There weren't always dragons in the Valley. There had not been any dragons at all before the reign Tydus' father, Valus Andros.
Tydus had crept from his bed for a sip of water, barely old enough to see over a counter top. On his way back to bed, he happened to glance into the family's living room. The elaborately wrought iron gate from his parents' dining room to the large terraced balcony was cracked, and the moon made the granite as bright as day. He had slipped through it, wooden cup in hand, to the balustrade to take in the night. He wiggled his toes on the still warm tiles. He let the breeze lift his yellow curls.
Since he couldn't stand over the railing, he leaned his face between the balusters. Far below, dizzyingly far, the last lights of Ramsgate's night life winked through windows in the Bright district, and burned an altogether more crimson in the Red District. Out beyond Ramsgate's walls, Ragnor Valley proper sprawled between the Brothers, their snow capped peaks were beacons in the large moon of deep summer. He wished to be out among the farms of his uncles, where fireflies could be caught in a jar.
Lost in cool grass, far from the smell of baking bread mixed with tar, the shadows overhead took him by surprise. The moon disappeared and reappeared in a flash, and where the shadow fell, whole swaths of the city disappeared too.
And there were dozens of shadows. Their wings were pointed, like leathery bat wings, but so. much. bigger. And bats did not have sweeping tails to trail behind them. Standing quickly, Tydus bumped the back of his head on the railing. He hissed and grabbed his hair, rubbing ruefully. He pulled his head back and stood, his cup tipping from his hand as he followed the shadows to their logical source. What cast a shadow on the ground must come from above.
Limned against the pitted full moon, the great things swam upon the warm updrafts. They moved in utter silence, and the only clue to their passing besides their immense shadows was the rhythmic wump as they occasionally pumped those leathery wings to gain momentum or regain altitude.
In a moment of what must have been sheer joy, one of them veered off towards the sleepy city, twisting in mid-air as it drifted effortlessly over the keep. Tydus gasped as its yellow eye shot golden moonbeams into the night. As it finished its pirouette, it turned its great head, and Tydus was sure it saw him. It was a shining gold. Its crest was crimson. Its long serpentine snout seemed to grin down at him like an indulgent adult when he did something they found particularly amusing.
At the bottom of its descent, the thing snapped its wings, bringing it to a halt over the very spires of the keep. It hovered for an interminable second, and with the wump that crushed Tydus' ears and chest, it ascended again. As it climbed for its companions, Tydus pinched his skinny face in irritation.
"Braggart!" he shouted to the beast's retreating tail.
"Well, now," Valus Andros' baritone voice mused from behind him. Tydus winced.
But Valus was not watching Tydus. He stared into the distance as the last of the great serpents cast their shadows over Ramsgate. They drifted, almost as silently as they had come, out over the Valley to the south.
"They'll make for the calderas," Valus was saying, never taking his eyes from the sky. Tydus was not even sure he was speaking to anyone in particular.
Valus had been right. They roosted in the calderas at the Valley's southern tip every winter, and every spring they took their brood north again. And every year, Tydus had been careful to watch for their return.
He was not alone on this, his 24th year, as he stood on the battlements to await them. Victor Malice stood beside him, the armor of the Black Legion as deep as the shadows of the passing dragons, so that even fire light did not glint from his plumed helm, which he had removed and tucked under his arm.
"He's not here," Tydus said, eyeing the retreating dragon tails as his father had done.
"My golden one," Tydus replied, "He greets me every year. He's missing."
"Fear not, Highness," Victor said after a long moment, "Perhaps he didn't travel with the brood. Did you see him leave?"
"Then he may yet be in the calderas," Victor said, his r's rolling with his accent.
Ramsgate's prince watched the far distance for a moment before turning quickly to his captain.
"Go get Ashram," Tydus said, "We'll make for the calderas before dawn. It is still early yet. With any luck, we'll reach the caves before you have to take your rest."
Victor stiffened, "Far be it from me to balk, Sire. I will fetch Captain Xerra, and I'll bring him to you as ordered. And I will let him tell you that this is suicide."
Tydus laughed, "I figured one of you would."
"He would word his dissenting opinion more compassionately than I would," Victor said.
"What would you say?" Tydus asked, turning to lean on the crenelated wall.
""Begging your pardon, Highness, but have you lost your gods-damned mind?""
"Watch your tone, Captain!" Ashram shouted from the interior door. He pulled it shut behind him with an indiscreet slam and bore down on Victor with enough conviction to force the exile from Nequeros back a step.
"See?" he grinned at Tydus with uneven, pointed teeth, "Also, Highness, I found Ashram."
"I can see that. Stand down, both of you."
Ashram's glare softened only a touch, but he stood back away from Victor.
"What is going on?"
"We're going to find a dragon," Victor said.
"The Hell we are," Ashram said.
"See?" Victor grinned again.
"Of course I can't order either of you to do that," Tydus clarified, raising his hands for peace.
"Wait, Sire, this is your idea?" Ashram asked.
The captain of the Blue Legion stared at Tydus, waiting for an answer.
"Yes," Tydus finally said.
"I'm not asking as your Prince, Ashram," Tydus answered at last, "I want my friends with me."
"Of course," Ashram said, "But Tydus, what you're suggesting is suicide."
"It is well we didn't have money on that," Victor quipped.
"I appreciate your council in all things both as my battle captain and my friend. I appreciate your candor as well. This is something I have to do."
"For the sake of your friends, and your people, can you not tell us the reason for this?"
"Do we need a reason?" Victor asked, "Our friend needs us to go with him on an urgent task."
"We have a duty to Ragnor Valley," Ashram said, "We are sworn brothers in bond for more than excellent company. The entire purpose of our legions is the protection of Ragnor Valley, including its Prince."
Victor rolled his eyes dramatically in the direction of his chief executive.
"He's not wrong, Tydus."
Tydus sighed heavily and propped his elbows on the crenelations.
"It's a long story."
"You told it to Victor?"
"No," Tydus said, "It will not make a very good case for either of you to trust me."
Yes, please come help me find a dragon that I remember from my childhood. No, I have never actually met him and I have no idea where he is, but let's go sneak into a dragon's nest anyway.
"What say you?"
"I'm with you, Highness," Victor added immediately, giving Tydus a short bow and click of his heels, a gesture that held nothing of Ragnor Valley in it.
Tydus waited for Ashram's assent, but he was not surprised with how long it took.
"If it is your will, Highness," he said at last.
"If that's the best I can do," Tydus said, "to have my battle captains at my side, then I shall take it. Though I wish they came as my friends."
Ashram crossed his arms and leaned next to Tydus.
"Of course we're with you as your friends," he said, "Anyone else would have locked the entire keep down and put you under house arrest until you came to your senses."
"Let's go then," Victor said, covering his long, dark hair with his helm. The lamps of his eyes became a glowing slit as he snapped the visor down.
"We're burning moonlight."
* * *
The stables were quiet. Hashira stirred sleepily as Ashram blanketed and saddled her. She turned a weary eye back to him where he quickly brushed a few knots from her tale.
"Going for a quick jaunt, lady," Ashram whispered to her, "There's some extra honey pellets in it for you."
A shuffle of booted, armored feet outside the stall alerted Ashram to Victor's presence. Even in armor he moved like night wind. The boot shuffle was a courtesy.
Victor stepped through the stall door and removed his helm. Ashram had lit a lamp, and Victor's eyes reflected the glow.
"I'm sorry about earlier," Victor said, seating himself on an obliging haybale.
"No," Ashram said, "I'm the one that's sorry. I barged into your conversation. I was disrespectful to you."
"Perhaps, but if I got offended every time a human got his dander up, I'd have little energy for anything else."
"I am still baffled that you are not more concerned that Tydus won't tell us what he wants with the dragon nests. You'd think he wouldn't leave his friends in the dark."
"Is it not enough that he trusts us even this far?" Victor asked, "We're lucky he said anything. He could have left in silence, leaving us to guess where he could have gone. He has put his faith in us. Let us do the same for him."
Ashram smiled to himself, or hoped he did. Victor could see in the lamp light as if it were broad daylight.
"So you'll follow him to the death?"
"Yes," Victor said without hesitation, "Wouldn't you? Knowing he would do the same for us?"
"Of course," Ashram nearly growled.
Victor stood, and as Ashram blinked, the vamphyr stood boot-toe to boot-toe to him, staring Ashram directly in the eye, his own sulfurous ones making it hard for Ashram to hold his ground. He looked in vain for his sense of offense, of his pride, of anything other than the tremulousness in his chest. He swallowed hard in spite of himself and hardened his expression.
Victor's nostrils flared. Ashram wondered what he smelled, and he begged for the other not to notice the change in his scent. Ashram smelled lilac among the hay and manure. He toned it out.
"You would," Victor murmured, nearly closing the gap between them, his face so close to Ashram's that he could feel Victor's breath on his cheek, "For any of us. For your prince, your legion..."
He trailed off and smiled sideways, turning on his heel.
"See you at the back gate," he called quietly over his shoulder as he let himself out of the stall.
* * *
They made it to the foot of the central caldera before the last of the moon slipped away, but when Tydus suggested they stop, Victor merely shook his head and waved his words away, motioning them onward. Tydus glanced at Ashram, but the other man, in the shining, royal blue armor of his legion, shrugged. Tydus watched Victor's back nervously.
At noon, as they mounted the pocked shale of the caldera on foot, Tydus spotted a crack in the crags off to their right. He gave Victor's boot a tug.
"Let's rest, my friend," he called.
Victor glanced back, allowing himself to slide down the mountain side.
"I am fit, Lord," he said.
"For now," Tydus replied, "But I won't have you cook in your own armor before we reach the basins. We're still too low to the Valley floor for the broods. We can rest through the heat of the day and return closer to evening."
"Is that an order?"
"If it needs to be. You're a valuable asset here. We need you at your peak."
Victor followed Tydus' pointing finger to the crack in the mountain wall.
"By your will, Lord," Victor said, and without another word of complaint, he stepped on light feet to the crack, which was little more than a scar in the cliff face. It widened agreeably inside, the remnants of some bygone air bubble as the calderas rose.
At late afternoon, much better for the rest and rehydration, they made their way back out to the caldera and scrabbled for purchase up the pocked shale. Tydus let Victor lead with his sensitive hands and sense of smell. He climbed like he was one with the rock, finding handholds for his fellows, and gouging new ones if there were none. They were all sweating and breathing heavily, and it was nearing dusk as they crested the first caldera.
And promptly ducked back over the side.
"Mierda!" Victor swore under his breath.
The great crater was swarmed with the giants. In the dim glow of the red, retreating sun, Tydus caught red, blue, white, and green, and every variation of those, but no gold met his eye. Despair and concern warred in his mind, but a solid hand on his shoulder kept him rooted.
"Gently, Highness," Victor soothed, "We'll find him, if he's here."
"Golden, eh?" Ashram asked, "With a crimson crest?"
"That's the one," Tydus said.
"It'll be hard to miss him, then," Victor said.
"What do they eat?" Ashram asked, "What natural prey does it take to keep a brood like this fed? Where did you say they came from?"
"I didn't, but they came from the north all those years ago."
"What if they come here to nest in the summer, and return as far north as the Northlands to feed closer to winter, where they are more comfortable. They need warmth to hatch, but prefer the frozen tundra. Perhaps that is why they are never seen but once a year, and why whole swaths of our populace didn't disappear that summer they first arrived."
"They don't hunt here," Tydus continued for him, "They hibernate here."
"Perhaps your golden boy stayed in the Northlands," Victor offered.
"He came every year since I was a boy," Tydus said, shaking his head head, "Why wouldn't he return?"
"That I cannot say, and I'm certain we're not leaving here until we know for sure."
"Will you scout a route for us around the basin, my friend?"
"Of course," Victor agreed. As the night had progressed, he had set his visor up. The red lamps of his eyes scanned the horizon. He moved past Tydus and disappeared from view. They waited in silence, each second raising another hair on the back of Tydus neck. It seemed a full hour before Victor returned, though he was only gone a moment or two.
"The crest widens out a little further this way, and there is a plateau directly south of us," he said, crouching down to whisper.
Tydus nodded and let Victor pull him up over the crest. Ashram forewent assistance, and followed close enough for Tydus to hear him breathing. Victor led them to the widened ledge.
"Did you see anything else of note, Captain?" Tydus asked, "A cave, a crevice, or--"
"A crimson-crested gold dragon?" Victor finished, "No, highness. I'm afraid on the plateau we will be much exposed, and I saw no sign of your golden boy."
They made their way to the plateau. A great blue monster rested beneath them with its long neck curled around its bulky torso, forearms tucked under, like a cat. In its position between shadowy mounds at the foot of the basin, it was large enough to fill the Keep's grand hall. Tydus swallowed hard.
Victor moved them at a steady pace. Tydus could well understand his urgency. If they were still on the plateau at dawn, he would suffer cruelly.
Tydus felt the ground drop out from under him. He scrabbled for purchase on the shale. He slid a half a meter down the side of the basin before he could slow himself. Ashram, bringing up the rear, grabbed for his backplate to stop him.
"No, no, no, no," Victor cried.
It was too late, and Ashram's gesture was of no use. The combined weight of their armor pulled Ashram down behind him. Shale dust clouded Tydus' vision and stopped his nose. They did not merely slide now, but tumbled into the basin, a dusty knot of knight and armor. They rolled to a stop at the bottom. Tydus suppressed a cough and tried to stand. He had to drag Ashram off of his legs as he did so, and he struggled to bring his friend to his feet. Ashram's straight black hair was full of shale dust, and he coughed uncontrollably into his elbow.
With less noise and commotion, Victor slid down the side of the basin on his rear, coming to a stop beside Ashram. He leapt to his feet and grabbed them both by the arm.
"Are you all right?" he whispered.
"Yes, I think so," Tydus said.
"Good, because I ought to cold clock the both of you. If it were possible for me to have a heart attack, I would."
"I couldn't let him fall to his death," Ashram said through gritted teeth.
"If you hadn't rushed to be a hero, I could have pulled him up without a sound," Victor hissed back.
"You're not the only knight out here!"
Tydus stepped between them and put a hand on each of their shoulders, pushing them back a pace.
"It's my fault. I got distracted and put my foot wrong. I'm sorry, both of you."
Ashram shook his head and turned away. Before either of them could stop him, he stomped to the basin floor, shaking shale dust out of his cape.
"I'm sorry," Tydus said again, "Bring him back."
"Do not fear, Highness," Victor said, "He will cool in a moment."
"This is my fault."
"We could have stopped you, but we didn't. And anyway, there's nothing for it now. Let's make the most of it. It doesn't seem as though we've done any real damage yet."
The crunch of shale beneath armored boots heralded Ashram's return. He grabbed them both by the arm and tugged them behind him before either of his friends could protest. Tydus glanced over his shoulder. Behind his battle captain, raising its jagged, serpent's head, the blue beast in the shadows rounded on the three of them, red eyes piercing the summer night gloom.
The rest of the beast's body followed its head, emerging from its roost like the moon rising over the spires of the Keep. Tydus turned away, fear weakening his knees. He felt the nearness of the dragon as it rose. Beneath their feet, the basin rumbled with its slow advance. Its speed was irrelevant. It would outpace them by sheer size. It need only stretch out the length of its neck to reach them. Tydus resisted the urge to glance back again, knowing it would be his end. He would be unmanned, and stand there in shock to be snatched up.
As they made for the opposite wall, a blast of noise from above, an explosion of vibrating air, dropped them to the ground.
They rolled over quickly, staring up at the immensity above them. It had come to a halt. But the roar of the dragon would bring the others, and already Tydus could feel the rumbling of the basin as others of the brood came to investigate.
"Save yourself, Victor," Tydus said, panting, "You move like lightning. Scale the basin and get word back to the Keep."
"I'm a dead man if I do that. Better to hand-deliver myself to the Fang in Nequeros. He will be kinder than your people if I return without their prince."
Tydus could not argue. His breathing came in hitching gasps.
"I'm sorry, my friends," he nearly sobbed, "I'm so sorry."
Ashram reached across Tydus and grabbed Victor by the back of the neck, giving the other man a tug on his hair, half dragging him over Tydus, who could only fall back in surprise.
"Victor, before we die, know this," Ashram said, "It's been an honor to serve with you. More than that, I have long felt a deep connection to you that surpasses friendship. I love--"
Another blast ripped the sky, drowning Ashram's words. They ducked down into the ground. Victor grabbed his head as the dragon's roar pierced his sensitive hearing, his screams unheard over the second beast that joined its comrade. Tydus felt the breath ripped from his lungs, as if they were at the center of a thunderclap. He dragged hard on air as the it ended, a drowning man in a dry basin. He shut his eyes, waiting for the inevitable, in whatever fashion their captors deemed necessary.
They waited in silence, and finally he felt a slap on his shoulder to his right.
"Tydus," Ashram said, staring past him and Victor both, "I found him."
"What?" Tydus asked, sitting up. Victor rolled onto his back, even his chest heaving as he regain his composure.
He followed Ashram's gaze along the ground to another pair of clawed forelegs squatting directly above them. Its color was altogether different, and it seemed to glow as the first full moon of summer began cresting the top of the basin. A blazing sun burst into being. Tydus squinted his eyes. Victor buried his own in his arm, facing the shale. He growled in pain.
Easily a head taller than the other, the dragon of gold with the crimson crest, Tydus' dragon, stared down the blue guardian of the nests until it backed away in submission, lowering its aggressive posture, surrendering its prey. Elated, Tydus leapt to his feet and shouted up to the demigod above them.
"There you are! We found you, my friend! It's good to see you!"
"He's a dragon, Sire," Ashram said forcefully, "We have no idea his disposition, his intentions. Why would he care about us?"
"He does," Tydus said, "Or he would have attacked by now."
"Be wary, Highness," Victor said, still curled on the ground, "We cannot know his mind."
Tydus stepped forward anyway, waving and leaping to get the creature's attention. At last, the golden dragon turned its eyes down to him and lowered his head, regarding Tydus sideways with one gleaming eye, and unless Tydus completely misunderstood him, the same cheeky serpentine grin he had bestowed on Tydus as a boy. Tydus fell to one knee in relief as the dragon shifted a little backward, his posture relaxing visibly.
"Thank you," he shouted up to the dragon, "We are sorry we disturbed your brood."
The dragon lowered his head further, almost scraping the ground with his chin. His nostrils flared as he breathed deeply of the two humans and vamphyr huddled beneath him. The rush of air from his breath ruffled Tydus hair and beard. In response to his scent, the dragon rumbled appreciatively, flicking his immense tongue to the air.
"Now what?" Ashram asked, "Now that we've found him and he's safe--and I don't know in what universe this creature wouldn't be safe--we've got to get out of here."
Tydus considered for a moment. He had not thought this far ahead. But the golden dragon regarded him with what he hoped was fondness, for he took two shaky steps towards the beast. It sniffed again, this time a bit more forcefully, a warning sniff. Tydus held up his hands for peace, but did not stop his advance. The golden dragon stiffened a little as Tydus laid his palm on the beast's snout, then collapsed against him, embracing what little he could reach. The dragon closed his eyes, rumbling contentedly, the tip of his tail wagging slowly. After a long moment, Tydus stood back and gave his new friend's snout a kiss.
Ashram slowly came to stand beside Tydus, pulling a reluctant Victor by the arm behind him.
"Greetings, Great One," he said, "Can you help us out of here?"
"So soon?" Tydus asked.
"Highness, Seneschal Michaelson is going to flog all three of us as it is. We have to get back down to the horses and ride back tonight. Even if he just puts us up on the plateau, we can make it back in time."
Victor was leaning on the dragon's snout rubbed his cheek along his scales. The dragon's tail wagged again, slapping the ground. He laid on his belly and dropped his head to the shale dust, purring in a way that was neither serpentine nor canine.
"Ello dorado," Victor crooned, "Mi corazon mejor."
"Ask him if he'll help us," Ashram urged, "Please, Highness."
With a sigh, Tydus reached for the dragon's snout.
"What's your name?" he asked.
The dragon cocked his head, sitting up a little, looking for all the world as if he would answer the question if he knew how. He glanced at Victor and gave him a rough sniff. He flicked his tongue, shoving the vamphyr gently.
"What? Have you no name?" Victor asked, "Then what shall we call you?"
The dragon flicked him again, shifting on his fore legs and eyeing him sideways, blinking expectantly.
"Hmm," Victor mused, "Dorado, then."
The dragon reared suddenly, standing upright and pointing his massive head to the sky, loosing another triumphant call that sent his new friends huddling back on the ground.
When he settled, he laid back down and grinned at them again, swooshing his tail and kneading at the basin floor.
"I think he likes it," Victor said, unraveling himself.
"Wait, why do you get to name him?" Tydus cried.
"Well he didn't ask you to name him," Victor said, "He asked me."
"I don't know anything of the damn kind! And besides this whole thing was my idea!"
"Listen, both of you, he isn't some pet! We don't get to name him. He's choosing his name. Clearly he liked what Victor was saying."
Tydus nearly stamped his foot in irritation, but couldn't argue with Ashram. Besides, he liked the name as well.
"Very well. Dorado."
The dragon turned his sideways stare on Tydus and flicked him with his tongue.
"First of all, I love you. Second, will you help us leave here safely?"
Dorado flicked him again and stretched his long neck out along the ground. He flicked his eye to the sky. Tydus shrugged and motioned to Victor and Ashram.
"All aboard?" he asked.
"I guess?" Victor said, coming up to the crested head, "But shall you take the place of honor, Highness?"
Tydus shrugged, trying to appear insouciant. He tried to climb the scaly neck to sit behind Dorado's angular head without seeming too eager. He did lean over and kiss the dragon's forehead, pride be damned.
"Need a hand up?" Victor asked Ashram.
"You were saying something earlier," Victor said, "Before, when we thought we were dragon bait."
"Come now. You were saying something about coming to think of us as more than friends. Finish your thought."
"Oh. Well. That was--you know I just wanted you to know how highly I regard you in my estimation. Before we died."
Victor stared up at him where he straddled the dragon between two spines of his ruby crest.
"How highly you regard me in your estimation?" Victor asked incredulously.
"Yes," Ashram said, "You're an excellent warrior and a fine friend. You are an irreplaceable asset to our prince."
"Think that highly of me, do you?" Victor asked. He leaned on the dragon and smiled, a toothy, fangy smile that never dropped as he climbed up behind Ashram.
"I love you boys too," he said.
Dorado gained the side of the basin in only a couple of strides. Ashram made to dismount as he stepped onto the plateau, but Victor grabbed his shoulder.
"Oh Gods," Tydus half cried, gripping the chitinous crest.
"I thought we were just getting out of the caldera," Ashram said.
"I think we're taking the express coach," Victor said.
"No, no," Ashram nearly squealed, "Let me off!"
"We'll send for them!" Tydus called over his shoulder.
Dorado unfurled wings large enough to fully canvas eleven Mircean frigates with plenty to spare. He pumped them once to limber them up.
Dorado squatted, then leapt for the sky. His wings wumped as they gained altitude so fast that it took the breath from their lungs. They climbed into thin air. Beneath them, the calderas and craters became the size of dinner plates. Tydus and Ashram hunched down on the crest, waiting for the plunge. When it came, Dorado angled his head down, flattened his wings, and dived for the Valley. Victor whooped and screamed in elation. They jolted to a hover above the Valley floor as Dorado spread his wings again, angling his descent, and trimming to an even keel. He streamed above the Valley, trailing his massive shadow behind him. In a few short minutes, Ramsgate became a spec on the horizon, and then loomed larger with every passing second.
Home, Tydus thought.
We're going to have a lot of explaining to do.
About the Creator
Austin, TX | GrimDark, Fantasy, Horror, Western, and nonfiction | Amazon affiliate and Vocal Ambassador | Tips and hearts appreciated! | Want to see more from me? Consider dropping me a pledge! | RIP Jason David Frank!
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Original narrative & well developed characters
Okay, overall, this is FIRE! Your worldbuilding and descriptives are fantastic! Loved it!
Awesome world building. Love the character roles and how they play off of each other. A ton of material to work with here for your next chapter. 🥰
I enjoyed the world being built by your story! Well done!
There's a real sense that you know this world innately - there are a lot of details here to be fleshed out in future chapters, and a sense that you know how each would evolve. I particularly enjoy the sensory elements in this story, from the visuals of the city to the rolling r's that foreshadow the use of non-English dialogue. There's a lot in here, and the sense that there is a lot more to come.
Well done! I really enjoy your imagining of the dragons like a flock of migrating birds -- that's original. And I especially liked how you introduced them in they story through their shadows. A couple of pieces of feedback: There are quite a few names (people, places) at the beginning, introduced quickly. It may be easier to the reader to keep up if the character intros are spaced out a little more. It's creative world-building (which I love), but it comes a little rapid-fire. I also missed the time jump the first time I read it. Maybe consider adding a sentence or two of description -- something to slow the reader down and make sure they catch what's happening? Overall, I can tell that you've created a vivid world, and only just introduced it to us in this piece. It keeps the reader interested. And I like that the story wasn't so much about the dragon, but about friendship (and the tension between friendship and service). If you write another version, I'd love to see that theme teased out more. Fun read!
Love the world building hints - it really makes me wonder the story of these three friends, vamphyrs in the society, and what happened with the exhile as well. The flow jumps a bit at the beginning and parts of the action, but overall I like this as a start. You really captured a sense of wonder of a kid watching the dragons.
This piece definitely has a lot of thoughtful world-building and strong characters. I particularly loved the flow of language - eloquence and fluid story-telling. I found the jump at the beginning hard to follow as well, would help to add a line break before the age jump.
I enjoyed your world building a lot! There were a couple bits that weren’t very clear, mainly the time jump in the beginning but overall a very nice story.