“Flame, have you heard a single word I’ve said?”
At the sound of his mother’s sharp demand Flame jolted upright, dropping the rope he had been trying to wrestle from his little brother’s mouth. The little SkyWing-SeaWing hybrid let out a triumphant chirp and paraded around Flame in circles of smugness. His short, chubby legs made it more of a victory waddle.
“Flame!” Avalanche snapped again.
“What?!” Flame snapped back, trying to act like he hadn’t lost focus again. His mother wrinkled her snout in frustration and set down the giant scroll she had been reading from on his desk, frowning at the clutter of paper and dirty dishes threatening to topple off the edge.
The crisp morning sun filled his small room with white light, highlighting all the dust that had gathered on his furniture. His new room, now located in the fancy employee housing section of Queen Ruby’s palace, had much the same items as his last: a bed, some minor storage, a desk, and a little sitting area with pillows and a table. Now that he was the Chef’s apprentice at the Healing Center it was only appropriate to move him to this room and offer up his old one to one of the thousands of dragons on the waiting list to get in.
Whichever poor dragon got his old room, he hoped they liked tuba music because his old neighbour certainly had. Especially at 3 am.
“Would you PLEASE stop zoning out!” Avalanche’s stern scolding had become a smoking roar. Chromis dropped the rope in his mouth and ducked under Flame’s wing, sending his older brother a now you’ve done it look. Flame shrugged. Avalanche’s anger didn’t scare him. “I’m trying to tell you something important,” she continued and barred her teeth when Flame merely rolled his eyes. “I don’t think you realize how difficult it’s going to be babysitting Chromis.” Avalanche unconsciously reached for the scroll again. The scroll she had brought with her wasn’t just any ordinary scroll; she had written it herself. But this wasn’t like Queen Coral’s operas or Queen Ruby’s treaties. No. Of all the things his mother could have written, she had decided to create a rule-scroll. A giant list of all the rules necessary to take care of Chromis while she went away for the evening. It appalled Flame, but even more importantly it insulted him. Did she really think him THAT incompetent?
“Oh puh-LEASE!” Flame shuffled his wing, pushing the little dragon out into the open where he leapt forward towards Flame’s twitching tail. While Chro got to work chewing on the scaly appendage, Flame tried his best to reassure his mother. “I’m not stupid, everything you’ve told me to do is just common sense.” He snatched the scroll from the desk and Chromis sneezed as the dust trickled down. He tapped the scroll against his temple, a lop-sided smile springing onto his face. “I’ll do everything the scroll tells me and won’t break a single rule. Trust me, everything will be fiiine.”
“Yeah, mama. It be all fine. No worry!” Chromis had come to stand confidently at Flame’s side. His pipsqueak of a voice was enough to soften even the stony glare of Avalanche, though she remained warry. It wasn’t until Flame crouched down beside Chromis, their matching grins of confidence shining up at their mother, did her shoulders dropped in rare defeat. She even smiled.
“Well…if Chromis thinks you can do it than who am I to argue.” She dipped her head down to lick Chro’s snout.
Flame rested the tip of his tail over Chro’s shoulders. “You got nothing to worry about, mom,” he said with gusto. “Chro and I will have a great – hey what are you doing – NO STOP!” Flame was helpless as his mother grasped his face and pulled him in for a kiss on the forehead. He pulled away with a wrinkled snout, face flushed. “Mooom,” he groaned, wiping at the smear she had left on his scales.
Avalanche rolled her eyes. “Oh come on, do you get this embarrassed when your little boyfriend kisses you?”
“MOM!” Flame’s face burned beneath his scales. He hid his face in his talons to avoid looking at the smirk she was inevitably wearing. It wasn’t fair that Avalanche knew his weakness so well. Then again it was pretty obvious to everyone that it was a certain gold-speckled MudWing with a sweet laugh and kind eyes.
“Ehehe Flamey has boyfriend!” Chromis sang. Flame seriously doubted the little guy even knew what a ‘boyfriend’ was but he knew it embarrassed Flame so that was good enough.
This bubble of embarrassment was burst when a gentle knock sounded at his door. Chromis immediately shot up and raced towards the sound, nearly slamming himself into the wall in the process.
“Wonder who that could be,” his mother said, knowing very much who it was. Flame avoided her sparkling eyes and slinked over to help Chro open the door (he was too short to reach the handle). To literally no one’s surprise the friendly brown shape of Umber was there to greet them all. Flame lit up from the inside out, a feeling matched by the smile that winked onto Umber’s face. They didn’t have enough privacy for much more than that.
“Umber!” Chro said before Flame got the chance. The small dragonet latched onto Umber’s ankle like an aggressive bracelet.
“Aw!” the MudWing patted the little head at his feet. “Nice to see you too, Chromis. Are you excited for your day with your big brother?” Chromis released the brown dragon and began stomping his feet, the little glow scales along his limbs glowing in cadence. Everyone took that as an affirmative ‘yes’.
Flame heard Avalanche stir behind him before appearing at his side. She gave him her own version of a warm smile, which was probably a bit more toothy than appropriate, but still conveyed a feeling of welcome. “Ah, Umber, I was wondering when you’d arrive. At least one responsible adult will be present.”
“Hey!” Flame’s indignant cry went ignored as Umber and his mother continued to converse. She asked about his sister and he responded with positive news before swinging the question around to inquire about Shrimp and his attempts at knitting. An eye-roll and a scoff from his mother was answer enough.
Flame tried to look relaxed but he was stiff as a tree. Every time he watched the two of them converse his whole body wound itself into a tight knot out of habit. Their very first interaction hadn’t been exactly friendly. Umber had been nice, of course. Umber was always nice. His mother, however, had threatened to maul the small MudWing. Classic Avalanche. Now, a year later, his mother had finally come around…meaning she had actually started calling Umber by his name instead of “that MudWing you date” or “the short one”.
It wasn’t much but it was something.
“Well, tell him I said hi!” Umber said, stepping aside to let Avalanche pass. She nodded and stepped through the doorway. Before continuing on her way she turned back, her long neck arching to catch both Flame and Chro in her sights.
“I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon. Chromis,” – at the sound of his mother’s call the small dragonet ceased chewing on the carpet and sat up – “listen to your brother unless he says something stupid. Flame,” she turned to address him, “don’t do anything stupid and follow the scroll I gave you. Umber,” – the MudWing gulped – “don’t let Flame do anything stupid.”
“Mama, just GO aweady! I wanna play wif Flam!” In an act of pure fearlessness, or perhaps foolishness, Chromis waddled up to the giant dragoness and started pushing her out the door. Or rather, Avalanche pretended to be pushed back. Her slight baffled expression coursed a snort out of Flame.
“I – OK I guess I’m leaving now – ALRIGHT I’M GOING GEEZ!”
Flame waited until her talon steps were far down the hall before he let his laughter burst out. Chromis joined in and the two of them cackled away like witches at a cauldron.
“Nice one, Chro. You’ll have to teach me that trick.”
The dragonet shrugged, the veins of red and purple scales along his shoulder shimmering with the motion. “I dunno if would work for you, Flam. You has to be cute or it no work.” At this Umber laughed and Flame could only give a soured pout.
“Aw, don’t worry, Flame. I think you’re cute,” Umber cooed, cupping Flame’s cheeks in his talons and squishing them together. Flame shuffled out of the grasp, trying to look annoyed but the stupid smile on his face ruined the illusion.
“EEE, FLAM!” Without warning Chromis attempted to jump onto Flame’s back but fell short and Flame wretch his wing out to catch the little creature. Chromis rolled down the length of his wing and toppled to the floor in a ball of giggles. “Flam,” Chro voiced through the peppering of snorts still leaving his snout, “is – is we gonna do the thing you pwomised we was gonna do?”
“Of course!” Flame answered. He didn’t quite remember what that promise was but he was flexible. Whatever Chro wanted to do he was down for.
Chromis was vibrating with excitement. “So we – we gonna make COOKIES!?”
Flame beamed. “Hell yeah – uh – I mean heck. Heck yeah we are!” The SkyWing avoided Umber’s scolding eyes. Hopefully he wouldn’t bring out the swear jar (Flame was seriously running out of change). “Let me just get some things and then we’ll head down to the kitchen and make so many cookies we’ll explode! Ha!”
Chromis did a wiggly sort of dance and even Umber softened at the prospect of chewy-chocolatey goodness. If there was one thing guaranteed to distract Umber from Flame’s antics, it was food. Flame tossed his mother’s scroll on the floor before moving to collect his recipe-scroll and a few extra aprons for his two companions. Flame always took his recipe-scroll with him to the kitchen now-days since he had really upped his cooking game. He could recite several cookie recipes by heart but he had one in mind that was a little trickier but SO worth it in the end. He stuffed the things in a bag and swung it over his shoulders with aggressive excitement. “OK let’s go!”
Chromis was already running out the door, although Flame wasn’t sure the little guy even knew which direction to go. Flame sidled up to Umber who had picked up the tossed scroll. “What’s this? Can I read it?” he asked and Flame shrugged. His attention was on Chro who was now running up and down the halls waiting for them to follow. Flame didn’t stop him. The more energy the little guy expended the quicker he would fall asleep tonight.
Umber’s golden-flecked eyes meticulously scanned the hastily sketched words of his mother. The MudWing was still a relatively novice reader but, when he took his time, could get through pretty near any sort of literature. Not that Flame would consider his mother’s scroll literature but, hey, it was all a matter of semantics anyway. From the way Umber’s brows continue to draw together as he read Flame figured he was catching on to the same feeling.
“No staying up past 7 pm, no eating an hour before going swimming, no running in the halls? What is all this?” Umber waggled the item before Flame’s snout. The SkyWing pushed it away with disdain.
“That’s my mother’s scroll of rules,” he informed, drawing out the word rules as if it were a slimy salamander someone had slipped into his perfectly good bowl of noodles. He turned his nose up. “We don’t need it, just leave it on the floor and let’s go.”
“COOOOOOOKIEEES,” Chromis screamed as he whizzed by the door. Umber didn’t budge. Something had caught his eye on the paper and he drew in a minute breath.
“Flame, hold up…there’s something you should see.”
Flame snorted, smoke puffing from his nostrils. “Ugh they’re just stupid rules. Come on, I want to get to the kitchen before Armadillo does.” Flame made to leave but he didn’t even make it out the door.
“But we’re not allowed in the kitchen!” Umber announced.
The SkyWing stopped in his tracks, flabbergasted. “WHAT? Let me see that!”
Umber handed over the scroll and Flame read, his annoyance building with every word he absorbed. Umber spoke true; kitchens were off limits do to safety reasons since there were sharp things around and fire and potentially poisonous stuff and blah blah blah.
It went on like that for quite a few lines. Flame chewed the inside of his cheek, not at all pleased. There were also rules about not feeding Chro too many sweets. Seriously? Did his mom HATE fun?
“So?” He passed the scroll back to Umber. “My mother’s rules never stopped me before. Besides,” he threw Umber a saucy wink, “I’m a bad boy, remember – HEY!” Flame had not been expecting Umber to thwack him on the head with the scroll of rules of all things. It hadn’t hurt but when had that ever stopped him from being dramatic?
“Avalanche’ll kill you if she knows you broke these rules.” Umber looked at him, his head cocked and face unimpressed. “Did you even read this thing?”
Flame mumbled something about maybe skimming some parts of it and that he had meant to get back to it later. Umber’s face didn’t even twitch. It broke the SkyWing. “OK FINE I DIDN’T READ IT!” Flame didn’t wait for the scolding. He pushed towards the door, tightening the strap of his bag with the airs of a dragon who had done nothing wrong. “It’s just a bunch of stupid rules anyway. By the Scales of the Queen it’s not like some cookies are gonna kill him.”
Umber followed him out, closing the door quietly in his wake. Flame’s scales twitched. Umber was still giving him that look. The ‘I’m about to argue with you but in a respectful way because I’m Umber and I’m adorable’ look.
“But…” the MudWing began, “I mean… don’t you think your mother knows what’s best?”
“HA!” Flame’s bark cannoned down the hallway, bouncing off the marbled floors and ivory columns that soaked in the warmth of the early sun. It took a second for Flame to orient himself. He kept forgetting he lived in the palace now with its grandiose airs and high ceilings. He didn’t think he’d ever get used to it.
The perplexed shine in Umber’s eyes brought Flame’s mind from the clouds back to ground level. “Oh come on!” he exuberated. “You can’t be serious! I would think by now you’d know Avalanche is far from ‘parent of the year’.”
“True,” Umber agreed, unrolling the scroll again. The tip of his tongue stuck out of his mouth, a dead-giveaway of his concentration. “But she has improved a lot in the past year.”
Flame couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Well, he could. Umber was right. Avalanche was a much better parent to Chromis than she had been for him. He wasn’t offended or hurt by that though. When Flame had been hatched it was during wartime, and he had made peace with the fact that Avalanche had probably not been ready to be a mother at that point, no matter how much she had loved him.
Still, why didn’t Umber agree with him dammit!
Luckily Flame didn’t have to come up with a counter argument (because he had none) as both males quickly came to the realization that Chromis was no longer running around yelling. Moments later they found out why.
Like a beetle caught in a scarf, the two dragons saw a small shimmering form high above, nestled in the folds of the enormous curtains that billowed like ghosts around the ceiling-high windows. That little form was, of course, Chromis.
“CHRO NO!” The little dragon was nearly at the top. Flame had to strain his neck to catch glimpses of his brother as the curtain obscured his view.
“Flame! Look!” Umber pointed upwards at the curtain.
Flame’s fear made him snappish. “Yes Umber, I know! I already saw!”
“I’m not pointing at your brother!” he snapped back. “Above him. The rod holding the curtain up is going to break!”
Once again Umber’s observant nature proved true. The rusted metal rod that had been holding these sheets up for who knows HOW long had been designed to hold light, porous cloth. With the addition of a 20 kilo dragonet it shook and groaned with each gust. New panic welled in Flame.
“CHROMIS! YOU GET DOWN FROM THERE RIGHT NOW!”
“Whaaaaat?” Chro called back, concentrating more on where to put his talons than on actually listening, but soon as his webbed talon clutched onto the fabric the rod gave a heart stopping lurch downward. One of the small copper wires holding it to the wall snapped off, then another followed and the whole thing began to tilt and swing downwards. Chromis cried out in fear.
“HOLD ON! I’M COMING!”
But before Flame could get himself untangle from his bag, Umber had already moved into action. He reached the dragonet just as the final two copper bindings sprung off. Flame gasped as Chromis began to plummet. Umber didn’t waste any time. He grabbed at the fabric around the hybrid, forming a little net that the small body plunked in to.
The MudWing landed, unintentionally striking a handsome and dramatic pose with wings spread wide and eyes mysterious and troubled. Moments later the rod and attached curtain crashed down behind him, although the airy silks took longer to settle as the breeze kept filling them like sails. It made for an enchanting backdrop for the heroic figure standing before it.
Flame cupped his face, star struck. Umber was just so amazing and perfect and Flame felt a little light on his feet when Umber looked up at smile at him.
Down the hall a door swung open. Out popped the head of a moldy looking SandWing. His squinty eyes locked on them. “Keep it down!” he growled and slammed the door shut.
“Oops,” Chromis chirped while flopping out of the curtain-bag. He sat looking down at his semi-webbed feet, a sad glow permeating his glow-scales. “Dat was an accidental. Am sorry.”
The painful panicked pinch in Flame’s stomach softened instantly and he felt a strange kinship with his little brother. Maybe it was because Chro reminded him of himself at that age; causing trouble on accident (whereas now-a-days he caused it on purpose). He gave Chro a proud pat on the head, about to congratulate him on the mess he made, when Umber’s obvious throat-clearing halted his words. By the look on his face it was plain that Umber did NOT share Flame’s sentiments.
The MudWing knelt down beside the dragonet, his boxy head nearly twice as large as the hybrid. “Chromis, that was extremely dangerous. You could have gotten hurt or worse! You can’t go climbing on everything you see, OK?”
Flame hid a smirk. Even at his most stern Umber still sounded like a sweetheart. Chromis chewed on his talons but nodded at the instructions. Flame wasn’t sure how much had actually gotten through but they didn’t have time to sit here and repeat it. They needed to skedaddle before someone came around and saw the mess.
“OK OK enough of all this rule stuff, let’s go! We’ve got cookies to bake!”
“Aaaah!” Chromis screamed with excitement; he tended to do that a lot. Flame used a sinewy wing to scoop up his little brother, allowing the small dragon to scramble onto his back. The SkyWing wiggled a bit to make Chro giggle and once they were all settled they started off. Or tried to.
“Hold it!” Flame and Chromis startled at the barrel chested MudWing that stepped in their path. “Flame,” Umber began, quietly, “are you sure the baking this is such a good idea?”
“Yes,” he and Chro responded without hesitation. Flame reached his talon over his head and Chro gave it a high five. Umber kept a straight face but his ears were beginning to twitch.
“Flame,” he said with a minor lilt at the end. Oh no, Flame dreaded, not the lilt. “I know you don’t always agree with your mother but in this situation I think she’s right. We shouldn’t take Chromis into the kitchen.”
“WHAT?” Flame gasped. Was Umber seriously taking his mother’s side AND denying himself cookies?
Umber folded his wings and slumped down. “We turned our backs for just a second and look what happened.” He pointed a talon at the crumpled curtain behind him. “Imagine what would happen in a place with knives and ovens and fire!”
An argument bubbled on Flame’s tongue but he reeled it in. He looked at the mess resting behind Umber, then to the small dragonet who had jumped off his back to carelessly chewing on something he had seen on the floor. “I – well – maybe – um – ”
“Glad you agree!” Umber decided for them. He picked up Chromis and, after some struggling, was able to pry the pebble out of Chromis’ mouth. “Luckily I know the perfect thing to do.”
Before Flame could ask what he meant, two SkyWing guards swooped in through the window. They landed by the broken curtain, inspecting it. “I told you I heard something,” the male guard said. The female looked unimpressed, ignoring him. Instead she focused on the trio of dragons to the side.
“Hey you three!” she called, “Have any idea what happened here?”
Umber and Flame both aggressively shook their heads before hastily flying out of the nearest window.