Peril paced back and forth across the cavern, her tail swishing wildly as her mind went around and around in circles. “He didn’t forget, did he? I mean, it’s still early. He probably is on the way. Unless he’s not. But that’s okay! I told him he only had to come if he wanted to! So maybe he just didn’t want to?”
Turtle glanced nervously at the Skywing’s tail as it sweeped dangerously close to him. “I’m sure he’s coming Peril. You don’t need to be so worried, he’s your friend.” He glanced over at Moon, hoping for some backup.
She shrugged at him before looking over to Peril. “He does really care about you Peril. I should know. Even if he’s late, I know he’ll be here. While we wait, why don’t we have something to eat? Qibli and I brought in a bunch of interesting fruits from the Rainforest. I’m sure we have something you’ve never tried before.”
Peril shook her head to clear her thoughts. “Sure, okay. You’re probably right. I mean, you’re the mind reader, of course you are.” She tucked her tail in after getting a stern look from Winter when it nearly tapped him on the snout. Peril scurried away from the door and plopped down by one of the carved stone tables in the Prey Center. Sunny agreed to have the students eat outside today so it wasn’t as chaotic for Peril’s hatching day celebration. It was a nice thing to do but Peril thought the chaos was actually a little fun, even if she was discouraged from joining in so she didn’t accidentally burn anyone.
“Here, try this one.” Qibli said with a crinkle on his snout. He rolled a dark purple fruit with orange specks across the table to her. “It’s not as sweet as some of these other one’s so you’ll probably like it a bit more.”
Peril picked it up carefully with the tips of her talons and tried to drop it in her mouth before it burst into flames. She chewed thoughtfully for a few moments before shaking her head. “It’s not bad but I still prefer meat.” She decided through a full mouth. “But I bet Clay would like it. Save one for him.”
Winter rolled his eyes with a snort. “Of course he would, he’d enjoy anything edible.”
“Yeah, he would.” Peril said in a dreamy (or at least dreamy for her) voice, completely missing the sarcasm from the Icewing. She glanced at the sky hole hopefully, her shoulders slumping when she didn’t see anyone coming in.
“Aw, don’t worry Peril!” Kinkajou chirped. “Even if Clay doesn’t show up you still have us!” She flared her wings out in a flash of bright pink and red. “And I’ve got a cool fruit for you to try too!” She dashed off to the other side of the room and dug around in a basket of fruit she had gone out and picked by herself. It took her a moment but soon she found what she was looking for and fluttered back to her spot at the table. “Here!”
She held out a talonful of small red berries that were oval shaped. Realizing that it’d be a bit easier for Peril to just pick them up so she wouldn’t get burned, Kinkajou quickly set them down in front of her on the table. Peril eyed the berries skeptically. “Didn’t I just say I liked meat more?” Oh wait, maybe that was mean. Clay would want her to be grateful even if her friends were showering her in fruit that she didn’t even care much for. Peril gave a toothy smile, “But these are probably pretty okay maybe.”
Kinkajou gave a giggle and shook her head. “These aren’t just any old fruit. These are specifically supposed to be cooked with fire before you eat them which makes them perfect for you! Because we don’t really like fire in the Rainforest they’re a delicacy!”
Moon gave a happy nod. “It was a great idea to bring those!” She said happily. “I didn’t even think of it. You’ll love them Peril, they’re so good!”
“A fruit that’s meant to be burnt.” Peril mused. “That already puts it higher up than the purple thing, no offence Qibli.” Peril snatched up the berries and watched them burn for a moment or two before plopping them into her mouth. She bit into the hot berries and immediately widened her eyes when they burst. “Oh! This IS good!”
“Told you!” Kinkajou grinned, her scales brightening up with joy.
Winter squinted past her flashy wings and nodded towards the door. “Looks like we have company.”
Peril whipped around excitedly, hoping to see a certain Mudwing. Her wings slumped a moment later once everyone had gotten inside the Prey Center.
“Happy hatching day Peril!” Sunny cheered, throwing up a talonful of shredded leaves.
“Thanks.” Peril stretched her neck up, trying to see if anyone else was in the hall. “I didn’t realize you guys were coming. Anyone else?”
Tsunami gave a snort. “Don’t worry, Clay’s coming. He’s just late because he had to go pick something up.” She sat down next to Turtle and gave her brother a small nudge in greeting that almost made him fall off his seat.
“Happy hatching day Peril!” Fatespeaker said kindly as she guided Starflight over to the table. “I predict you’ll have a wonderful day today!” She gave a big grin to the Skywing once Starflight was situated. “I can’t stick around, I have to get the library in order since Webs is going to have a history test soon. Everyone wants to get their talons on the scrolls and it’s a huge mess.”
“Maybe I should help you, I am the librarian after all.” Starflight fretted, his talons tapping on the table in a stressful melody. “And I know where the new scrolls go too, you aren’t as used to them.”
Fatespeaker nudged him with her wing. “Don’t worry about it! Have fun with your friends, I’ll be fine.” Before the other Nightwing could object, Fatespeaker headed off calling out behind her. “And the library isn’t that big yet. I can easily figure out where the new scrolls go!” Starflight’s ear twitched in annoyance but he gave up, stopping his talons and shaking out his wings with an indignant huff.
“Glory couldn’t make it by the way, the Icewings are arriving today with the splice of their weird glowy ice tree thing so she has to be there.” Tsunami said to Peril. She snatched a fish off the platter in front of her and ripped into it.
“Oh, that’s fine.” Peril knew the Rainwing didn’t particularly like her and that was fine because Peril wasn’t sure she liked her either. Speaking of which, “Why are you all here?” Wait, that sounded more accusatory than intended. “Why are you heeere?” She tried again with what she hoped was a friendly tone. Based on the squint Tsunami gave her over her fish, it was not.
“Because we’re your friends!” Sunny said. “And friends celebrate each other's hatching day!” Tsunami’s squint moved from Peril to Sunny but she didn’t say anything.
“Sorry I didn’t get you a gift.” Starflight fidgeted with his claws. “I would have found you a scroll I thought you’d like, but well…” He shrugged. “You wouldn’t have been able to touch it and I wouldn’t have been able to read it to you.”
“Huh.” Peril hadn’t made that connection before. If they both couldn’t use scrolls, maybe they had even more similarities. She tilted her head and said, “That’s okay. I didn’t really expect gifts in the first place. Queen Scarlet used to just let me pick who I wanted to fight first for my hatching day and that was it. There’s no arena anymore so I wasn’t even thinking about it.”
“She wasn’t even planning on having a party until Turtle suggested it.” Qibli pointed out.
“Which is crazy because everyone deserves some fun on their hatching day!” Kinkajou shook her head. “I just wish we would have known earlier, there wasn’t a lot of time for decorations. Me and Moon did our best though!”
Peril glanced around at what the two had managed to do, which wasn’t much honestly. There was a banner strung up that said “Happy Hatching Day Peril” with a little doodle of what she thought might be her on it, some vines as streamers, the surprisingly nice selection of food, and many, many bright flowers all over the place. It wasn’t necessarily her style but it made her warm inside to think that they made it all for her. Well, warmer at least.
Winter had also taken the moment to take in the decorations and shook his head. “You should have asked for my help. The banner is off center and the flowers aren’t even arranged into complimentary colours.”
“Wow, I didn’t realize you were an aspiring artist, Winter!” Qibli joked. Winter just gave a sniff and looked the other way.
“Oh I know! We can play rock toss!” Sunny clapped her hands together suddenly to gain everyone’s attention. “Me and Clay used to play this back under the mountain when our guardians were away! Winter, could you make some targets with your ice breath on this side of the cavern please?” She gestured to the floor on the far end of the cave and flew up to a ledge to gather up some pebbles. “The point of the game is to toss the rocks from far away and try to get them to land on the targets.” She explained as she landed back down and laid the stones out. “Whoever gets closest to the center wins!”
“Sounds fun!” Moon slid out of her seat and picked out a stone from the pile.
“Bet I can beat Winter.” Qibli challenged in a lighthearted tone.
Peril joined the others and measured up the distance between the rocks and the targets Winter had frozen onto the ground. “I used to play this too actually. Except instead of targets I threw the rocks at the guards in the palace.”
Tsunami let out an unexpected snort. “Now that sounds fun.” Sunny shot her a scolding look and she tried to amend it. “But uh, not too nice. But fun.”
“I’ll go first!” Kinkajou chirped. She waited for Winter to move out of the way before tossing up a stone and smacking it with her tail. It flew across the cavern and into the wall, completely missing the target. “Oh, whoops.”
Moon giggled and pat her friend on the head. “That’s alright Kinkajou, it was a nice try. I think I’ll stick to just throwing my rock though.” She gave her attempt and landed just short of the big target.
One by one the dragons threw their stones, some with more success than others. Winter almost made it into the center but Qibli’s rock knocked it out of the way and both ended up outside the targets, much to both of their dismay. Sunny actually landed right next to the center, which she claimed was due to tons of practice with Clay. Tsunami’s rock ended up on the outer ring of the circle on the far end, Turtle’s only made it up a quarter of the circle, and Starflight politely passed when offered a turn. Kinkajou took his turn for him, trying her tail wacking method again and missing when the rock hit the target too hard and bounced off.
Finally, it was Peril’s turn. Peril was a naturally competitive dragon, so she had been watching quite intently when the other’s took their turns. Stepping up to throw, Peril rolled the rock around thoughtfully, trying to measure out the weight and the distance. This got kind of boring pretty fast though as she wasn’t really sure how to be exact with this sort of thing, so she gave it up and just threw the rock. It arched through the air as she watched excitedly, her tail twitching as the rock neared the ground. The rock struck the floor just before the target and skidded forward, nicking Sunny’s rock but not passing it.
“Nice throw! You’re a natural!” Sunny cheered, flapping her wings. “Everyone did great actually!”
“I didn’t get it in the middle though.” Peril cocked her head. “You actually are closer than me, you won.”
“So? It was fun wasn’t it?” Sunny gave her a kind smile, one that Peril found herself returning without thinking about it first. It had been fun, even if she didn’t win. Besides, second place was still pretty good.
“Yeah,” Peril conceded with a nod. “Let’s do it again!” She leapt over to the targets to scoop up the rocks, only remembering too late that the targets were made of ice and would melt under her scales. With a sheepish look, she turned to Winter and said, “Whoops. You’ll have to redo those.” Winter rolled his eyes but gestured for Peril to move out of the way.
The dragons ended up playing the rock toss game for a good while. Long enough for Kinkajou to get her tail thwack down enough that her rock would stay on the target at least. Despite the game being fairly simple, Peril soon realized she was actually having a lot of fun. Much more than she thought she’d have with these dragons. For awhile she even forgot about Clay’s absence. That is, until the game ended and everyone sat down for the full hatching day meal instead of the snacking they had been doing before. Then she had stared wistfully at the empty seat next to hers, wondering if Clay would be there soon or if she should try to save him a boar or two.
Tsunami stomped her talons on the table, getting the attention of everyone there. “Ahem,” She cleared her voice, drawing herself upwards in an almost majestic way. “Before we start to eat, I think we should say a couple things. First, I’d like to thank Sunny for clearing this room for the day, if all the other students were here it’d be pretty crowded. I also wanna say thanks to Peril.”
“Me?” Peril sounded surprised, focusing on Tsunami’s words.
The blue dragoness seemed to draw in a bit, as if her confidence had wavered for a brief moment. “Yeah you. It’s your hatching day after all. So thanks for becoming our friend and not burning us.” She finished off lamely, plopping back down in her seat and looking around. “Okay, someone else can say something now.” Peril blinked, feeling happy in a strange way. It wasn’t the best compliment, but it was a compliment. And from Tsunami nonetheless!
Peril was even more surprised when Winter stood up next. He was her friend, or at least she thought he was, but they hadn’t exactly gotten off on the right claw. Plus there was that time she burned him, and even though it was totally his fault and not her’s, he still tended to steer pretty far away from her to avoid getting touched again.
As if hearing her thoughts, Winter started off by saying, “While we might not be the best of friends, I’m glad you’re an ally. You’ve worked hard to get to where you are and that’s impressive for any dragon…. Happy hatching day Peril.” He returned to his seat, nodding and probably congratulating himself on the smooth delivery. His delivery was much smoother than Tsunami’s at least.
“Oh, oh! Me!” Kinkajou shot up as soon as Winter had sat down, the frill behind her ears flaring out and flashing brightly. “You’re totally terrifying and fantastic and strong and scary and awesome!” The small Rainwing burst out all in one breath. “You’re one of the coolest dragons I know, and I know Queen Glory so it’s pretty impressive that you get to be on that list!”
“We all know Queen Glory.” Winter interjected with an annoyed look.
“So? Doesn’t make my list any less important.” Kinkajou wiggled happily. “Happy hatching day Peril! I hope you’ve had a great day so far!”
“I’ll go next.” Moon’s quiet voice was a stark contrast to Kinkajou’s energetic one. “Like Winter said, you’ve worked really hard to become a better dragon and it’s really payed off Peril. I’m proud of all you’ve done and I’m proud to be your friend.” She gave the Skywing a small nod then sat down, nudging Qibli, who raised himself off his seat.
“You’ve been a real help to all of us Peril, especially back with the whole Darkstalker thing. And the Queen Ruby thing. And honestly a bunch of stuff. Having you on our side has been a real plus, and so has been having you as a friend. You give us a new perspective a lot of the time and you sometimes notice things the rest of us might never have. You’re pretty unique and that’s awesome.” He nodded at her kindly before sitting back down.
Probably unaware that the others had been standing to deliver their words, Starflight stayed seated when he spoke up. “Thanks for being understanding about the library thing. I know it probably sucks to not be allowed inside but I really appreciate the fact that you stay away from the scrolls just in case. But if you ever want to read something, I’m sure we could ask Fatespeaker! Or, um… Anyone really, to help you out and read to you.” He ducked his head back down and Sunny swiftly carried on, moving the attention away from the flustered Nightwing.
“In that same vein, thank you so much for working so hard to be around the other students! It must be frustrating to have to work around them so much, but you’ve obviously been trying hard to make friends and that’s fantastic! You’ve got friends in all of us and I hope that being at the Academy lets you make even more!”
Once she finished, she looked over expectantly at Turtle who stood up nervously. “Right, my turn now. Okay.” He fiddled with his armband for a moment before growing still and looking up at Peril. “When I first saw you arrive at school I thought to myself, now there’s a dragon who’s got a big destiny, one that I should probably stay away from if I don’t want to get burned.” Qibli gave a small snicker at that. “But I’m glad I didn’t. Not only have I so far avoided any unfortunate burns, but I’ve also made a great friend. One who has quickly become one of my best friends.” He gave a small smile. “It may not show much, but you’ve made me feel more confident and more secure in myself. You’ve been a great friend and I guess what I’m trying to say is, thanks. Thanks for giving a nobody Seawing like myself the chance to be your friend.”
Turtle sat back down, looking a bit embarrassed but happy. Peril felt the same way. Her face felt like it was burning off after all those sappy compliments, but in a good way. She didn’t realize that many nice things could be said about her in one day. It was… pleasant. Peril decided she liked it, but hoped it didn’t become a regular occurrence. If it did, her scales might just burn a hole into the ground.
Peril was at a loss of words for a moment, unsure of how to respond to everyone. Eventually she decided on a simple, “Thanks for being my friends too.” Reaching out to grab a goat off the table, she grinned and said, “Now let’s eat. I’m starving.”
“Cheers to that.” Tsunami said, scooping up a platter of fish for herself. “I was too busy with getting the students outside this morning to get any breakfast.”
“Eat up, we brought a ton of food.” Moon murmured as she picked something out for herself to eat. “I don’t want to take all this back home.”
Before the dragons could get too far into their meal, a faint voice called out “Wait!” A moment later a brown dragon raced through the sky hole. He landed heavily in the middle of the room, panting slightly as he tightly clutched a bag in his talons. “I’m here! I’m here.” He huffed out, shaking out his wings.
“Clay!” Peril shot up from her seat and headed straight for the other dragon. “You came!”
“Of course I did!” Clay gave her an apologetic look. “Sorry I’m a bit late, I got held up.” He held out his arms for a hug which Peril quickly and happily returned, her heart beating loudly in her chest. All too soon he moved back and held up the bag he had been holding. “I took so long because I was trying to get this!”
“Oh. Um. It’s a very… lovely bag.” Peril tried, tilting her head to try and figure out why anyone would be so concerned over a burlap sack. “It’s very… brown.”
“Not the bag, what’s inside of it!” Clay gave a laugh. “It’s your hatching day gift!”
“Oh! What is it? Another weird fruit?” Peril’s stare at the bag became more genuine as she tried to figure out what the other could have possibly gotten her.
“No fruit.” Clay shook his head and reached into the bag. He pulled out something small and held it out for Peril. Peril gave a small gasp. In his talons were two sparkling and smooth light blue earrings.
“But, won’t they melt?” She asked, too scared to touch them and accidentally ruin a gift from Clay. In the back of her mind, there was also a twinge of suspicion but she quickly beat it back down. She wasn't too keen on jewelry because of her father's tricks, but this was Clay. He'd never do anything like that to her.
“Nope!” Clay sounded proud. “They’re made entirely of polished stone, including the backs to keep them in. Stone won’t melt so you can actually wear them! I asked Anemone to help me get in contact with some of the best jewelers in the Sea Kingdom to get them made. It took them a lot of work because trying to cut the stone so small with the backs like that made them crack a lot, and then they’d have to start over.”
“Oh wow.” Peril was touched. Reassured, she finally took the earrings, being extremely careful with them as she clipped them into her ears. Her ears weren’t actually pierced, she’d never had earrings that wouldn’t melt, but the backs were sharp and she was able to push them through easily enough. “How do they look?”
“Fantastic.” Clay gave a big grin.
Suddenly feeling full of energy, Peril returned the grin and giddily pulled Clay into another tight hug. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” She exhaled. “I’ve never had my own treasure before! Not like this!” She’d wear them forever.
“I’m glad you like them!” Clay spun Peril around twice before letting go. “Happy hatching day Peril.”
Looking around the room, Peril genuinely felt like she was surrounded by friends. All these dragons had more or less stuck by her. They had thrown her this party, gotten her all sorts of food to try, played games with her, and made her feel wanted.
Nudging Clay with her wing, Peril gestured towards the seat she had saved for him and happily said. “Come on, I saved you a boar.” Guess Fatespeaker’s prediction came true after all.