Chapter 1: Earliest Memories
He woke up in a cage. Of course, he didn’t know that its purpose was sinister. Back then he didn’t even have a name yet. He was only a baby after all. A silver wyrmling; a bright-eyed newborn that saw the world as a wonderful and safe place. If he had known then what he would come to know in the future, he would have been fittingly afraid.
Beyond the cold metal bars was a market of humanoid figures. Cloaks, masks, robes, and hats, all made to obscure the faces of their wearers. None of them smelled like Mother.
What was a mother? What did it look like? He had a feeling it was supposed to be here, but it was absent.
He could smell other dragons though. Other wyrmlings close by. They were very easy to find, because they were right next to him, in their own cages arranged in a neat rectangular stack. Some had bright silver scales like himself, others were gold, or bronze, red, and black, all the colors really. Some were too young to open their eyes. Others were old enough to start trying to use their breath magic. All around him were the sounds of his fellow wyrmlings crying out.
They were all calling for a Mother.
Life in the market was dull, and not very nice. Sometimes the tag in his ear would itch, but it hurt to scratch it too much. His had the number 44. The other dragons had tags too, each with their own number. They were fed by a cloaked woman who would sit near their cages. But the food wasn’t much, and it wasn’t tasty. He learned to eat his share quick, or else the white wyrmling in the cage next to him would reach in and steal it.
Sometimes a person would come up to the cages, pick one, and that cage and its wyrmling would be taken away. They would always give the woman shiny circles in exchange.
44 liked the shiny circles. They glittered and sparkled and looked so very pretty. He wanted to have a shiny circle of his own, maybe lots of them. A whole pile! It would be nice, but he would be happy with one. Just one was all he wanted.
One day his wish came true. He watched as a shiny circle fell out of a robed figure’s pocket as they passed. He was able to reach through the bars of his cage and grab it out of the dirt. It was better than anything he could have imagined. He twirled it around in his claws several times watching how the light caught.
Then he heard a horrible hiss and the white wyrmling’s claws reached into his cage. It scratched at his side, trying to take the shiny circle from him. 44 pressed himself against the opposite wall, holding his treasure close. It was his! He got it fair and square!
The woman who fed them must have heard the commotion because she was kneeling in front of their cages. She sounded annoyed as she pulled the white wyrmling from its cage. The dragon bit the woman’s hand. The woman sounded angry. There was a crackle of energy, a bright light, and the wyrmling went limp.
44 was just a baby. He had no idea of the concept of death yet. But he knew, somehow, that what just happened was horrible. The cage next to him would remain empty for a while. A young brass wyrmling would take up residence there but would keep to itself.
The coin - as the red dragon in the cage above him called it - was his most prized possession. He kept it hidden under his wings whenever the cloaked woman was looking, which wasn’t often. The red wyrmling above him was new to The Cages, and he was bigger and older than all the other wyrmlings already present. He didn’t talk much, but when he did his words were strange.
Red would whisper and hiss in the draconic tongue. Saying how they didn’t belong here. How mortals should be bowing to them, not selling them off. He always seemed apprehensive.
It was around this time 44 started picking up speech. Not only from his rude friend above him but also from the humanoids who wandered the ‘Black Market’ as Red called it. He experimented with words, trying to talk to the other wyrmlings around him.
The brass dragon would remain silent, probably too young to understand speech anyway.
The red dragon, on the other hand, would call him annoying for his constant parroting. Despite that, the two would still get into conversations. Rather, Red would go off on a rant, and 44 would copy what he was saying. During these exchanges, Red would talk about what he could remember of the outside world. Forests, mountains, volcanos, the sky, the sun, and an endless amount of coins. To 44, who had yet to truly experience the outside world, it sounded marvelous. He wanted to see it.
But how? He pondered while turning his prized coin around in his hands. The cages were locked, and if they did try to leave they’d just be caught all over again.
44 decided to ask Red about it.
“Go?” He squeaked in broken draconic, looking up through the bars at the underbelly of his upstairs neighbor.
“What are you going on about now, Coin?” Red shifted from his relaxed position and cracked an eye open lazily. He had taken to calling 44 that nickname, it was the closest thing he had to a real name back then.
“Outside. Go outside. Wanna see.”
The older dragon looked at him curiously. “You want to escape?”
“Go outside!” 44 repeated with a happy smile.
“Shh, not so loud. That witch over there understands draconic. If she hears us we’re as good as dead.”
“Dead?” He tilted his head to the side, testing out the new word on his tongue “Dead. Dead. Dead.”
“Shut up!” Red growled, getting up on his feet and looking out through the bars to make sure nobody was listening. Once he was sure there were no eavesdroppers he kneeled down and pressed his snout to the bars, motioning for 44 to come closer so he could whisper. “I’ve been planning an escape since I arrived, but it needs lots of us to work together. I didn’t want to stoop to asking any of you Metallics--” He spat the last word “--for help. But we’re going to need all the help we can get if we hope to pull this off. So, are you in?”
“In? In!” The younger chirped.
“Are you actually agreeing or are you just copying me again, Coin?”
“Gods, you’re stupid. Alright, I guess I’ll take that as your answer.”
44 didn’t entirely understand what he had agreed to. All he knew was that Red was going Outside, and he wanted to go too. In the coming days, when the lady would leave and close her stall, Red and a few dragons in the cages adjacent to him would mutter and murmur. Then those dragons would whisper to the dragons next to them, and the dragons that were whispered to would pass along the message down the line. It was almost like a game, 44 thought with a flick of his tail.
Red wouldn’t give him many details since he was too young to understand any complicated instructions.
“When we get out, just start running, and don’t get caught.” The older would whisper to him whenever he was proded for more information.
Easier said than done.
The escape went very bad, very quickly for 44.
44 was awoken one night by the sound of several cages falling to the ground. He looked up as Red broke free of his own cage and started hissing out orders in draconic. There was the sound of claws clicking against metal, doors being swung open, young dragons yipping at one another in urgency.
It wasn’t long before a gold dragon was picking the lock to 44's cage.
“Hurry. Quick.” She had whispered as 44's cage door came open before rushing off to free more dragons.
He took small nervous steps out of his cage. Excitement bubbled in his stomach in that way children get when they know they’re doing something bad. He took a moment to make sure his coin was secure under his wing before taking off with the other wyrmlings.
The Black Market was located in a series of underground tunnels. The walls and floor were made from moldy brick and ancient stone. Rusty pipes ran along and through the arching ceiling, occasionally they would make loud noises and water would drip from hastily patched cracks.
44 scurried along as fast as he could along with the pack. The market was mostly empty save for a few stalls and guards, which they avoided with some difficulty. Eventually, they had come to what looked like the main exit. A large tunnel with a stairway and two guards standing on either side. Upon seeing this new obstacle, Red - who the other dragons had silently elected as their leader in this endeavor - brought the group together to form a plan to get past.
44 tried to get in close to hear Red’s whispering, but there was a pair of larger wyrmlings in the way. He tried to hop on top of one so he could get close, only to get shaken off and hissed at.
The sound of something metal hitting the ground drew his attention. His coin had slipped out from its safe place under his wing and was rolling away. 44 scrambled to his feet and rushed after it with an upset little squeak of a roar.
“Coin! What are you--?!” Red snapped but was interrupted by an authoritative man’s voice and the sound of approaching footsteps.
Upon realizing they’d been discovered, all the wyrmlings scattered with scared cries. Some of the more bolder dragons attacked the guard who had walked over and looked around the crate they were hiding behind. They jumped on top of him, trying to scratch and bite at the soft spots between the plates of armor. Others simply fled trying to find a safe place to hide. 44, however, was chasing after his prize possession which continued to bounce and roll away.
It slipped through the bars of a small opening to a dark side tunnel. He could hear the sound of rushing water echoing through the darkness. Regardless, he wiggled his way between the bars to chase after his coin.
And then he fell.
In his haste, he had failed to notice the steep drop on the other side. He was too young to fly, but in the two seconds he was airborne he flapped his wings regardless. The water he had heard rushed up to meet him and he was quickly submerged. He had never seen so much water in one place before. In the cages, they were given water in small bowls. Who would ever need to drink this much?
He was tossed and turned with the fast current, doing his best to hold his breath and try to find his way to the surface. With some effort 44 opened his eyes to see where he was going but was met with a sight that made his heart flutter.
Just ahead of him getting tossed around in the current was his coin; shining, golden, and just out of reach. He wiggled and flailed in the water and he reached out to try to catch it. His efforts were rewarded as he felt it slip into his claws. He let out a howl of victory but had forgotten that he was underwater, and took in a mouthful of water.
44 came to the conclusion that drowning was not fun.
The current seemed to surge for a moment, and suddenly he was falling again. He had just gone over a waterfall and now found himself falling six feet off to the side of the tunnel, where a stone walkway caught him.
He lay on his side, his coin hugged to his chest tightly. He coughed and sputtered, emptying out the water in his lungs, a few snowflakes and small chunks of ice flew out and melted swiftly. He wasn’t sure how long he rested, but he knew it was a while. He had no idea where he was, or how to get back to the other dragons. The only thing he could do, he reasoned, was to keep moving forward and find the Outside.
He was lost in the tunnels for a very, very long time. 44 wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but it was long enough for his stomach to hurt with hunger. He wandered aimlessly, following the water as it flowed, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but always keeping his distance from fear of falling in and almost drowning again.
Occasionally, he would stop to rest. He would pull out his coin from under his wing and clutch it close. It brought him comfort during his lonely time in the dark tunnels.
More time passed. The pains in his stomach were getting worse, and he found himself needing to take more breaks. He was starting to get desperate for something to eat.
Something scurrying out of the corner of his vision caught his attention. He blinked at the sight of a small furry creature with a long skinny tail. It was hunched over something, it’s rounded ears twitching up and down.
“Hello? Hi?” He took a few steps forward “Hi? Hi?”
The creature didn’t respond, only look up from what it was holding. Food. It was holding a chunk of bread in its hands. 44's stomach growled loudly at the sight of the bread. He took a few more steps forward, his tongue flicking out hungrily.
The rat - as he would later learn it was called - hissed as he approached. Its hairs stood on end and it dropped its food in order to prepare an attack.
44 flinched and took a step back, his gaze switching from the large rat to the piece of bread. He started weighing his options. He could fight and risk injury, or he could run and continue to starve… 44 didn’t like how either of those options sounded, so he decided to go with option three.
He charged forward, going as fast as he could. He quickly maneuvered to the left of the rat, and as he passed he grabbed the bread in his jaws. The rodent let out an angry squeal and gave chase as 44 escaped with its meal. It seemed as if he would get away scot free.
However, he didn’t know much about rats. If he did, he would have known that they tend to have large families.
At first, it was only one or two rats joining the chase. Then that multiplied to five. Then ten. Then twenty. It wasn’t long until 44 found himself getting chased by a small army of rats through the tunnels.
Adrenaline was pumping through him as he ran for his life. A chorus of feral screeching sang behind him and it didn’t sound like they were going to let up anytime soon. He felt sharp claws swatting at his tail and he tried to pick up speed. Left, Right, Left, Right, Straight -- Was there any end to this place?!
He could see a small offshoot tunnel up ahead. It was a bit high up, but he would be able to jump it. He mustered all his energy into one last sprint to pull away from the pack and then jumped with all his might. He was just able to catch himself on the edge and pulled himself up quickly when he felt teeth trying to gnaw at his tail. He didn’t stop to see if the rats were trying to follow, he just kept running. It wasn’t until the sound of the rats was gone that he allowed his pace to slow. The tunnel climbed in an upwards slant, and the fact that it was slippery with wet and grime made it difficult not to fall. He wasn’t sure where he was going, but he knew it was safer than where he had come.
That’s when 44 saw a light.
At first, he thought it was the light of lanterns, the Black Market had been lit by hundreds of them. But this light was brighter and didn’t flicker like the light of a candle.
He approached the opening and saw the sky for the first time.
Chapter 2: Lost and Found
When a number gets an identity.
What's up i'm running on very little sleep.
He had been under a massive city the whole time. So many new sights, smells, and sounds surrounded him. He was Outside, and it was marvelous. The streets were packed with so many people, walking in and out of buildings, or climbing on wagons to ride somewhere else. 44 stuck to the alleyways and rooftops so as to not get stepped on. He was still very young, and therefore very small.
He would spend his days running, jumping, exploring, and scavenging for food. At night, he would find somewhere safe to curl up like up in a tree or a flower box hanging off of someone’s window sill. He was his own dragon, and he was free to do as he wanted.
He didn’t know what happened to Red and the other escaped wyrmlings, and frankly, he didn’t think about it much. Life in the city was just so fast paced, he found himself too busy to think back on his past and focussing more on his daily survival. He did his best to keep out of sight. In the few times he was spotted, the humanoids tended to make a fuss and try to catch him; there was no way he was going back in a cage.
However, he quickly learned that life on his own was very hard. At least in captivity, he knew when his next meal was coming from, and he didn’t have to worry about any stray cats or dogs attacking him for encroaching on their territory. Most of all, he didn’t have to worry about storms.
He didn’t know that water could fall from the sky. Upon discovering that it could he had made a show of running around in circles trying to see where the drops were coming from. It was amazing! It was wonderous! It was magical! It was--
--Terrifying. Absolutely horribly terrifying.
The sky lit up and 44 jumped as a loud noise reverberated through the air. He wasn’t sure what it was, but it sounded dangerous and very scary. His time on the street had taught him to run the moment he suspected danger.
So he ran down a small alley, his little heart jumping as another flash of lightning lit up the sky. There was an empty box near a garbage pile, the perfect place to hide from the loud crashing and falling water. He scurried inside, curled up in the furthest corner, and shivered as cold water dripped off his wet scales. Another flash and he hid his eyes, praying that whatever was happening would stop soon. Was it the end of the world? It certainly felt like it.
He was so scared that he failed to notice an approaching set of footsteps. Nice shoes clicked on the cobblestone pavement as they passed. Another flash and the loudest ‘CRASH’ yet sounded from above and 44 screamed. The footsteps slowed, backtracked, and paused outside of 44's shelter.
The little dragon opened his eyes when he felt a presence. The person knelt down and looked inside the box, offering 44 a good look at the curious person. He was an old looking human man, his salt-pepper hair combed back and greying, a well-groomed beard to match, and small fancy glasses perched on the edge of his nose. The man blinked a few times, adjusted his glasses and stared at the small dragon for a few moments.
“Well, that’s not something you see every day,” The old man said, his eyebrows raised in surprise. He leaned in a little closer and spoke again, this time more gently. “Are you alone out here, little one?”
The old man reached a hand in, his other hand was holding a long rod with a large covering that shielded him from the rain. An umbrella, if 44 remembered the term correctly. He shied away from the hand letting out a small whine.
“It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you.” The old man kept his hand still, waiting to see how the small dragon would react. There was something about his eyes that made 44 pause.
Carefully, he leaned forward and sniffed the man’s fingers. At first, all he could smell was cologne and biscuits, but there was something underneath. There was a smell there that couldn’t belong to any human.
“Dragon?” 44 squeaked, looking up at the man in surprise.
“Yes,” He responded in perfect draconic, a twinkle in his yellow eyes.
The dragon who had found him was ancient. He had been living in the city of Neverwinter for a few centuries due to a vow he made to a family of humans. With his wealth and knowledge, the poor family rose into noble circles where they have stayed ever since.
His name was Grandpa. He introduced himself properly as he carried 44 up the stairs to the doorway of a large fancy building in the middle of a grassy and well-kept garden.
“But of course, Grandpa isn’t my real name. My real name was long and complicated and nobody could remember it! So the kiddies took to calling me Grandpa and eventually even I forgot what it was! I don't mind though, in fact, I almost prefer it. But I digress, what’s your name, little one?”
“Um…” The silver dragon tilted his head to the side. Name? Did he even have one? He thought the closest thing he had to a name was when the other hatchlings called him by his tag number, or how Red would call him Coin. They didn’t really feel like proper names though. He shook his head.
“I see, well,” Grandpa gently scratched behind the wyrmling’s ear, a gesture that was met with a happy trill. “I’ll come up with something but, for now, let’s get you settled in.”
The mansion was huge, and he was having a hard time grasping the concept that this was someone’s home. The floors were so polished he could see his reflection in them. Everything was so perfectly clean and shining that he felt as if his own silver scales were dull.
Grandpa stepped inside and was instantly met by a man in a suit who took his umbrella and greeted him with a curt: “Welcome home, sir.”
“Thank you, Jeff. It’s raining cats and dogs out there!” 44 was pretty sure it was raining water and not living animals, but he was too busy observing his surroundings to correct the older dragon.
“Sir? If I may ask about your - um - companion, there?”
“Oh, yes right. Have Gregory meet me downstairs in a little bit. We need to have a quick discussion.”
“Yes, sir. Master McDonald is in a business meeting right now and has asked not to be disturbed. However, I will let him know of your summons as soon as the opportunity arises.”
Grandpa nodded and waved him off with a cheery, “See you around, Jeff!”
“Jeff! Jeff!” The small dragon mimicked, which made Grandpa laugh as he carried him through the foyer and into a large decorated hallway.
“Still in the mimicking phase, are we? Hmm…” Grandpa frowned and held the tag hanging from 44's ear. “I suppose that makes sense.”
He came to a set of double doors which opened on their own when he pressed a button and walked through. There was a tiny room on the other side, and Grandpa made a comment on how elevators were far better than a tiring amount of stairs, before pressing another button and the doors closed behind them. 44's stomach dropped as he felt the tiny room going down. As they descended Grandpa began talking.
“Now, the place is a bit of a mess, you’ll have to excuse that. I haven’t really cleaned properly in a couple hundred years or so. Don’t touch anything that looks sharp or dangerous, don’t want you getting hurt till I have the time to baby proof the place. Oh! Maybe the toys in Ronald’s old toy chest will keep you occupied? Ah, little Ronald, how fast he grew. Died of old age 85 years ago, but he lived a good and happy life. Met the woman of his dreams, had a few kids, died surrounded by love, the best way to go in my book. Good boys like him make me glad I’ve kept my place with this family. You would’ve liked him.”
There was a small ‘ding!’ and the doors opened into a gigantic underground chamber filled to the brim with treasure. There were shelves upon shelves of books, expensive pottery, works of art, and the gold. The sheer amount of coins scattered all over the place made the room glitter, the sight was almost overwhelming for 44. The small dragon’s ears perked up and his tail began to swish wildly back and forth. There were so many! Of all shapes and sizes! Grandpa noticed this and chuckled.
“Like the treasure now, do you?”
44 nodded and eagerly reached under his wing to pull out his own special coin to show.
“Well look at that! You’ve gotten yourself a coin already. And a gold one too, not bad for a starting point.” He reached out to touch it, but 44 quickly pulled it away. “Don’t worry I’m not gonna take it.”
“Oh, it’s special, huh? Well, a special coin needs a special place don’t you think?”
The little dragon thought about that for a moment before nodding. Yes, that made sense.
Grandpa looked around for a moment before he snapped his fingers. “Ah!” He moved to sift through a nearby pile of treasure with one arm. After a moment he pulled out a silk pillow and set it down on the floor.
“How about this?” He asked as he gently placed 44 down on top of it.
It was the softest thing 44 had ever felt. It smelled like flowers and felt how clouds looked. He sat, placed the coin down in the center of the pillow, and looked up at the older dragon with a smile.
Grandpa couldn’t help but chuckle while he stretched his arms over his head. “I think I’ll get comfortable too,” He walked away, leaving 44 on the pillow with his coin. Without breaking stride, his form became obscured with a light and his silhouette grew and shifted. In the place of the old human man was now an ancient copper dragon. He was massive, and 44 could feel his heavy footsteps shaking the floor as he climbed onto the pile of gold and settled down on it with a content sigh.
The baby was slightly intimidated by the elder now that he had revealed his true form, but eventually relaxed when he came to the conclusion that he and the nice old man were one and the same. Therefore, he was in no danger.
His fear gave way to awe; he had never seen an adult dragon before. 44 looked from Grandpa lounging on his horde and then down to his own small coin. The little dragon circled the coin before he laid on top of it in a similar fashion to the copper dragon. He smiled and puffed out his chest, feeling proud of himself. He heard a rumbling laugh that reverberated through the whole room and looked up at Grandpa.
“What a little copycat! But I suppose that’s to be expected. You were being sold on the Black Market, weren’t you? Your tag there is a dead give away. Did you know your parents?”
44 thought for a moment before shaking his head.
“Born in captivity then. Poor thing.” Grandpa shifted and rested his head right next to 44's little pillow, his yellow eyes fixed on him “Well, no need to worry about that now. After I’m done talking to Gregory, I’ll have one of the maids get you cleaned up and that tag removed. Maybe I’ll ask Lilith, she works wonders--”
Grandpa then proceeded to have a mostly one-sided conversation about the various staff around the mansion. A little story here, a bit of gossip there. 44 - while he didn’t understand everything - found himself listening attentively, and it was easy to tell the older dragon was enjoying having someone to talk to.
Their conversation was eventually interrupted by the elevator’s cheery little ‘ding!’ as the doors opened to reveal a middle aged well dressed human man. He looked slightly irritated, but whatever was bothering him he kept to himself as he confidently strode into the room.
“Gregory! Hello!” Grandpa greeted and sat up, motioning to a few armchairs he kept for his guests. “Come, come, sit, sit. We have to talk, boy.”
The man, Gregory, frowned upon being called ‘boy’ but nevertheless sat down in the chair.
“I certainly hope you didn’t call me down here to prattle on like you usually do. No disrespect, but I still have important business to attend to and don’t have much time to sit here and listen to you talk for hours on end, sir.” His voice was strong and his tone was sharp and sure. Truly, this was a man who had lots of financial power.
“Oh come now, you used to love hearing my ‘prattle’ as you call it. And for pete’s sake what ever happened to you calling me Grandpa? You did it all the time when you were small,” The old dragon sighed through his nose in a disappointed fashion. “But I assure you, I called you down here for an important reason. ”
“I only reffer to you as that when company is over and you know it. Now onto business, what is this reason?”
The old dragon slowly and carefully reached down to pick 44 up by the scruff of his neck. The baby squeaked in surprise and curled in on himself as he was brought over and set down at Gregory’s feet. “I’d like you to meet my new little friend.”
Gregory’s eyebrows shot up in surprise before coming together in a concerned look. His sharp eyes observed 44 in a fashion that made him get the urge to shift uncomfortably.
“I found him during my walk. He was all by himself and had nowhere to go, so naturally I brought him home.”
“Naturally for you that is... Picking something dirty up off the street and bringing it back… Wouldn’t be the first time,” The man said under his breath and pinched the bridge of his nose. “And you’re showing me this because…?”
“He’s going to be staying with us.”
“What?” He stared at the great dragon.
“Oh dear, is your hearing going now, boy? Is that normal at your age?” Grandpa asked, looking concerned before continuing in a slower and louder voice, “I said he’ll be staying with us for a little while!”
“I heard you the first time,” Gregory snapped. “What I want to know is how this is going to affect things. A young child alone is enough of a burden, but a young dragon? The whole estate might catch fire!”
“I quite like children…” Grandpa said in a matter of fact tone as he rolled over onto his back with a grin. “Besides, that’s just silly! Silver dragons don’t breathe fire they breathe ice! Worst case scenario, he makes the foyer into an ice skating rink. Oh! Wouldn’t that be fun?”
44 started to tune out the conversation. He lost interest rather quickly and instead decided to wander the horde and see what he could find. The little dragon walked away from Gregory and made his way over to a series of bookshelves lined against the wall behind him. They held all sorts of odd trinkets and baubles, supposedly from Grandpa’s travels, but they did hold a few books as well.
He pulled a book off from a lower shelf and started carefully turning the pages. He didn’t know how to read and the tiny printed words were too blurry to see properly anyway. However, there was something about the smell of the pages and feel of the paper that fascinated him.
Suddenly, Grandpa laughed loudly. 44's attention was drawn back to the conversation as the older dragon said, “So it’s settled then! He’ll stay here with us! I’ll have one of the maids get him cleaned up and then start teaching him how to polymorph - oh and we’ll have to settle a name for him too. Now, where’d he wander off to?”
Grandpa’s gaze eventually settled on him and he grinned. “Ah, should have known. Not even old enough to read yet and he’s already picking up a book! That’s to be expected with silvers, smart ones they are.”
Grandpa stood up, his old bones creaked as he came over and gently picked 44 up by the scruff of his neck again. Carefully, he used a single claw to close the book but paused. He hummed quietly before turning to place 44 back on the soft pillow with his coin.
“Gregory?” He turned to the man who was getting up to leave the chamber. “Do these old eyes a quick favor before you go. What’s the name of the author of that book?”
Gregory raised an eyebrow but complied with the dragon’s request. He walked over and picked the book up off the floor. “ The Extreme Effects of Magic & Emotions by Jeremy Angus Flynn.” He read aloud, still puzzled.
Grandpa tilted his head to the side and inspected 44. “Hmm… Angus. Yes, that should work perfectly.”
“Pardon?” Gregory still seemed puzzled as he returned the book to the shelf.
The old copper dragon grinned and nudged 44 with his snout. “Gregory, I’d like you to meet the newest member of the McDonald household. Angus!”
“Angus?” 44 -- Or now, Angus -- parroted.
“Yes, I feel like it’s a very fitting name! Angus McDonald!”
A name. He had a name now. A name that would stick with him, and he’d repeat it with pride every time.
Grandpa had been right about the maid named Lilith, she did work wonders. The half-elven woman was so gentle and kind, and by the time she was done Angus’ scales shined as bright as the silverware in the copper dragon’s horde. He was clean, tagless, and most importantly he was well fed. It was the most comfortable he had ever felt, followed by the best sleep he ever had.
The next day was when the lessons started, and that’s when Angus discovered something about himself for the first time. He loved to learn.
Grandpa went about teaching him all sorts of things. Learning to read had been a bit of a challenge at first because the words looked blurry and out of focus. He complained about it to Grandpa, who supplied him with a pair of glasses. They were a little big on him and slipped down his snout, but being able to see so clearly was amazing. Once he could see the words properly, reading became one of his favorite things very quickly. His other lessons included speech and polymorphing; the latter of which proved rather difficult. Grandpa told him that with each passing generation it seemed young dragons were finding it harder to polymorph, but he kept encouraging Angus to try.
“I don’t think I can do it.” Angus had said one afternoon after another failed attempt, twirling his coin around in his claws. “Maybe I should just wait till I’m big.”
“I believe you can do it. You definitely have the brains for it.” The older dragon said from beneath a pile of gold. “Your problem is you don’t have a form all figured out yet, you need your inspiration! It’s like putting on a costume that feels like you. You just need to figure out what’s right for you. It’s different for every dragon. Took me a while to figure out what I wanted in my humanoid form, I was so picky when I was younger. It took me so long till I finally settled on something after having been inspired by the captain of a sinking ship! Watching how his men respected his orders, clearly, he was a man of honor and prestige--!”
Angus was half paying attention as he began to wander over towards the collection of bookshelves. Something out of place amongst the ancient dragon’s old tomes caught his eye. It was a new hardcover book, fresh from the store if the price tag on it was any indication.
“Excuse me?” Angus turned his head, his claws resting on the book. “What’s this new book?”
“--And then when he used this rope to-- Hm? Oh! You noticed that did you?” Grandpa instantly perked up and grinned. “Well since you’ve been advancing so quickly with your readings, I decided to get you something a little more fun. The books down here are just old things I gathered from old ruins, interesting reads but none of them too entertaining for a child. So I went down to the bookstore yesterday and found something you might like.”
Angus’ eyes widened. “Is this a gift? For me?”
Grandpa smiled and nodded.
“Then I already love it!”
The older dragon laughed. “Go ahead, open it! I’m sure you’ll love it even more.”
Agnus quickly dragged the book over to his pillow and opened the cover. Written on the first page in a cursive font was the title: “Caleb Cleveland and the Ruby Eyes.” Angus would get hooked on it immediately.
The little dragon would read that book again and again whenever he had free time from his lessons. He still couldn’t polymorph, which meant he couldn’t wander the mansion whenever company was over (which was often). He was alright as long as he had his Caleb Cleveland books that his Grandpa loved to supply him with.
However, Angus was starting to get reminded of his time in the Black Market; being underground for so long with no sky to greet him. He was starting to miss going outside. Not only that, but something more had started to call for him. Reading his Caleb Cleveland books made him crave mysteries, puzzles, and adventure.
One night he was up late, reading a book by candlelight. This book had Caleb on a train trying to solve a case of missing jewels. Angus’ tail flicked back and forth as he continued to read through the chapter. The little dragon saw a lot of himself in Caleb, along with how he wanted to be. It was frustrating when one of the adult characters didn’t take the boy detective seriously, but oh so satisfying when Caleb caught them by surprise with his intellect and cleverness. Angus wanted to surprise people too. He wanted to be like Caleb.
Suddenly, an idea struck him. He looked up from his book and over to his Grandpa who was sleeping soundly on his pile of gold. Angus adjusted his glasses with a claw as his tail flicked back and forth faster.
“Inspiration…” Angus thought back to what his Grandpa said with a little smile.
About a half hour later, there was a flash of light, a startled cry, and the sound of coins getting scattered. Grandpa was woken up, having gotten into the habit of sleeping lightly now that he had a young one around.
“Angus?” He sat up, the gold coins around him moved as he shifted his weight. “Are you alright?” With a flick of his claw the lights in the chamber turned on revealing a surprising sight. Angus was lying on his back, having fallen backwards into a pile of coins. He blinked up at the copper dragon through his skewed glasses and looked a little sheepish.
“I’m sorry, Grandpa,” Angus apologized, “I thought I finally had my inspiration for my polymorph, but I guess I was wrong.”
Grandpa didn’t speak, he only smiled. “Oh, I don’t know about that.”
Angus reached up to fix his glasses but stopped when he noticed his hand. He had a hand . He sat up quickly and looked down at himself, gone was the body of a little dragon, there was the body of a little boy dressed in nice clothes. “I did it!” Angus looked up at his Grandpa. “Grandpa! Grandpa look I did it! I did the spell--Oof!” He had tried to get up but trying to walk on two legs was much harder than four; he tripped as soon as he tried to take a step.
“I’m so proud of you!” The old dragon said, leaning down to nuzzle Angus.
“You are?” Angus felt an unbelievable sense of joy at those words.
“Of course I am!” He scooped Angus up in his claws and brought him close. The little boy let out a happy cry and kicked his new legs around excitedly. “You figured out how to polymorph! It suits you too!”
“Do I look like a detective?” Angus asked as his Grandpa settled him down beside him.
“I don’t know, do you want to be a detective?”
Angus nodded. “I want to be like Caleb Cleveland in my books. The greatest boy detective in the world!”
His Grandpa smiled warmly, settled down, and curled around Angus. “Well in that case, yes Angus. You look exactly like a detective. But it’s still rather late, and we have a big day ahead of us tomorrow now that you know how to polymorph. So let’s get plenty of sleep, yes?”
“Okay, Grandpa. Good night.”
“Good night Angus.”
Angus paused for a moment before saying, “... I love you.”
He couldn’t see his Grandpa’s face from where he was laying, but he could tell the old dragon was smiling when he replied, “I love you too.”