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all who fall, rise again

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The egg looks to be approximately as big as the average person's head, and sits upright in the snug embrace of the cotton cushions arranged around it. Its shell is of a light yellow colouring, with scattered patches of dark grey spots, and emits a soft, magenta glow--even as he is now, Chris will admit, if only privately, that the egg makes for a truly magnificent sight.

As the quiet shifting sounds accumulate into the first visible crack, just above the midline of the egg, the waiting crowd falls silent. Chris himself waits with bated breath, feet rooted to the ground, his gaze trained over the multitudes of heads in front of him, to where the hatching egg sits. When the shell finally peels apart, he hardly dares to blink, not wanting to miss a single moment.

Long and sleek, the dragonet unfurls from the circle of cushioning and stretches out tentatively, its length already about that of a grown human's arm. Along the line of its spine lie small ridges, and its glossy mulberry scales catch the candlelight just right as to shine in the small, dimly-lit room.

Chris watches as the dragonet peers at the crowd, turning its head this way and that, its tail twitching against the ground. When it finally moves, it's only to begin pacing around the room, watching them in wary silence.

As he watches the scene unfold, Chris feels his stomach twist, and insistently ignores it; the room is filled with qualified would-be handlers, each with a potential that had recommended them for this momentous event. Indeed, those deemed most suited for the task had been stationed closest to the front, presenting themselves first and foremost to the dragonet in hopes of being chosen. In a similar fashion, the ranks of candidates fan outwards, and Chris himself is standing closer to the back of the room, a reminder of his own position here: no more than a formality, a respect thought due to his previous accomplishments. Chris should know better than to hope, and he reminds himself of this, steeling his nerves against what is sure to come.

The dragonet completes its circle, and continues into a second one, this time slipping past the front lines to move further into the crowd of candidates. Not a single person so much as shifts their weight, although all of them crane their necks to follow the hatchling's movements.

When the dragonet's slow deliberations bring him further and further back, Chris swallows hard; already he can feel the old ache in his shoulder, and despite his best efforts, his heart is now hammering against his chest. Chris fights to control it, gritting his teeth, even as he keeps his gaze trained on the slow-moving beast.

Their eyes meet, as if by chance.

Chris' heart jolts painfully in his ribcage.

The dragonet looks away, and he sags, stomach dropping--

Until it comes to a stop in front of him.

Chris stares.

This time, the dragonet meets his gaze unwavering, despite the anxious sweep of its tail against the ground. When Chris continues to do nothing more than gape blankly, the dragonet rears back on its hind legs, tilting its head up, and says, "It is cold."

For a few long seconds, Chris can barely remember to breathe, his heartbeat pounding like cannon shots in his ears. His silence stretches on long enough that the dragonet drops down to all fours, head lowering, one claw picking at the ground. The motion snaps him out of his state, and Chris hastens to respond. "Yes," he manages, and clears his throat, finds a steadier voice. "It is rather cold. But if we head outside, the sun will be out in full heat, and you should feel much warmer for it."

The dragonet makes a sound, almost thoughtful, and looks about the room. "I would like that," it says, still hesitant, before returning its gaze to Chris.

"I would be honoured to lead you there, if you'd have me."

"Please," it says, with a little nod.

He almost turns to go, before remembering belatedly that he still hasn't introduced himself. "My name is Takigawa Chris Yuu," he informs the dragonet. "What is yours?"

It considers this, head cocked to one side, tail twitching. "I don't know," it says at last.

"May I give you one?" he asks.

"Yes."

For a moment, Chris freezes in place, uncertain of how to proceed. All the names he's ever considered run through his head, along with all the dreams he's entertained from the moment he read his first book, to the day he saw his first dragon, to the disastrous battle, when he had been told to give up on his dreams. The memory leaves him feeling unmoored, and all of a sudden he is aware of how quiet the room is, how motionless everyone stands--over twenty pair of eyes are fixed his way, watching him with a mixture of surprise, horror, and indignation. Chris swallows hard, his mouth suddenly dry, and offers, "Tanba Kouichirou."

The dragonet straightens its neck, holding itself a little taller. "Yes," it says again, "that is my name."

"Yes," Chris echoes, a touch fainter.

"May we go out now?" the dragonet--Tanba, asks.

"Of course," he replies, and turns.

The small crowd of people that stand between him and the door part wordlessly, and Chris leads the dragonet down the new path, and out into the open fields.