Khepri

Fiera pulled off her dragonhide helmet as she pushed through the stable’s doors.

“Thank heavens you’re finally back,” Tessa said, mopping sweat from her forehead as she sagged against a pitchfork.

“Cass again?” Fiera asked as she shelved her helmet and the rest of her riding gear.

Tessa nodded. “He’s back in the doghouse.”

“That bad, huh?”

Tessa nodded again, then pushed herself off the pitchfork’s handle and resumed flinging hay into the red wheelbarrow.

“All right, I’ll go talk to him,” Fiera said, pulling off her scaly gloves. She slapped them down on top of her helmet, then walked down the right wing of stalls.

The stable resembled its equestrian brethren, hay-covered floors, wooden stalls with iron bars, the heavy stench of farts, feed, and manure. This stable, however, was scaled up four times to house the juvenile dragons of Fiera’s guild. All but the last two stalls had a slanted metal pan set in the floor by the wall for nighttime waste collection. The last two were doghouses—stalls with pans for floors set below thin-for-dragons metal screens, with a gaping drain in the middle. Not all juveniles were well-behaved. Not all juveniles used the night pans.

Fiera shook away the memory of the last mess she’d had to shovel out of a stall. The dung had been taller than her boots, and she’d had to practically reforge the spade’s head to scour the stench. But Cass was putting the last hard case to shame.

“Hey, big boy,” Fiera said through the stall’s bars. “Heard you were causing trouble again.”

Inside, a piece of sodalite the size of a four-door sedan expanded and contracted as the dragon slept. The gray webbing discoloration in his striking blue scales was deepening as he went further down the road to maturity. His horns and the ridges on his back were like chunks of lapis, almost black, although his underbelly scales were the sky blue of larimar. His nostrils flared as he scented Fiera, and amber eyes blinked sleep away. As he woke up, his tail beat a snare on the grate beneath.

“Good to see you, too,” Fiera said. “Come here and let me see what you did.”

Cass pushed himself to his feet, arching his back and spreading his wings as he gave a long, open-mouthed yawn. He bounced across the floor, rattling and warping the screen in his enthusiasm.

“Settle down, settle down. I just replaced that.”

A sharp clang as Cass plunked his butt down. Fiera grimaced as the metal shrieked. Tail thumping and tongue lolling, Cass stuck his snout through the bars and began licking Fiera. She pushed the first few strokes away, laughing, then set her hand on his nose and established the psychic link.

She was above the clouds. Hot sun, beautiful sky, worthless pigeons that were all feather and no meat scattering. So much fun to chase the little balls of…

Not far enough. Fiera waded through the memories to the next bright spot.

Sand-colored stone complex to the left. Home. Mountain in front and behind. Playground. Green fields, trees, farmers, to the right. Work. Boring work. Fiera chuckled as Cass snorted in his memory, disgruntled at the trainer making him do work instead of chase mountain goats or deer in the forest. Fiera touched the trainer’s echo. Cole had linked with Cass today. Poor rookie, third time he’d had to put up with Cass’ misbehavior.

Fiera fast-forwarded through the flight to Old Man Jack’s farm. Jack had decided he was growing winter wheat this year, so his field lay fallow, waiting for fall. As soon as the off-white farmhouse came into view, Fiera knew what Cass had done.

Cass’ focus zeroed in on the house as he lined up his flight path above the dirt road leading up to the farm. Ignoring Cole’s protests, Cass had proceeded to dump his manure load the length of the road, making sure to take a second pass across the farmhouse’s roof and porch. Cass had barked a laugh, then wheeled and shot back towards the guild hall and stables, where he’d presumably bucked Cole before taking off for the lake in Toddler’s Cup.

Fiera almost disengaged, then noticed one more bright spot past this memory. She reached out and plunged in.

Fire, smoke, and stench. Everywhere. A small pyramid of dungballs was aflame, a giant scarab beetle with elytra and wings flared in annoyance. Cass circled about the flaming pyre of poop, cackling and spitting aquamarine flames as the beelte chittered and flicked dirt at him.

Fiera pulled her hand back, smothering her laugh. She tried to marshal her face into a scolding reprimand, but Cass immediately started slobbering wet kisses everywhere he could reach, giving her no quarter. Laughing, she stepped out of range and wagged a finger at him.

“That was mean, terrorizing poor Khepri,” Fiera said, still chuckling. “You shouldn’t have set his new cache on fire.”

Cass snorted and grinned at her, amber eyes dancing.

“Okay. Yes, it was very funny. But,” she said, over Cass’ thumping tail, “you still shouldn’t have done it. What if we needed that last reserve for the catapults? We’d have more pyramids, more poop for you to set on fire when the other guilds come knocking, if you cooperated and pooped in the dragon toilet like a big boy.”

Cass whined and gave her massive dragon puppy eyes.

“I know, it hurts your growing ego and masculinity when I remind you how much of a baby you are compared to your peers. Layna started depositing with Kheprie just last week, and she’s a full month younger than you.”

More whining and puppy eyes.

“You’re almost a full-grown dragon, Cass. You need to start acting like it.”

Cass threw his head back and let out a doleful moan.

“You’re in here for two nights. After that, you start putting on your best behavior, and then we’ll see about letting you sit with the grownups. Okay?”

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