It was dark in the cave. A soft huffing was Heather’s only warning.
“It’s okay, Korro. It’s me. I’m here to check on Mari and the kits.”
The huffing subsided and Heather heard scale shifting on rock. Satisfied all was safe, she lit her lantern, flooding the space with honeyed light.
Curled up against the far wall was Mari, a young female dragon. Her yellow-green scales shimmered in the dancing light. She lifted her head to regard the human woman who approached her with reflective black eyes.
“How are we doing today, Mari?” Heather asked, sitting the lantern down.
Mari’s head bobbed up and down, moving with serpentine grace. She slid her tail back, exposing six eggs in a small nest of sand and rock. The first generation of dragon kits to be born in this world.
Before approaching them, Heather stopped by Mari’s head. She pressed her forehead against the dragon’s, scratching behind the eye ridge. “I am glad to see you’re feeling well today. Korro is taking good care of you, isn’t he?”
A snout bumped her shoulder. She turned and pressed her forehead against the mighty Korro, a beast of red and purple magnificence. “Yes, yes, Korro. It is good to see you again, too. Now, let’s take a look at the kits, yes?”
Under the watchful eye of both parents, Heather dropped gently and slowly to her knees, holding her own full belly. Matthew didn’t like her traveling so close to the coming of their child, but Korro and Mari needed her. They were the only dragons with a clutch of viable kits and she was only dragonologist.
Heather bent close, her green eyes making careful note of the changes since her last visit two weeks ago. The shells were still intact and showed no signs of stress. The colors were lighter, taking on an almost translucent hue. If she angled the light, she was sure she’d be able to see the tiny kits inside.
“I’d say we’re getting close, aren’t we, yes?” Heather asked. She sat back on her heels, wincing and rubbing just below her ribs.
Korro’s head snaked down, coming even with Heather’s. His head tilted slightly to the side and he blinked.
“I’m fine, Korro. Just my baby. He’s active and space is at a premium.” She turned to Mari, “There are many a day lately that I envy you, Mari. No lie.”
She took several deep breathes, breathing through the discomfort as her baby kicked. He always seemed to be more active when she visited the dragons. She sat, putting herself closer to the eggs and pulled a log book from its satchel. “May I?”
Mari settled down, relaxed and at ease. It was the closest thing to permission she’d get.
Heather smiled. “Thanks.” Her fingers trailed over the eggs, feeling their smooth, almost silky texture. “Soon, soon, yes?” She decided to start with the orange egg she called Vela.
There was still so little known about dragons. One day they had been no more than stories and myths. The next, the world woke up to their existence. Scientists were still scratching their heads at that one. Heather, for her part, was content to let them do so. She was satisfied living her childhood dream. Who else in all of history got to study real live dragons for a living?
She picked up each egg in turn. Inside she could see each tiny kit, perfect miniatures of their parents. “As far I can tell, they are doing beautifully well, you both….Weights have increased across the board for the most part. Shells are getting thinner. Hatching could be any day now.”
Korro and Mari looked at her with their endless eyes.
Heather reached out to pick up the last egg. It was pure black, even now, making it all but impossible to see the kit she called Armon inside. This one intrigued her, and the rest of the growing dragon community, the most. Armon lacked the jeweled tones seen in the other eggs. Of all the dragon’s cataloged, none had black in their scales. Speculation buzzed across the chats. Was it a new color variation, something within norms, birth defect, or sign of illness? This egg was also the smallest and lightest of its siblings. Was it possible for dragons to hatch runts? So much they did not know. So much to learn.
Her fingers brushed over Armon and her baby jerked, bringing on a contraction. Heather doubled over, mouth gaping. Her baby kicked again. And again.
Armon began to rock in time, matching her baby’s movements.
The second contraction hit.
Her water broke.
Heather tried to push herself up and fell backward against Korro, who had come up behind her. Mari’s head rose, her eyes regarding her. Heather glanced over to the eggs.
They were all rocking. Were they hatching? Now?
Be at ease.
Heather started, looking up into Korro’s eyes. Did he just speak? There were no records of dragon’s speaking. Dragons were intelligent creatures like dogs, yes. But none had ever spoken. They didn’t have the physiology to allow it.
Be at ease, the words rumbled again in her mind, rocks tumbling down the mountainside.
It’s time, another voice said, as lightning flashes across the deep ocean.The Dragon Herald is coming. And our kits are eager to greet him…Especially Armon.
Heather looked at Mari.
The dragon’s snout brushed her shoulder. We are with you, Heather. As you have been with us.
Heather’s lips parted to speak, but another contraction stole her words.
Be at ease. Let the Herald come. We have searched the worlds and waited long.
Heather moaned, fingers digging into the soft dirt. Her whole body shuddered as her mind fought with what was happening. Dragon’s didn’t talk. They were nothing more than massively overgrown lizards.
So why was she suddenly hearing voices? Why did they seem to be coming from Korro and Mari? What was going on?
The birthing grabbed her, commanded her, and ended all further thought.
Time unmarked later, Heather rested against Mari’s flank. She was weak and exhausted, but content. She and her son had made it through the birthing journey safe. In her arms, he slept, sated from his first meal.
Circled about her were Korro, Mari, and the tiny kits. All had hatched during her son’s birth. Closest was Armon, jet black from tip to tip. His snout brushed against her son’s arm. Heather had tried to push him away, to give some space. But each time, the kit had come back as if he could not stand being parted from her son. Since he caused no harm or panic, Heather relented.
Watching them, she knew, a new had era dawned for dragons and humans both. At the center of it, all would be her son and Armon. And his would be a life filled with dragons.