, completely encircling the raised nest with her body. Something about the gesture made Cerul realise that she meant to keep her word.
His siblings had now burst from their shells. One a small green dragoness, even smaller than he, and one was a healthy sky blue dragon, a much lighter blue than Mother was. Mother cooed and talked to her two remaining hatchlings, naming them and reassuring them about her presence. Cerul, however, was starting to feel the pang of hunger. His new body had been out for a couple of minutes now and he needed to get something to eat to stop the growling that his stomach made. His Mother was far too occupied to listen to his quiet squeals for food and so with some strange force pulling him he waddled forwards.
Walking, he found, was no easy task for a newly hatched dragon, and the food was difficult for him to reach, even if he could manage to climb over the tip of his Mother's tail. He could still smell the pungent scent of the rotting animal carcass and, to him, it smelled delicious. It spurred his small frame on and he pulled himself forward and, rather ungracefully, tumbled over Mother's tail. The slight metallic smell washed over him as he sighted it not far from him, perhaps a few body lengths from where he stood. With the new scent of blood driving him on and his cramping stomach making him eager to eat, he attempted a run. It did not end well for the small dragon as his front legs, still weak from months inside the egg, collapsed and he fell onto his face.
He let out an irritated snort and climbed back to his feet, walking this time over to the pile of meat and tearing into it. His small teeth were hardly developed and wasn't quite ready to slice through the side of an animal but it didn't hinder Cerul. With a violent growl and a lot of tugging he managed to rip a chunk from the side of the animal and he sat chewing his prize. He didn't eat a lot but it was more than enough to stem the painful hunger that he had and quickly he filled himself enough to be satisfied.
"We're going to have to keep an eye on you little Cerul." A much deeper voice boomed out from behind him. Swivelling in his spot quickly the turquoise dragon stared up at the enormous green dragon who stood directly behind him. A dragon even larger than Mother. His scales were dark enough that he could hide in both the darkness of a cave and the leaves of a tree, 'But a dragon of his size hardly needed to hide' Cerul thought. The large dragon dropped his head, hanging it within a body length of Cerul's nose and he gave the smaller dragon a curious sniff. It wasn't threatening or aggressive but the smaller dragon's stomach felt cramped and ached inside of him, his scales bristled as the warm breath touched him muzzle and he shrank back where he sat.
"Do not be afraid little hatchling. I am your Father. I will feed you and make sure that no one passes into this cave that should not do so." Again, Cerul felt reassured that his Father meant it even if he was still slightly afraid of the huge emerald dragon. He had nothing to base it on but he was pretty sure that he could rely upon Father to keep him safe, after all, who would mess with such a large and formidable dragon. His father's head dropped once again but this time he bit at Cerul's neck, the thick scales at the back of his neck keeping him from injury as Father carried him back to the nest.
"So that's where you'd headed off to. You're quite adventurous, hatchling." Mother gave him a smile, bearing her white sharp teeth in a gesture that seemed to warm his body from the inside out. He couldn't help but smile back at her, his tail once again wagging behind him in response. Once again this caught his attention and he made a grab for the appendage, catching it in his two paws and holding onto it tightly. He sat hugging it to his chest and grinning at Mother and Father, oblivious to anything else in the world.
Father looked at Mother and then back at the hatchling who had amused himself with his tail before sighing. "Adventurous yes, genius not so much."
It had been a few days since he had first hatched and now Cerul had gained full use of his legs. He could jog, dash, dive and leap about, often playing with his brother. Astral, his brother, and he would spend hours on end fighting and wrestling with each other, neither of them daring to back down or let the other win dominance. His sister, Ivas, often watched them, tutting her disapproval at their boisterous games. He and his siblings had not yet left the cave. They were much too young but Mother and Father had told them many stories about their past, stories about the world outside.
They were still small, hardly larger than a bird and their wings had still yet to be spread, useless at the size that they were. Outside the cave the could've easily been picked off by predatory birds or other animals so for now the cave was the safest place. Every few days Father left to hunt and often returned within another day, giving them a fairly steady supply of food. Growing dragon's though, especially three of them needed a lot of food and more often then not, two stops were required.
On this particular day Father was out patrolling his territory. He told Cerul that this was because he wanted to make sure that no one tried to get onto his land and take what was his. It also kept the family safe by making sure that no one got too close to their cave. Cerul had already learnt that Father was very protective and would always make sure they were fed and safe. Mother did less of that but she always played with them and made sure that they were entertained. Cerul couldn't help but admire how his parents worked in turn to sate their needs but he also began to notice that they had no time in which they spent together, unless all three hatchlings had settled down to sleep at once.
Mother had sent the hatchlings deeper into the cave to get them to exercise and strengthen their still young muscles. Cerul and Astral were more than happy to get this chance to wrestle at the back of the cave, well out of Mother's eyesight, which meant that they would be uninterrupted until a victor had emerged. The bounded, as children would, side by side with their tails flinging up in the air each time they bounced forward. Even though Cerul could see it from the corner of his eye, his tail no longer held his fascination as he had since learned about it and had gained the control to catch it easily.
As they arrived at the back of the cave, both Cerul and Astral lowered themselves to the floor. Their fronts were dropped but their back legs remained only slightly bent, ready for a pounce should the other try anything. Astral's tail flicked in anticipation as he made no attempt to hide that he was enjoying himself. Cerul, however, felt it to be a little more serious. He was enjoying himself, and he was glad he had someone to practice combat skills with but he saw this as an important match. This would continue until one of them one, and that one dragon would become the leader of the group, the alpha-male of the small pack and he did not want to be the lesser male.
After the few days of fighting Cerul had begun to learn Astral's moves. He guessed right as his brother made a clumsy lunge forward, his neck stretched out as he tried to bite at Cerul's sensitive muzzle. The turquoise dragon was quicker though and moved his head sideways and hooking his jaws around his brother's frail neck. Astral rolled, trying to pull his neck from his brother's jaws but only succeeded in bringing his brother with him and making them lie belly to belly.
Astral's strong hind legs found the soft stomach of his brother and shoved him upwards and off of him but not before Cerul managed to drag his sharp fangs and tear into his brother's neck scales. Blood filled his mouth, a metallic twinge that made him all the more aggressive. His brother too, at the feel of the painful bite, became angered and lowered his stance once again. His tail did not flicker this time.
Once again he lunged forward at Cerul but his paw also swung to the side to catch his turquoise brother across the cheek as he moved, the claw carving a painful wound down Cerul's face. His paw slid from the wound and Cerul could already feel the hot flow of blood from his cheek travelling over his chin and dripping to the floor. He knew his brother was serious now but it didn't hinder his movements. He was agile, quick and well balanced from a hatchling and he jumped back from his brother before he could land another blow, almost landing against his awed sister. She was worried for them but was much more interested in who would win, Astral had a slight size and strength advantage but Cerul was a much more agile fighter and he used his mind more often than the blue dragon.
Her turquoise brother proved his intelligence too, jumping back into the stalagmites the riddled the floor. His smaller, more agile body had a huge advantage here against his lumbering brother but Astral paid little attention to that and leapt in after him, striking his sides against the rocks as he tried to get at his brother in a mad dash. Again and again Astral charged at his smaller brother but every time Cerul jumped behind another stalagmite and wait for another advance. He began to worry that his brother would never tire but he appeared around a corner and seemed to wait a moment, panting in front of him before trying to leap again. This time Cerul charged forwards, catching his brother's chest mid-spring and head-butting the larger dragon backwards into a stalagmite.
He stood panting, more from the adrenaline rush then from actually being tired, and watched his brother struggle to his feet. His legs wobbling as he struggled to get a grips with his tired battered muscles. Cerul could see it in his eyes; he had won. His brother was scared; his body was frail in it's state and he was completely at the mercy of his brother. Blood-lust coursed through him and the eagerness to finish the kill flowed through him. Part of his mind though kept him back; his brother was a good fighter, loyal and strong. If he spared him now and made him the lesser male, he would become a useful ally as long as Cerul treated him well.
At their age the words were hard to come by for what they both felt but it was a mutual unspoken decision that Cerul would remain the alpha-male and Astral would remain alive. Both parties were satisfied and even Ivas was happy that no one had been killed. She loved both of her brothers and knew that this day had to happen. Now that the hierarchy was established they wouldn't squabble any more and even though Cerul was glad that he had one he knew that Astral was no longer his brother. He was the lesser male and he had to make sure that it stayed that way.
Cerul wasn't punished for what he did, neither did Mother pay close attention to what had happened. She helped them clean the wounds that they could not reach and then she remained quiet, staring at the two dragons as if they had done something rather unexpected. The two dragons lay their heads down to sleep shortly after; their tiredness had rushed over them and they were unable to keep themselves awake after the tough battle.
Ivas however was unable to sleep and so she stayed up talking to Mother. As Cerul drifted off he could hear her talking about the events of the fight and how Cerul had used the stalactites to his advantage against his larger brother. Mother didn't let on how she felt and she kept her voice hushed so that only Ivas could hear and before long Cerul had grown weary of listening to his sister and so he passed quietly into sleep. At one point he awoke up to find Mother and Father talking hushed to each other, occasionally throwing looks at their hatchlings and Cerul suspected that Mother was telling Father about what had happened. Father didn't look angry nor upset. He simply seemed to take in the information. He stared at Cerul but didn't realise he was awake, or if he had noticed, he did not care. When the conversation finished they both headed for bed, Father once again giving him a strange look as he passed his turquoise son. Cerul did not dwell on it. What had been done had been done and he would take the consequences whether he worried about it or did not and so, with a clean conscience, he once again fell into a sleep.
The next morning he awoke with Father carrying him to the front of the cave. Hanging by his neck in those strong jaws, he felt a small wave of panic as he realised no one else was coming with them. Did it have something to do with the fight the day before? It had to be with that. Why else would Father carry him away? Is he being thrown out of the cave?
Father could smell the fear in his little hatchling but with his mouth full he couldn't calm him with his words, instead he offered a small purr to show that he knew he was awake. At the front of the cave Father set Cerul down and then sat beside him on the cool hard rock at the mouth of the cave.
The hatchling awed as he looked out into the world. It was far bigger than he had expected and from where they sat he could see all the way to the distant horizon, many days flight away. Above him lay a long expanse of orange sky, so vibrant and large that it made his scales shiver and his tail coiled around itself. Below him was a sharp drop and a long slope out towards the trees. There were thousands, millions perhaps and they all spread out away from them in every direction like legions of dark green soldiers besieging their cave. Then, looking to the very edge of the trees, Cerul spotted something that his young self had only heard about; the sun. It hung just above the trees, a huge orange yellow ball that stung his hatchling eyes. It looked to him as though a million dragons had all unleashed their fire at the sky at once and he was at a loss of words to describe how he felt. The morning wind was cool, the sights were impressive and the whole sensory overload was too much to take.
"I was the same way when I was your age Cerul." Father said, his head turned towards the landscape rather than to his son. "You are just a few days old and already you've established yourself as the dominant male of the clutch. I'm proud of you. It is an important thing that you have done and to take on such a role means that you will have responsibilities as well as rights." The older dragon took a moment of silence but continued to look out across the land.
"You know son, I used to be the leader of my clutch too when I was younger. I remember when we was a little older than you and we used to go out of the cave and explore the surrounding area. I always led the group, with my brothers and sisters in rank order behind me. I want you to know son that being the dominant male is tough. People will blame you when things go wrong, they'll demand your attention and they'll rely heavily upon you but you have to pull through for them. They depend on you and you have to carry their burdens with them, like a good leader and a good dragon. I have faith in you son, but that does not mean that traditions can be changed."
This last sentence made Cerul look up at Father in blatant confusion. "Traditions?" he asked, "What traditions?"
"Your Mother has not told you yet has she?" His son's blank stare was enough to answer that question. Father sighed. "Well, you've taken your place as dominant male before most hatchlings do. You've done it after only a few days, most are at least two weeks old before they try but you always were ahead of your time. The tradition states that you must prove yourself as a leader. There's no point in having a leader you cannot trust in command, especially one with no experience. This night, when the drops below the horizon, your Mother and I will take all three of you out into the forest. Perhaps three days walk for a hatchling of your age. Then we will leave the three of you to fend for yourselves. You will lead them Cerul." Father now turned to stare into his eyes directly. "It is up to you to make sure that you survive. This tradition is unavoidable if you wish to become a dragon Cerul, but you have until night if you would like to prepare."
Night time came quickly. Cerul had nothing to prepare except making sure that he ate and drank his fill. He had sworn to Father that he would not tell the others because he wasn't permitted but he did make sure to recommend that they eat and drink well in the evening. As he had been told Mother and Father picked them up as the sun dropped below the horizon, placing them in their claws and flying out away from the mountain. After a couple of minutes they descended into a small clearing, just large enough for the two of them and finally they told the siblings, as a group, what was to happen. Father silenced any questions from the other two hatchlings. Cerul remained silent. As quickly as they had got them there, their parents had flown back to the cave; the mountain more like an ant's nest in the gloomy distance for the hatchlings.
They stood. Silent for a moment. Cerul turned and looked at his brother and then at his sister. They were both scared in the dark and cold. He was scared as well but he knew that they needed him and that he had to be brave. Without saying anything he headed off towards the trees, the soft grass making a nice change from the hard rock of the cave. Ivas and Astral fell into place behind him and soon the troop of hatchlings were headed home, silent and sombre. Night was upon them and, unwilling to sleep because of fear, they marched for home to the sound of the lone baying wolf in the distance.