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Breaking the Cycle

Chapter Text

It was an hour before dawn when they came, their flames licking at the wooden buildings and burning down countless days of work in a series of short, quick blasts. Ash and shouts filled the air as people awoke, bringing their weapons onto the streets and preparing their counterattacks as the freezing air around them filled with ash.

Callum had already been awake, sketching by candlelight and silently flipping through the few dragon books that his younger brother had managed to smuggle to him. As soon as the first fireball flew past his window he was up, blowing out the candle that illuminated his room and rushing down the stairs as the battle cries began to grow.

Ezran would be fine, he was a light sleeper. If the fire hadn’t woken him his pet glowtoad would. He knew what to do during these attacks. He was the future chief, and if anything he knew more about how to avoid dragons and survive than anyone else in the entire village of Katolis.

This was a common occurrence, after all.

All clans had pests, it was just a fact of life. Evenere had quite the mosquito problem as soon as the snows melted; Duren was located far south and, while being blessed with bountiful harvests every fall, was cursed with large numbers of insects and birds out to destroy their crops. With Katolis, however, a viking would be as good as dead if they didn’t know how to act around dragons.

Katolis was a strange place to outsiders, Callum supposed. Located far north and right at the edge of dragon territory. A cold, barren land filled with relentless freezing snowfall for nine months of the year, and endless rain the other three. The most lively thing on their island was the vast expanse of evergreens, ones that somehow managed to survive the countless fires that ravaged the village on the island’s shore. Most would rather leave its icy embrace after the first few dragon attacks--but alas, they were vikings.

They had a big problem when it came to stubbornness.

A dragon, illuminated by flames, swooped down past his head the moment Callum opened the door, singing the tips of his hair and causing him to inhale the thick scent of smoke. He coughed once, rushing through the lingering dark clouds and down the streets while promptly ignoring the annoyed shouts from those around him.

“Get inside!”

“Why are you out here?”

“Don’t get in the way!”

It was an absolutely lovely morning greeting. Note the sarcasm.

Within a minute he was in the forge, calling a quick greeting to Ethari and slipping on his apron before pulling a strange contraption from behind a pile of scrap metal.

“Well, you certainly got here quickly.”

“I was already awake when the first dragon attacked,” Callum replied.

“What in Thor’s name were you doing up before dawn?”

“Nothing important.”

And it wasn’t anything important. He was meant to be a viking, and drawing wasn’t a very vikingly activity. But still, what Ethari didn’t know couldn’t hurt him.

“Him” being Callum himself in this particular scenario.

The machine in Callum’s arms clicked, causing his grip on the metal contraption to falter. Seconds later a large bola shot out across the forge, causing a shelf of damaged weapons to snap and fall crashing to the floor.

“I’m assuming that’s your latest dragon-killing invention?”

“Dragon-trapping.”

“And I’m assuming you meant to fire it just now.”

Callum rolled his eyes, as he crossed the forge to where the net-like contraption lay in a tangled mess, “It’s just a minor calibration issue. It’ll be fixed in no time.”

“Don’t let your father find it, then,” Ethari warned, an amused smile playing at the corners of his mouth, “It’d be scrapped for parts before you even had the chance to destroy a watch tower.”

Callum ignored Ethari’s verbal jab, carefully re-attaching the bola to it’s mount and setting it aside as a new pile of ruined weaponry was placed at the window to the forge.

“That happened one time like, two years ago? You’re never gonna let me live that down, are you?”

Ethari drew his attention away from Callum and back to the flaming metal in his gloved hands.

“What about the time you nearly burnt down the forge while testing that wind spell you stole from Claudia? Or the time you destroyed a line of catapults after filling them with scrap metal instead of rocks? Or when you set a Gronkle free in an attempt to--”

Okay , I get it. So I'm a little accident prone,” Callum admitted, hastily detaching the metal parts from the ruined blades and tossing them into the forge to be smelt down and reused for new weaponry, “but that’s only because no one will give me a chance. How am I meant to fight dragons when I’m never even allowed outside ?”

“For now you need to focus on eating more and growing some muscles. Maybe then you wouldn’t be seen as such a lost cause and--”

There was a loud crash as a nearby building was crushed, and Ethari cursed as he looked out the window, “That was Runaan. I’m going out to help.”

Ethari grabbed his preferred weapon--a large silver hammer that resembled the ones they used in the forge--and made his way to the door.

Don’t even think about leaving this smithy! ” he called out as he left.

Callum then proceeded to leave the forge.

You see, here’s the thing. Callum didn’t necessarily mean to exit the building. It just sort of happened. Y’know. As things do.

Around a minute after the blacksmith went to help his husband there was a loud rumble, pulling his attention away from the melting metals.

The warning was never necessarily needed. That’s what made this certain breed of dragon unique. If it wanted you to know it was there, you would know. Storm clouds appeared seemingly out of nowhere, the growing drum of thunder shooting throughout the sky as lightning struck at the village.

The verbal warning was only an unneeded confirmation.

Storm Fury, get down!

This. This was his chance.

Callum hoisted up his masterful invention and made his way out of the forge, the freezing early-autumn air biting into his skin in a sharp contrast to the fiery heat of the forge. His breath fogged as the blue silhouette shot across the suddenly stormy sky, its shape indistinguishable from the lightning that surrounded it. Sparks rained down around him, creating small fires as the sparking electricity hit dry wood.

Storm Furies were rare, only three of the dragons ever being known to appear to mortal eyes. Large, evasive creatures known to live thousands of years at least.

Panicked war cries filled the air, and the smell of ash and burning blood stung his nose along with the sharp cold. Callum crouched down, setting the tail end of his bola-launcher-thingy on the street and aiming it upwards, to where a long streak of lightning was shooting across the sky.

Just wait for the perfect opportunity to strike. As soon as the lightning fades, in the split second before the dragon disappears into the storm clouds…

There was a long moment of silence.

Then, the icy blue lightning flickered very slightly, and the sparks began to fade.

There .

Callum pulled the lever, launching the bola through the sky. It hit the blue shape and a loud, pain-filled screech echoed over the island of Katolis.

There was a beat of silence, as a long streak of lightning shot down across the sky. Into the forest.

He’d done it.

He’d done it.

He’d shot down a Storm Fury.

He’d shot down the most dangerous dragon their clan had ever faced, and now he would finally, finally be seen as a real viking.

Then, because his luck had been going too well to possibly be true, all hell broke loose.

There was a sudden warmth creeping up the back of his neck. Warm, wet air replacing the dry cold. A low rumble filled his ears as he froze.

Oh Odin.

Callum slowly turned to face the dragon that had approached him, looking upwards at the Monstrous Nightmare.

Had they always been so incredibly large?

He slowly began to step backwards, trying his hardest not to think of the large dragon watching his every move with murderous intent.

His foot hit a fallen piece of rubble, causing him to stumble.

His glorious bola-launcher-net-thing slipped from his hands and hit the dirt below him, causing a racket that was most certainly several levels too loud for someone trying to escape being burnt to a crisp by one of the most dangerous dragons known to man.

The Monstrous Nightmare illuminated it’s body in flames.

Callum ran, his heartbeat erratic as fire filled the air around him. He ducked behind a house that was promptly engulfed in flames, tripping and stumbling onto his back over the sloping ground, sliding sharply across the rocky dirt before coming to a halt against a large rock that bordered the village’s docks. His left shoulder flared up in pain, and he was vaguely aware of a sudden wet, sticky sensation creeping down his arm. The dragon let out a single long roar, letting fire spill from it’s mouth and across the ships behind Callum.

The dragon turned its attention towards the boy, and he felt his heart drop. It’s eyes narrowed slightly as Callum desperately pressed his back as far against the rock as it would go, ignoring how the action tore at the damaged skin on his upper arm.

A growl grew from the dragon’s throat, its lips peeling back to reveal dozens of razor-sharp teeth that could easily rip the small boy to shreds--bones and all. Heat was surrounding him, and in Callum’s adrenaline-fueled panic he could hardly tell that the flames had engulfed the entirety of the surrounding area. There was a snap, and the looming shadow of a watch tower fell slowly over his head. (Callum mentally cursed. Ethari would never let him hear the end of that.) It crashed, shaking the ground around him as the dragon roared and went to strike its prey--

A large, rough hand grabbed his injured shoulder, sending streams of white-hot pain through his arm as he was harshly pulled from his huddled position against the rock. His vision blurred, and the pain-filled screech of a dragon nulled his senses as he peered through the growing smoke to see what appeared to be the figure of a large arrow sticking out from the neck of the Monstrous Nightmare. It was quickly followed by the sickening crunch of dragon scales being split in two.

The dragon fell to the ground, dead. A figure pulling an axe from where it was embedded in the creature’s neck as Runnan--the clan’s best archer--removed the arrow.

Callum pulled his eyes away from the two vikings, his gaze drifting over to the sea. Two of their largest boats were engulfed in flames. He could see hoards of dragons flying quickly across the dark waters, escaping with a very large amount of livestock. The grip on his shoulder tightened, and through the pain Callum wondered if his captor was bothered by the feeling of human blood on his hands.

What were you thinking? ” an angry voice shouted into his ear, and Callum flinched. He looked up towards the chief, a man that towered over him and managed to look equally as regal as he was frightening.

“Hey... Harrow!” he managed to squeak out, “Okay so like, I know this looks bad--”

There was a splash as a large piece of ship fell into the sea harbor.

“... really bad, in this case... But I shot down a Storm Fury!”

Harrow the Vaste. The chief of Katolis. His technical-not-really step-father.

He was in a load of trouble, wasn’t he?

Harrow looked down at Callum, an exhausted expression on his face. He loosened his grip on Callum’s shoulder and pushed him towards their home, turning back briefly to address the vikings in the area.

“Marcos, Runaan, dispose of the Nightmare. I’ll be with you to assess the damages in a moment.”

Callum held back a cringe, quickly following the chief through the ruined streets, trying his hardest to ignore the stares of those around them.

His ankle was starting to throb too. He tried not to think of how sore and bruised the rest of his body was.

They passed by the fire brigade, and Callum almost wished that the dragon had just killed him.

Claudia--the pretty girl who used to play with him and his brother when they were little and their parents were in important meetings--gave him a pitying look. Her older brother, Soren just scoffed at him. There were the other teens surrounding them. Rayla, the girl that Runaan and Etheri had unofficially adopted; Nyx, the aspiring sky mage who had a talent for causing chaos; Corvus, the eldest of them all and the one with the most experience dealing with dragons.

Then there was him. Callum the useless. The one who’s only talents included doodling and destroying things.

He ducked his head as he passed his peers.

Ezran was waiting in front of the door with his glow toad in his arms when they reached their house. It was thankfully untouched, if you managed to ignore the several patches of ash along the wood.

Harrow glanced at the small dragon with a look of discomfort, but didn’t say anything as he gently coaxed Ezran into the house.

Glow Toads were harmless creatures, found commonly in swamps and shallow rivers. They were small, slow, and more often than not the favorite food to any animal larger than them. Their one defense was the soft glow that they emitted at random intervals.

Vikings liked to use them as bait for catching dragons.

Ezran cried for a week straight when he discovered what their clan had been raising a group of them for, and in an attempt to quell his son’s cries he allowed the boy to take one as a pet. Hence the toad’s name--Bait.

Callum was pretty certain that Harrow regretted his decision immensely.

“Ezran, go to your room,” Harrow ordered. Ezran gave Callum a quick glance before shooting up the stairs, not wanting to anger the chief further.

“How many times do we have to have this conversation?” he asked as soon as the younger boy disappeared.

Callum remained silent.

“We were meant to take those boats and leave this morning in search of the dragons’ nest.”

“And now you can’t.”

“So, you see our problem?”

Callum bit his lip, all too aware that his brother was listening in despite being in another part of the house. Sound carried through the building far too easily.

“I know this seems really, really bad. But I shot down a dragon. We don’t need to worry about a Storm Fury anymore. Just get together and send out a search party and--”

“Callum, stop.”

“I saw it fall, it should be just past the Caldera cliffs--”

Callum .”

Callum shut his mouth.

“You need to get your head out of the clouds and back into Katolis where it belongs.”

Callum avoided Harrow's gaze, the feeling of his eyes sharp and stinging against his skin. Just like his shoulder, which was really starting to hurt now that the adrenaline was wearing off.

Harrow sighed, seemingly reading Callum’s thoughts and gesturing for him to sit at the kitchen table.

“Remove your vest and shirt, they need to be mended and cleaned.”

Callum complied, wincing as the fabric tugged at the torn skin. Harrow left through the back door, presumably to use the water pump that was located behind the house, and returned with a bucket of water and an old rag. He didn’t bother lighting the candle that sat in the middle of the table, content on working in the soft pre-dawn light.

The wound was thankfully nothing more than the top layer of skin being shredded. It wasn’t deep, and there wasn’t any danger of permanent damage. The chances were that it wouldn’t even leave the slightest scar. That didn’t make it hurt any less though, as Harrow pressed a layer of cloth bandages against his upper arm and tied it the slightest bit too tight.

Harrow stood as soon as the wound was cleaned and bandaged, making his way to the door and leaving without another word.

That was fine. Callum was used to this.

Ezran chose that moment to slowly creep down the stairs, having heard Harrow leave.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah.”

He stood from the table, grabbing the small pile of blood-soaked clothing and tossing it into the water bucket so that the blood wouldn’t dry and stain. He’d wash it later, before the water frosted over.

By the time he’d changed into a new set of clothing the sun had finished rising, illuminating the main room of their home and providing the faintest presence of warmth, a gentle relief from the normal biting cold.

The chances were that the sunlight wouldn’t last. It would probably rain or sleet later.

Bait grumbled from Ezran’s arms.

Right. Breakfast.

Callum silently got to work, pulling out a stale loaf of bread and two eggs before spending several minutes striking at the flint and steel in an attempt to illuminate the fireplace so that Ezran could at least have a warm meal.

“Weapons-grade bread?” Ezran asked in an attempt to lighten the tense mood, and Callum couldn’t help but smile.

He eventually got the fire to light and the eggs to cook, but neither of the two brothers were strong enough to cut the bread.

Callum went upstairs before his brother could remind him to eat.

His sketchbook laid open on his desk, a charcoal pencil beside it.

He immediately got to work, sketching out a vague map of the island and marking all of the locations the dragon could’ve possibly landed. The most likely location was a heavily wooded area just past the Cursed Caldera cliffs.

The only problem was that… well… it was the Cursed Caldera. Dragons loved to nest inside the caves that littered the cliffside, and Terrible Terrors were a common menace in this particular section of wood.

He didn’t want to have a foot bitten off.

But at the same time, this was his chance. He’d seen the dragon fall from the sky, he’d heard it’s pain-filled shriek. And, because his luck was just so wonderful, no one believed him.

So now it was a simple choice. Risk a terrible injury, kill a dragon, face immeasurable glory and finally be accepted by those around him, or be the village laughingstock for the rest of his life.

Callum closed his sketchbook, slung the strap to it around his shoulder, and grabbed his only weapon--a small dagger.

It would appear that he would be going on a long walk through the forest today.

Chapter Text

The forest was tall, dark, and void of life. The birds were scarce, with cold gripping each and every edge of the island and warding off the small creatures nearly year-round. Woodland animals rarely strayed too close to the village, with the winter months oftentimes rendering the clan desperate for even the smallest meal. Vikings tended to avoid its uncharted depths, the exception being the few hunters on the search for wild boars or dragons that had been shot down during raids.

There was lore surrounding these forests. Vikings were quite the storytellers. The village elder claimed that faeries and elves had once inhabited the forest, and that they had been driven away when the dragons invaded their land. The blood of the elves still flowed through the Katolis clan, seen in those with fire in their eyes and hair that resembled moonlight.

They were just stories though, and only the village children would believe the tales.

For most, the woods were a forbidden, dangerous place filled with mystery and near certain death. For Callum, this was the one place he was free to do as he pleased. There were no watchful eyes around every corner, no judgemental words at each action he took.

It was peaceful.

Callum opened his sketchbook to the map he had hastily scribbled down mere hours prior. It was about a half-hour walk to the Cursed Caldera. If he were to avoid the dragon-infested cliffs it would be about an hour to take a detour off to the side. 

And so he walked. Carefully avoiding the small patches of snow that littered the ground and trying to ignore how the sky was fading to gray and clouds obscured the sun.

He prayed that the incoming precipitation would be light and quick. It had been storming for nearly a week and the ground was already soft enough as it were.

He really didn’t wish to wash the mud from his boots.

As he began to reach the halfway point to the Caldera cliffs, it began to sleet.

Callum cursed as he shifted his icy hair out of his face, using his body as a shield to cover the sketchbook in his arms. The previously damp ground became mushy and sluggish under his feet, and the warmth was slowly sapped out of his limbs as his clothing became damp with precipitation.

He stepped forward, only for his foot to sink into a particularly soft mound of mud.

“Wonderful.”

He continued onward after attempting to wipe as much of the wetted dirt as he could off onto a nearby tree.

The further we went into the forest, the darker it became. The trees seemed to grow taller and taller, unaffected by the presence of fires or lumberjacks, towering over the forest floor and blocking out any light or warmth. He could hear the familiar chirp of Terrible Terrors nearby.

A glow toad crawled out of the undergrowth.

It looked like Bait.

...it wouldn’t survive long in this area.

He decided to take a detour of his detour, picking up the harmless dragon and setting it down as soon as they were a decent distance away from their previous location.

What should’ve only taken an hour at most quickly stretched into three, with the path of Callum’s choice straying much closer to Mount Kalik, a tall stretch of rocky terrain that laid within the heart of Katolis’ main island. Soren liked to call it the Katallest mountain in Katolis. There was less mud here, but in exchange he was forced to walk over countless large, sharp rocks. Claudia liked to call them the Kato-shortest mountains in Katolis.

With how battered and bruised he was from his run-in with the dragon earlier that morning, walking along the path they formed was his own mini version of hell.

If something were to appear near him, he would not be able escape.

He was strangely numb to that thought.

Based on the shadows surrounding him, it appeared to be around midday by the time he finally reached the wooded area just past the Cursed Caldera, and it wasn’t long before he noticed the destruction.

Trees laid in splinters, a distinct slope where a large creature had supposedly crashed through the forest.

Which meant that he had been right.

He’d shot down a Storm Fury.

The exhaustion he’d obtained from the endless walking was replaced with adrenaline as he quickly made his way though the fallen trees and upturned mud, stumbling over exposed roots and sharp rocks. The destruction came to an abrupt halt at the entrance to a small clearing in the trees. There was a small, rocky cliff blocking his view of the short drop-off, covered in a thin red coat of dried blood. Callum pushed back the disgust forming in his stomach at the sight of the liquid and pulled himself against it, peering over the natural wall.

Stuck in a tangled mess of wire-lined ropes was a dragon.

The Storm Fury was strangely small, seeming to be the size of a large horse rather than the offspring of lightning and death, with shimmering blue scales that seemed to flicker and glow in the dim daylight. A mane of icy fur engulfed the dragon’s head. It was completely caked in layers of mud and icy sleet, but even through the filth Callum could see an assortment of inflamed rope burns, scaleless skin, and the sticky red that completely engulfed the end of the dragon’s tail.

The creature was completely still, a motionless lump that was half-buried into the ground.

It took Callum several minutes to realize that he was still hiding, despite the dragon being in a completely vulnerable and defenseless position.

He forced himself to stand, pulling himself over the cliff and sliding through the mud down to where the dragon lay. He took in a deep breath, making sure his sketchbook was secure at his side and removing a small, silver knife from where it sat sheathed on his belt.

Now to actually kill it.

In such a close proximity to the being, every little cut and burn was clear for his viewing.

Callum could barely force down the bile that rose from the back of his throat. He couldn’t bring himself to look at the dragon’s tail, where it’s navigational fin lay in shreds.

With the sheer level of gunk that coated the dragon’s wounds they were bound to become infected. Killing it would be a mercy at this point.

Just take the knife and slice it across the dragon’s neck, or bury the blade within its chest.

The sooner he killed it the sooner he’d be accepted as an actual viking. A real member of Katolis, not the useless parasite that he’d become.

The dragon suddenly shifted, a low whine bubbling out as it’s eyes opened and locked onto Callum’s dagger.

He yelped, tripping over his own feet in his attempt to back away and falling against the small cliff face. His arm throbbed at the sudden sharp pressure. Callum prayed that he hadn’t torn the scabbed skin.

In an attempt to compose himself, Callum pulled his thin body to its feet.

He raised his hand to the dragon, dagger clenched tightly in his fist and angled threateningly towards the Storm Fury.

“I’m going to kill you,” he spoke, almost as if he were trying to convince himself, “I’m going to cut out your heart and bring it to Harrow, and finally become a real viking.”

The dragon simply stared.

Callum took a step forward, and the dragon closed its eyes.

He raised the dagger to strike, and promptly collapsed onto his knees.

He couldn’t do it.

He couldn’t kill it.

Countless generations of vikings, and he was the first out of all of them that could not kill a dragon.

He lifted his gaze from where it was fixated on the knife in his hands, before heaving in a deep breath, trying not to choke on the scent of fresh blood that was mixed into the mud.

Callum quickly reached to grip one of the wires holding the dragon down, slipping his knife underneath and slowly began to saw away at the thin layers of metal and rope. The little voice inside of his head told him he was insane. He was so close to the validation that he’d always craved, he only needed to angle the knife slightly lower and slice through the aquamarine scales...

He shut his eyes tightly as the first rope snapped and the dragon shifted under his touch.

Oh Valhalla help him , he was going to be sick.

Peeling his eyes open very slightly, he found the second main rope tying the dragon down and began cutting, trying his hardest to ignore the sticky warm sting of fresh dragons’ blood flowing over his hands and slickening his grip on the dagger.

With one last, forceful slice the wire snapped, and the dragon was free, spreading out its wings and forcefully knocking the knife from Callum’s hands as his body was sent crashing against the cliffside.

Pain erupted in his upper arm, and he could tell for certain that the scabs had been forcibly ripped off as the bandaging shifted and loosened.

All at once a huge weight pressed down upon his chest, and looking upwards he found himself staring into the eyes of a Storm Fury. Intelligent, lightning-filled blue eyes bore into his own green ones.

He was going to die. His fate had only been slightly delayed from that morning.

The weight on his chest pressed him further and further against the rocky cliffside. He couldn’t breath, his chest hurt from what had to at least be several bruised ribs, and he found himself wishing that death would only come quickly. His eyes slipped shut as he accepted his fate, praying to Thor himself that his demise would be short and relatively painless.

The blow that would surely end his life never came, and the dragon simply let out a scream, sparks of electricity filling the air in front of his face and numbing his skin. Then, the painful weight lifted from his chest, leaving him lurching forward and heaving into damp earth as his eyes shot open just in time to see the Storm Fury frantically flapping its large wings and lifting into the air, shooting over the trees.

There was a single long screech, before the sounds of trees crashing to the forest floor filled the air.

It was followed by a thick, unbreaking silence.

Callum didn’t know how long he sat there, just staring at the half-buried torn up bola that took the place the dragon was in just moments prior. He found himself unable to simply move his legs, the nauseous feeling refusing to fade and the cold sleet only continuing to fall relentlessly upon him.

By the time he finally managed to pull himself up, the sleet had come to an end and he was completely soaked in the freezing water. The mud made a sickening sucking sound as he pulled his legs up from where they had sunk into the soft ground. They were completely numb, and Callum held desperately onto a nearby tree to prevent himself from falling right back into the mud.

The nausea returned briefly, before fading back into a bearable ache at the pit of his stomach. He slowly reached down to pick up his fallen knife, cringing at the sight of the valuable metal coated in dried blood and crumbling dirt. The boy attempted to wipe the majority of the blade clean before slipping it back into its sheath.

He braced himself for the long walk back, pulling his body over the small cliff and making his way past the fallen trees. He didn’t bother turning off towards Mount Kalik. He was too tired to try avoiding the Caldera. With all of the sleet and moisture the larger, more threatening dragons were likely hiding in their nests to wait until the storm clouds dissipated. Fire breathing creatures didn’t do too well in the damp weather.

Callum found himself limping the entire way back. His shoulder stung as much as it did that morning and his bones felt as if they were encased in ice. His thick, soaked clothing did little to fend off the cold and he found himself unable to stop shivering.

To make matters even worse this was his only set of spare clothing. His other set was still soaking in the icy water, stained with blood from that morning’s incident. Washing out blood was one thing, but mud?

He made the mental note that it would be better for him to explore more of the west side of the island. Maybe if he had made a more detailed map he’d know which paths to take in order to avoid the mud and steer clear of dragons. 

Why couldn’t the damn Storm Fury have fallen to the east? Where there was less overgrowth and clear paths worn down from his years exploring that part of the forest for art ideas?

The sun was low in the sky when he finally reached the edge of the forest, thankfully having encountered no dragons on his journey back.

It suddenly occurred to him that he was quite a mess, blood and dirt coating him from head to toe and an insistent shiver that refused to cease.

Thank the gods that the chief’s home was near the forest’s edge.

He managed to enter his home without encountering a single soul, the living area remaining empty of the house’s other occupants. The bucket holding his bloodstained clothes still sat where he’d left it that morning.

Callum removed his soaked boots and made his way behind the house where the water pump sat and began to clean, wishing nothing more than to make his way to the village’s hot springs and scrub every last bit of grime from his body.


-



The sun had completely set when he had finally cleaned himself and his clothing, which was currently hung up to dry on the hearth in their main room.

He was still cold, which really shouldn’t have been all that surprising considering he was wearing an old, threadbare shirt and trousers that he hadn’t worn since he was twelve, over two full years ago. Despite how painfully slowly he had been growing the garments were ill fitting and fell several inches short on his limbs and exposed a small portion of his midriff.

He prayed that the clothing was dry by the morning, though knowing his luck and Katolis’ weather he’d be stuck wearing damp clothing for the next week.

A tray of burnt jelly tarts sat on the table, and Ezran came bounding down the stairs, glow toad clutched tightly in his arms.

“Okay so I know I’m not really meant to say this but thank you for leading that dragon through the streets,” Ezran spoke quickly, piling several the overcooked tarts into his arms, “Barius let me take home the tarts he made this morning and last night cuz they weren’t pretty enough.”

Callum smiled at his brother, standing from where he was seated on the hearth. He moved to sit at the table, taking one of the tarts with less scorch marks and biting into the sweet pastry.

“So you mean you didn’t have to steal them this time?”

“Not even a little!”

Ezran’s smile abruptly fled from his face.

“Did you really shoot down Azymondias?”

The sudden question confused Callum, “Who?”

Ezran’s  shoulders sank the slightest bit, and he placed the tarts he had collected back onto their metal tray, “Azymondias. The Storm Fury.”

“You gave it a name?” Callum asked, surprisingly unphased by the sudden revelation. Considering everything that had happened on that day, he was beginning to feel numb to anything revolving around dragons.

Especially the dragon he failed to kill.

“I didn’t give him a name. Bait told it to me.”

Callum held back a grimace as he remembered a certain incident with Terrible Terrors. One that had caused half of their clan’s livestock to escape and him to be blamed, “Bait can’t speak, Ez.”

“He can! You just don’t know how to speak Dragonese!”

“I find it hard to believe the strange pronunciation of weird phrases is a dragon language.”

“It’s not weird!” Ezran protested.

“You tried teaching me it once and started with telling me that the word for ‘hello’ was ‘howdeedoodeethere’ .”

“It just sounds a bit weird without the accent!” Ezran explained, before his gaze once again dropped to the table. He grabbed a single jelly tart and handed it to Bait, who happily consumed the treat whole. “Did you really shoot him down though?”

“Depends on who you ask,” Callum replied, uncomfortable with the direction this conversation was heading. Ezran had always been extremely sympathetic towards dragons, something that everyone hoped he would someday grow out of. The heir had thankfully stopped speaking of such things around the adults and their father, but the fact that he still seemed to obsess over them was concerning. Especially considering that in four years he would join dragon training and start working towards becoming chief.

Chief of a clan that was in a generations-long war against dragons.

“He’s still a baby, Callum. If you really shot him down then he will die!”

“He’s a Storm Fury, Ez. The most dangerous type of dragon we know of.”

The younger boy grew quiet, staring at the tray of tarts instead of replying.

It would appear that their brief conversation was over.

He grabbed the tray of jelly tarts and suddenly turned to quickly shoot back up the stairs. Callum, exhausted from the day and just wanting to sleep made to follow him, only faltering as he heard the front door swing open.

He continued to walk, silently praying that he wouldn’t be called down--

“Callum,” Harrow’s voice boomed out.

Heck.

Callum forced a fake smile onto his face as he turned to face the chief.

“I’d like to speak with you, son.”

Why was he suddenly calling him son? He hadn’t done that in years, not since it became painfully obvious that he wouldn’t amount to anything.

“About what?” was Callum’s reply. He tried to ignore how his voice cracked through the middle of his words.

“I’ve decided to enroll you into dragon training.”

There was a pause.

“I’m sorry?”

“Starting tomorrow morning you shall be working with the other teens and learning how to properly defend yourselves against dragons.”

Okay, apparently it was possible for his day to go from terrible to horrendous.

“Wait, Harrow, no-”

“I know you’ve been wanting this forever, but I was just worried you’d only end up getting hurt,” Harrow began to speak over him, “but if today was any indication, you will at least need to know the basics in defending yourself.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t-"

“Of course you can,” Harrow began to remove his armor, placing his helmet onto a hook jutting out of the wall and his sword into its mount, “training starts tomorrow at sunrise. You’d better get some sleep.”

And just like that he was gone, leaving to the next room and letting Callum wallow in his sudden predicament.

He had to attend dragon training, something he had daydreamed about his entire life. Only the thought of attending left a deep sense of dread.

He’d had the chance to kill a dragon. Not just any dragon, a Storm Fury, The Dragon Prince himself. The one leagues more powerful than a common everyday dragon. Only the most powerful vikings even dared to go up against them, as they were the unholy offspring of lightning and death itself. They’d kill vikings mercilessly-

...and yet this one didn’t.

The thought hit Callum in a sudden wave. He’d been completely at the mercy of the most dangerous dragon known to man, and it had let him live.

But why?

Callum hadn’t the slightest clue.

Chapter Text

Callum awoke the next morning to the thick smell of frying meat and eggs wafting through his room.

Sluggishly turning over in his bed, his foggy mind drifted steadily into consciousness as he saw that the clothes he’d hung to dry the night before sat folded on his desk. The room was tinted blue from early sunlight drifting in through the opened window, glinting silently on a large, heavy sword that sat on top of the clothing.

It was cold, but then again when wasn’t it.

He forced himself into a sitting position, his sore body protesting at the movement. Every part of him hurt, a consequence to going so far into the forest the day prior. The door that connected Ezran’s room to his own was ajar, and Callum could clearly see his brother’s empty bed from where he lay.

There were voices downstairs, and the glow of firelight seeped into his bedroom along with the scent of food.

Right. He was meant to start dragon training today.

Callum begrudgingly pulled himself out of bed, crossing the cold room stiffly and standing before the large sword that sat atop his clothing. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he attempted to lift the needlessly large weapon. His grip faltered as he dragged it off of his desk. Its tip hit the wooden floors with a loud thud, and he heard the voices downstairs falter for a second, before picking up again.

He mentally cursed his strength as he set the sword to lean against the wall, thankful that Harrow had at least thought to leave it in its sheath. He recognized the hilt. It was one of the swords that was usually hung for decoration on the downstairs wall.

Callum quickly slipped into his dry(ish) clothing and prayed to Thor that the sky would remain clear.

Now fully clothed in much more appropriate (and warm) attire, he let his attention drift back to the weapon.

Harrow must have left it for him to take to training. While his intentions were presumably good, the large man must’ve forgotten that Callum was, well… Callum. The weakest and smallest “viking” in all of Katolis. He attempted to lift the sword once again, only to find that his sore arms protested at the slightest attempt.

Okay. So he wouldn’t have a large weapon for dragon training. That was okay.

He picked up his small, silver dagger and slipped it into his belt.

Making sure to grab his sketchbook from it’s normal position on his desk, he made his way downstairs.

A tall woman--clad in armor and weaponry--sat at the hearth, cooking what appeared to be a wide assortment of breakfast foods.

At her side was a young man with bright strawberry blonde hair.

“Good morning, Callum!” Gren greeted with a bright smile, gently tapping on the shoulder of the woman in order to alert her of his presence.

General Amaya was one of the chief’s most trusted companions. She was the sister of their mother, and was said to have shared the title of the clan’s most skilled warrior before her passing.

For someone who was quite the force to be reckoned with, she was one of the only people in the entirety of Katolis who actually seemed to enjoy his presence.

That and Gren, but Gren liked everyone . Callum was pretty sure he didn’t have a single mean bone in his body. He often wondered how the man managed to fight dragons when he wasn’t interpreting for Amaya.

His aunt turned to face him, signing a greeting that he promptly returned.

“You can wait at the table,” she signed, not needing Gren to interpret for her nephew, “breakfast will be ready soon.”

He nodded, flashing her a smile and settling at the table where Ezran was already seated and munching on a tray of breakfast sweets and jelly tarts from the bakery. Of course Amaya stopped there on her way here, she was obsessed with spoiling them.

“So, dragon training,” Amaya asked him, setting a large tray of eggs and sausage in front of him--far more than he could possibly eat. He signed a quick “thank you” anyways. “I wish I could be there, but due to the last dragon raid we can’t take as many ships and Harrow wants more high-ranking warriors to join the voyage to help make up for the loss.”

“Who will head the dragon training then?” Callum asked.

“That would be me!” Gren piped up suddenly from beside Amaya, signing as he spoke, “Fen is taking over as interpreter until they return.”

That made sense, seeing as Gren scarcely left Amaya’s side and was usually the one speaking throughout the previous courses. Not that Callum would know. That would have required sneaking off to watch the class take place, which was something he 100% had not done the past four consecutive years.

“When are you leaving?” Callum found himself asking.

“In a few hours, after dawn,” was Amaya’s reply.

Oh.

“So soon?”

“We have to make up for lost time.”

...because of Callum’s stunt, he added on mentally.

Amaya looked out the front window, frowning.

“I need to go.”

“So soon?” Ezran complained through a mouth of sugar.

“We need the time to set up the boats and get situated,” she explained, before looking to Callum’s overloaded plate, “you need to eat up. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

“Yes ma’am.”

And just like that, she was gone. Gren stayed behind, being the instructor for dragon fighting. It would make sense for him to go with Callum to the arena.

His mind drifted back to the day prior, and he suddenly found it difficult to swallow his food. Flashbacks of blood-stained soil, a battered and mutilated tailfin, and eyes that seemed too human to belong to a beast of mass destruction.

He stood from the table, the thought of food suddenly nauseating. Gren gave him a concerned glance.

“Nerves,” he said simply, nudging the tray over to where Ezran sat with Bait. The small dragon promptly began to wolf down the food on the tray.

“Oh, well… we should get going soon anyways. I still have to set up today’s lesson.”

Callum held back a sigh of relief, thankful that--unlike his aunt--Gren was more accepting of skipping breakfast.

They left the house when the sky was still a dark blue, fading into light from the presence of a steadily rising sun.

Ezran slipped out with them, Bait in his arms as he ran down the street to where a young girl was waiting on a doorstep. Ellis was one of the only children Ezran’s age, and Callum was thankful that he’d had more luck befriending her than he’d had with any of the others in his age range. She also happened to be one of the nicer kids in Katolis, though--like Ezran--she seemed to be much more interested in learning about dragons than killing them.

He desperately hoped that the two of them would grow out of it. He was already a failure, the village couldn’t afford any more of them if the frequent scorch marks that lined the houses were anything to go by.

The arena was positioned up on a cliff by the edge of the forest on the east side of the island. Great for keeping the dragons in captivity away from the people, yet close enough to the village and watchtowers to ward off any wild dragons that lived in the nearby forests.

There was only one other teen there when they arrived. Rayla. If he recalled correctly she was the unofficially-adopted daughter of Ethari and Runaan. She leaned against the arena wall, pulling her hair up into a braid that hooked over itself and repeating the action until it was moreso a bun than a braid. It was a style that he recalled his mother wearing into battle quite frequently. She stood straight when she noticed the arrival of Gren.

A confused look spread across her face when she saw that it was only Callum accompanying him.

“Sir, pardon me for asking, but where is Amaya?”

Her voice carried a heavy accent, similar to the way Ethari spoke. It was natural, he supposed, her having grown up around the blacksmith that had originally hailed from the Xadia Isles. 

“She joined the voyage to search for the nest, I’ll be taking over her role for the course,” he replied with a smile, “try not to be too disappointed, okay?”

Rayla pursed her lips and nodded, leaning back against the wall and pulling out an extravagant pair of silver twin daggers.

Callum recognised the weapons from the forge. It was a pair that Ethari had been working on the night before the raid, without a doubt for Rayla to use during training.

Not wanting to disturb the older girl, he followed Gren to the supply closet to help him set up.

The sun had finally risen by the time the other teens arrived.

He tried to ignore the condescending glare from a certain blond boy.

“Who let him in here?”

Yep. Soren was still Soren.

“He shot down a Storm Fury, why should he even need this class.”

And Nyx was still Nyx.

He tried to ignore the hurtful comments, turning his attention to Gren as he addressed the class.

“Now, before we get started I’d like to know a bit about your pre-existing knowledge about dragons. Specifically Gronckles,” he began, a cheerful grin never leaving his face, “we’ll go down the line. Claudia?”

Heck. He must’ve been distracted by her brother as she came in. Callum leaned forward slightly to look at the tall girl.

It had been years since she last willingly hung out with him, and yet the hopeless crush he’d developed on the aspiring mage had never quite simmered out.

She was still as beautiful as ever, with her raven hair tied into a knotted ponytail and her posture stiff and formal.

If she was speaking, he hadn’t heard, too distracted by seeing her so close after years of constant avoidance. She hadn’t ever gone out of their way to put him down, which he respected, but she’d been very clear in her decision to avoid him at all costs.

It was more than a little discouraging when she had once been his closest friend.

Soren began to speak suddenly, his voice loud and degrading, and Callum was brought back to the present.

“Um, they’re dumb and dangerous and need to be killed?” 

He spoke as if asking someone to challenge his statement.

Gren’s smile faltered slightly.

“Not exactly?”

Before Gren could correct the boy, Nyx stepped forward.

“What Soren said.”

“Okay… I’m just gonna stop the two of you there. Corvus?”

The eldest of them stood straight as he was addressed, “Gronckles are relatively harmless compared to other dragons, and aren’t nearly as smart. Their strengths lie within their rock-hard skin and great durability.”

“Good. And Rayla?”

“They require a massive amount of brute force to kill, as the majority of blades do little to harm their rocky skin. The most effective weapon is a hammer, though it is rendered useless in the hands of someone without enough strength to properly wield it.”

“Very nicely put, Rayla,” Gren nodded, “We will be facing one of these dragons today. Callum, you work in the forge.”

Heck, Gren was addressing him now.

“Can you tell me what the most essential item is when faced with a dragon of any kind?”

This… this was a joke, right? He’d just helped the man unload countless shields from the storage--

“A shield. If you have the choice between a weapon or a shield, choose the shield.”

“Excellent,” Gren cheered, placing a hand on a large lever that jutted out of the wall, “now, I’m not the biggest fan on this particular method, but Amaya is. And who am I to throw out her teachings due to her unexpected absence?”

He pulled the lever, and the cage door holding a large, rurly gronckle flew open, the dragon bursting forth as all of the teens lunged forward for a shield.

Callum grabbed the first one he could get his hands on and fled to the far edge of the arena, not bothering to check whatever design might be painted onto the wood. He could hear Soren and Claudia arguing over their shield designs behind him.

He ducked to the side as the Gronckle shot past him, knocking the siblings to the ground as Gren called out to them, “Soren, Claudia. You’re out, get to the side!”

So he’d outlasted them, that was something .

He spotted Corvus and Nyx over on the opposite side of the arena. Nyx quickly tossed a large boomerang across the space, it hit the Gronckly head-on, stunning the dragon while simultaneously drawing it’s attention. Corvus shot the girl a sharp glare, ducking out of the way as the dragon crashed against the wall behind where he’d been standing moments prior. The older teen took his weapon--a chained set of hooks that resembled a kaginawa--and tossed it over towards the dragon only for it to be knocked away by Nyx’s boomerang as the girl attempted yet another attack.

“They’re going to get themselves killed, fighting like that,” a voice said from behind him, and Callum jumped as he quickly diverted his attention to the girl who was suddenly standing at his side.

Rayla had joined him on this side of the arena at some point, standing in a defensive position for if the Gronckle happened to lose interest in Corvus and Nyx and decided to suddenly attack. He was struck with the sudden realization that he didn’t really know much about the girl. Unlike the others in the arena, she’d never participated in the frequent harsh words or went out of the way to ignore him. She was just… never really there?

He was pretty sure she just ignored everyone, he wasn’t special.

She never needed to go by the forge, only stopping by every now and then since she lived with Ethari and could easily give any broken weapons to him directly, and from what he was aware she spent most of her days training in the nearby forest.

“Oh, um… yeah.”

Callum mentally hit himself for the lame reply.

“Do you have a weapon?” she asked, not taking her eyes off of the Gronckle as the dragon slammed Nyx to the side and disarmed Corvus.

“Corvus, Nyx, you’re out!” Gren called as the two desperately scrambled away from where the Gronckle had begun to spit out a ball of molten lava.

“Um…” Callum unsheathed his only weapon--the small dagger he had used to cut the Storm Fury free, it’s edge still flat and dull from sawing through hard metal.

Rayla only spared him a single glance before rolling her eyes and ducking away, “Just try not to get yourself killed.”

The Grockle turned to him, it’s mouth bubbling with fire and melted rock as it began its way across the arena.

“Right. Try not to die. Simple enough.”

The next sequence of events happened in a blur. He rolled to the side, clutching his shield close to his chest just in time to avoid a large splat of lava that sizzled into the ground right where he’d been standing.

Before he could pull himself up from the ground he was suddenly shoved up against the wall, his bruised body screaming at being pinned by a dragon for the second time in two days.

Heat bubbled up in front of his face, white-hot light blinding him.

Suddenly the weight was gone, and he felt the wall behind him shake. A sudden burning sensation filled his wrist, and it took him a moment to realize that a spot of lava had fallen onto the sleeve of his doublet. He desperately shoved the piece of clothing off, his skin pricking with goosebumps as he did so.

“You okay?” a voice asked from in front of him, and he looked up to see the silver-haired girl staring at him with what seemed to be concern twinkling in her violet eyes.

“Yeah,” Callum found himself saying, pushing himself to his feet as he watched Gren strangle the Gronckle back into its pen.

“Really?”

“Aside from the burning lava on my skin? Perfect.”

“Well, you aren’t dead.”

Rayla turned on her heels and made her way to the weapons rack by the entrance, setting the shield against the wall and leaning back with the other teens.

“Of course the step-prince was the only one who got hurt,” Callum heard Soren say as he pulled up his doublet from where it lay on the dirt.

He ignored the jab, more concerned about how his favorite coat now had a large hole in the right sleeve. Not to mention how the weather was steadily growing colder with the quick approach of winter.

Lovely.

The other teens filed out of the arena as Gren dismissed them, having notified them of a meeting in the great hall after sundown. The strawberry-headed viking shot him a glance that told him to stay, and so he did. 

“There’s some medicinal supplies in storage for this class. Wait here.”

And so he did, leaning against the arena walls as he tried not to think about the insistent feeling of fire dancing across his skin.

Gren returned seconds later, a large wooden box in his hands. He motioned for Callum to sit, and he complied as the man pulled out a bottle of medication.

Callum was briefly thankful that his tunic’s sleeves happened to cut off above where the lava had reached, and tried not to grimace at the sight of charred skin on his right wrist as he rolled the fabric up to his elbow. The lava had barely brushed him--thank the gods--but being harmed in any way on the very first lesson was humiliating to say the least.

He hated how numb he’d grown to the feeling.

Callum tried not to wince as Gren spread a thick slave over the burn. It was just another injury to add to his beaten and battered body.

“You need to be more careful,” Gren scolded as he began to wrap his wrist in a soft cloth, “Amaya will kill me if you get seriously injured in the course, and I’m not so sure how much more recklessness your body can take.”

“I’ll be fine,” Callum replied.

“How are your injuries from yesterday?”

“Still sore, but my shoulder has scabbed over and nothing is broken.”

“Good. Try to stay out of trouble for now, please?”

Callum managed a smirk as he pushed himself to his feet, “No promises.”

Callum.

“Ugh, fine .”

He had no intention of keeping that promise.

Callum helped Gren pack up as much of the supplies as possible, spending the next hour digging cooled lava rock off of the floors and carrying shields and weapons back into the storage rooms they’d been taken from.

“Can’t risk the rain rusting the metals,” Gren had explained.

It hit him suddenly when he was walking back to the village with the viking. The lava burn was on his right wrist, his most dominant hand.

“It’s going to be a pain to draw things now, isn’t it?”

Chapter Text

Callum wasn’t sure what compelled him to return to the forest after dragon training. It wasn’t as if the dragon would still be there, the beast would have flown away as soon as Callum made the idiotic decision to cut the last rope.

His red doublet hung loosely on his shoulders, the right sleeve blackened from fire and a large hole revealing the bandaged skin underneath. It still burned as if the flames were pressing against his bare skin, but that wasn’t very surprising. He suppressed the urge to run to the nearest stream and duck his entire arm into the icy waters.

Burns really were the worst, in that sense. The presence of unbearable heat was stubborn and refused to fade.

The walk back past the Cursed Caldera was thankfully much quicker this time around, with the clear skies allowing the sun to shine through the thick canopy of leaves and onto the forest’s mossy floor. He’d managed to find a path that was mostly devoid of mud, situated at the top of a small slope and littered with countless tree roots and rocks.

The weather was better than yesterday, he supposed. It was only damp and cold, as opposed to wet and cold.

Katolis was one of those places where it was never really dry, and almost certainly always cold (spare for a few blissful days in the summer months). The brief glimpses of sun shining onto his skin as he walked through the trees was very much so welcomed.

He reached the space where he had discovered the dragon trapped the day prior. The creature was nowhere in sight.

Of course. He honestly wasn’t expecting to see the Storm Fury. It was long gone, no doubt returned to its nest with the rest of the dragons and free to once again help raid his village.

Oh gods, Callum was now responsible for who knows how much lost livestock.

If the other vikings ever found out that he had willingly let a dragon fly free…

Callum tried to force the thought of banishment out of his mind.

Letting out a sigh, he began making his way down past the wreckage and through the trees on the opposite side of the clearing. There was the sound of water, of waves crashing against rocks. He hadn’t noticed the day prior, but it made sense that they were close to the sea. The dragon had fallen over the water after he’d shot it from the sky, after all.

Sure enough, just through a thick layer of greenery was a rocky cliffside. Callum made his way to sit on one of the large slabs of stone a safe distance away from the edge. He was not going to survive an encounter with a Storm Fury only to be taken out by his own clumsiness alone.

Drowning in a near-freezing sea was not a pleasant thought.

The wind was harsh and cold here, and Callum could see the Cursed Caldera straight across the massive cove that stretched across this side of the island. It was littered with large indents in the rocky cliffside that seemed normal and unassuming to the naked eye. If one were to look closely, however, they would see several small creatures moving in and out of the caves every now and then.

Dragons.

Not seeing the point in walking all the way back to the village just yet, Callum pulled out his sketchbook, taking his charcoal pencil and beginning to sketch out the cliff face with his non-dominant hand, hating how the quality was drastically different compared to his other sketches. Just as he began to shade in the crevices alongside the cliff a large shriek echoed through the air around him.

Callum jumped to his feet, quickly turning to the direction the frustrated scream had originated from.

The ground seemed to shake as yet another screech echoed through the air, and Callum all but forgot about his previous task of sketching the cliffside, rushing back into the forest, past the clearing where he’d found the dragon and through the trees.

He was barely able to stop himself from walking right into a deep hole, situated in the center of the path and framed by tree roots and an overhanging rock. The sound once again echoed through the air, and Callum found himself quickly slipping into the small entrance, walking through the short tunnel and finding himself within what appeared to be a deep crevice in the earth. Tall stone walls surrounded a single small lake, greenery and trees lining the indents along the sloping rock boundary.

Directly across from him was the Storm Fury, it’s small body thrashing across the rocky sides of the cove.

He quickly ducked behind one of the rocks that framed the entrance to the area, his heart rate suddenly going at a million miles per second. He lifted his head slightly, peering around to look at where the dragon was.

It launched itself up suddenly, desperately flapping its wings and clawing at the rock walls as it attempted to escape.

“Why can’t you fly?” Callum found himself wondering aloud, fascination and adrenaline mixing together with his fear.

He sunk to the ground (which was thankfully dry-ish due to the shelter that the natural tunnel provided) and opened his sketchbook. It was a painstakingly slow process to draw the dragon, with Callum carefully sketching each line with slow, deliberate movements. He peaked over the rock every now and then to refresh his memory, and to make sure that what he was drawing was anatomically correct.

The dragon was very much so unlike other common dragons seen around berk. It lacked the large, long claws seen on the majority of the more dangerous breeds; the skin was strangely brightly colored for a dragon known for its stealth, and instead of scales its neck was covered in a thick layer of fluff that resembled moreso a puffed up kitten than a dragon.

If Callum had officially lost his mind he might’ve described the Storm Fury as cute .

Then there was the size. It was extremely small, considering that Storm Furies were known as the reigning leaders of all dragon kind, Callum had expected the dragon to be much larger.

His thoughts returned briefly to what Ezran had said the night before.

If Ezran were correct, this dragon was still young. Although, if the dragon before him was simply a “baby”, he dreaded ever meeting the thing’s parents.

The Storm Fury let out a frustrated huff, shouting angrily at the stone walls once more before sulking down to the side of the lake, flopping onto the dirt and staring into the water. Even from this distance, Callum could clearly see the injuries that littered the dragon’s body. His eyes drifted to the tail, and he was hit with a sickening realization as the adrenaline and fear began to fade.

Half of the dragon’s tail fin had been ripped off. The said appendage was currently scabbed over with dried blood, coating the jagged edges with a weak protection from the elements.

It needed to be cleaned, Callum realized, mentally hitting himself for casually looking past that fact the day prior.

The boy looked over his sketch, briefly switching to his dominant hand despite the pain to work on the smaller details and carefully lining the injured fin’s silhouette, drawing what he assumed it would normally resemble and shutting the sketchbook. He pulled himself to his feet and carefully began making his way out of the tunnel that sheltered him from discovery.

Callum could already tell he was really, really going to regret this.

He stepped out onto the soft moss that lined the sides of the cliff, and promptly slipped straight forwards. His sketchbook flew out from where it was clutched in his hand, the pen dropping down the slope and his feet failing to find traction as the moss was replaced with slick, damp stone. He barely managed to hook his hand around a single, outstretched tree branch right before his body slid over the side. It took all of his strength to haul himself back up the slick stone and onto solid ground.

Note to self- don’t step on mossy stone after a week of non-stop rain. 

The feeling of being watched was sudden and overwhelming, and when Callum looked up he was met with the eyes of a large, sky-blue Storm Fury.

Right. The dragon.

It watched him curiously, head tilting slightly as he observed the behaviors exhibited by the human.

The Storm Fury made no move to attack him.

Callum briefly debated dropping everything and running right back to the village. At least he was just a menace there, whereas he could very much so be dead here. The failure of a dragon-killing viking picked up his sketchbook and hastily returned the object to its usual place at his side.

He took in one large, deep breath and began his slow, careful descent to where the dragon watched him.

Soon he stood on the ground level, his eyes flashing nervously over the dragon’s form.

The Storm Fury eyed him intently, before slowly beginning to cautiously crawl towards the boy. It took Callum a moment to realize that he needed to actually breath. The dragon was only a few yards away from him at this point, and Callum found himself raising his injured hand to meet where the dragon’s head would soon be.

He bit his lip, wishing with all his might that this was just a crazy dream and he’d wake up under the thin, threadbare blankets piled atop his bed and return to his brief miserable life. He found himself unable to look away as he felt the warm, wet, electricity-charged breath of the Storm Fury on his hand.

He could easily bite it off, Callum realized, and there was no way the viking would be able to return to the village in that state.

Instead of brutally tearing off his arm, as Callum had been dreadfully expecting, the dragon simply nudged against his palm.

And suddenly he was petting a dragon.

Azymondias ,” Callum mumbled, remembering what his brother had told him the night before. The name felt strangely right, although he had no clue what it meant or how Ezran had come up with it.

The dragon seemed to respond to the name, ears perking up and head raising expectantly as the beast studied him.

“Your name is Azymondias, isn’t it?”

Callum’s eyes shifted to the tail fin.

“I did this.”

Biting his lip, Callum gave the dragon one last, cautious stroke on his scaly head before backing up.

“I’ll be back, I promise,” he claimed, making his way slowly back to the sloping side of the cove.

He could fix this. He just needed time.

...and supplies.

His run back to the village was quick and adrenaline-filled, the past half-hour flashing through his mind nonstop. Finding the cove, seeing the dragon, watching Azymondias struggling to fly--it all felt like a dream.

Not just that--petting a dragon. As if the creature was some sort of cat or dog.

He’d finally gone insane.

As soon as he returned to the village he ran straight to the forge. It was filled with nearly unbearable heat from the fire. The thick scent of burning metal, leather, and smoke would cling to your clothes and skin in layers that were near impossible to wash off.

Callum tried to creep through the forge as quietly as possible, towards the back room where he knew of a large stash of bandages and alcohol sat upon a shelf. Callum had a bad habit of getting hurt while helping Ethari, a few rolls of gauze and a small vial of alcohol wouldn’t be missed… at least he hoped.

“Callum, there you are.”

He mentally cursed as Ethari called out to him, turning to face the blacksmith that had just entered the forge.

“I was looking for you after Gren returned from dragon training, where did you go?”

“Oh, just- y’know. Hanging around. Doing stuff.”

Ethari crossed the room towards him, placing a hand that Callum supposed was meant to be comforting on his shoulder, “Don’t let the results of the first day get you down. You still managed to be one of the last standing, you lasted longer than the others.”

“Right.”

Ethari went to grab a damaged weapon, sticking the blade into nearby fire to begin heating it up, “Rayla told me you didn’t have a suitable weapon. I thought Harrow said he’d given you one to use.”

His thoughts drifted to the large sword that was still leaning against his wall back at the house, “Yeah. It, uh… it was too large for me.”

“Well, feel free to craft your own weapon if you’d like. We have plenty of scrap metal that needs to go to use laying around. Just help yourself.”

Callum nodded as his mind drifted back to the dragon. Ethari set him to work on repairing weapons that were harmed in the latest raid, and he completed the tasks mindlessly.

A plan to help Azymondias fly once again was already forming in his mind.




-





It was twilight by the time Ethari released him from the forge, and Callum found himself wishing he’d been able to think of a way out sooner. Zym was still in the cove, tailfin shredded and bleeding and waiting patiently for an infection to set in.

He made his way to the great hall, where he and the other teens had been ordered to meet up for both dinner and to discuss the events that occurred during training.

The other teens were already there when he arrived, with the sky being dark and cloudy and firelight being the only thing to illuminate and warm the freezing air around them. He could feel the cold settling in, and Callum could already tell that the damp ground would be frozen through tomorrow morning.

“Look who finally decided to show up,” a voice called from the center of the room.

Soren was standing beside the only full table in the great hall. With the majority of people choosing to eat at earlier intervals in order to return to their homes for the day. Very few vikings remained in the hall, most being seated along the edges of the large room or making their way out of the building.

Callum made his way to the table beside where they sat, tuning out the majority of what Gren and the others were saying.

His thoughts were stuck on the dragon. He knew that the creatures weren’t big fans of the cold, with the majority of them simply sleeping through the depths of winter until their bodies once again warmed and they were back at attacking livestock.

Zym didn’t have anywhere to shelter himself. And with winter fast approaching, it wouldn’t be long before snow and ice engulfed the entire island of Katolis. Most dragons fought off the autumn freezes with the fire that coursed through their body, but Storm Furies were known for their lightning as opposed to flames.

His thoughts were interrupted but a book being slammed onto the table in front of him.

Rayla stood there, eying him with what could almost pass as curiosity.

“Have fun reading,” the silver-haired girl said, before leaving his side and exiting through the great hall’s front doors.

The other teens and Gren were gone, leaving him alone.

The book in front of him was one he recognized, and turning the pages only confirmed his thoughts.

Vikings weren’t really all that big on reading, their literary skills simply consisting of only the most basic of knowledge, with books being a rarity in almost every settlement. This was a book on dragons, and more specifically how to kill them. He used to sneak into his step-father’s office when he was younger and his mother was still alive, to look at this book and scan over the constantly changing passages and drawings.

He hadn’t been able to read, of course, but Sarai had always been willing to tell Callum about what he saw within the book.

Callum let the cover slide shut, and got up to leave.

The sky was a dark, murky color that bordered on blue, with stars peeking out of the passing clouds as he walked down the dirt road towards the chief’s residence. It was dark and cold in the building when he arrived, the fire pit nothing but a pile of burnt-through charcoal and wood that was nothing more than sticks made of ash. Ezran was probably still at Ellis’ house. Knowing her parents, they’d probably taken the opportunity of Harrow being away to cook him food and keep him there as long as humanly possible.

Gods forbid they allow the heir to stay home alone with the mistake of a viking that was Callum.

Knowing that the rapidly dropping temperatures would only continue to worsen throughout the night, Callum quickly piled the spare firewood off of the hearth and into the mess of ash, using the flint and steel that sat upon the hearth to strike a small, pitiful fire into existence.

He could technically sleep here, he realized. Harrow was gone, and there weren't any unspoken house rules that would be in effect whilst he was away.

And so, Callum ran upstairs to grab his piles of spare furs and worn-through blankets to drag down into the main room, creating a soft, warm cushion next to the hearth.

It wasn’t long before the front door opened once again to reveal a small boy and his pet dragon.

Upon seeing the piles of blankets, Ezran dropped Bait on top and rushed to his room to collect his own.

A small voice in his head said that this was indecent. Vikings weren’t supposed to get cold, they were meant to be immune to freezing temperatures--to laugh at frostbite and blizzards in the face and to challenge frozen fjords with iron fists.

He found that he didn’t care, as he settled down that night next to Ezran.

It was the first time he’d felt truly warm in years.

Chapter Text

Sharp sea air stung Amaya’s skin as she stood by Chief Harrow’s side at the front of the ship, her armor freezing with layers of frost and sea salt sticking to the iron. Nothing but a thin tunic of leather and linen was there to protect her from the freezing metal.

The seas before them were covered in a thick fog, images of large, jagged rocks drifting in and out of view as the mist twisted and curled above the still waters. Very few vikings entered this uncharted land and survived, all too many boats sailed into the whitened air and returned with half as many men. She’d survived too many of those voyages to count.

Harrow raised his arm, shouting an order to advance. There was a distinct shift of tension in the air as the message spread through their ranks. She briefly looked back as the fog began to envelope the war boats, not bothering to linger as she saw the vikings behind her suddenly alert and in defensive stances.

She’d never allowed her guard to fall in the first place. That was what got people killed.

Dragons lurked everywhere in the sea, not just within their uncharted territory.

The boats moved slowly, twisting and turning as the rocks appeared from the fog mere feet in front of where she stood.

Harrow began to sign from beside her, “We sailed to the north on our previous voyage, we should continue west this time around.”

She nodded in confirmation, signalling to her temporary interpreter to follow her as she went to relay the chief’s orders to the rest of the fleet.

Her attention never left the rocky waters around them. Even the slightest change in the low clouds, or the faintest rock of the wooden decks below them could mean the presence of a dragon. It only took a split second to determine the difference between life and death. Even the smallest bit of hesitation held the ability to send a viking to their graves.

She’d witnessed that very situation countless years prior. The anniversary of her sister’s death would be upon them soon, and the lack of the woman’s presence beside her was only a grim reminder of what a dragon could do.

They’d failed this very mission countless times prior.

They would not fail again.

 

 

-

 

 

The next day came too quickly, the warmth of the fireplace long gone and heat quickly seeping away as cold enveloped Callum’s body once again.

He shifted out from his position under the furs that had created his makeshift bed, moving to the hearth to rekindle the dim and diminished fire. The faint traces of light that filtered in through the cracks of the windows and through the open chimney signalled that dawn was quickly approaching.

Callum saw his breath fogging in the firelight as the flames once again grew to a substantial size, and he went to quickly pile his own blankets onto Ezran’s sleeping form.

There was still a small amount of time left before he had to leave for dragon training, but he really wasn’t fond of the idea of waking his brother as he moved about the house. Not wanting to linger in the building any longer, he quietly opened the kitchen cupboard, grabbed a small piece of bread, and made his way out into the cold morning air.

As he had predicted the night before, small patches of snow covered the ground around him, icy patches filling his path as he walked through the dim village.

Everyone was most likely still asleep, if the silence was anything to go by.

Callum made his way to the edge of the forest, up towards where the dragon arena was situated on a cliff, and settled himself upon a stone that overlooked the ocean.

He took a bite of his pitiful breakfast and pulled out his sketchbook, overlooking the drawings he’d recently added in. The charcoal sketches were slightly smudged, from where he’d accidentally gripped the pages in his adrenaline-fueled haste to draw the dragon.

The dragon’s body appeared to be a symmetrical mirror image, a sharp blue color as opposed to the multiple mixes of reds and greens commonly found within the images of other species observed within the raids. That was what made the Storm Fury so unique, he supposed. A solid bright color.

How the dragon remained unsighted against the dark clouds was still a mystery.

A sudden thought entered his mind.

He had nearly unlimited access to the forge, having worked there as Ethari’s apprentice for the past several years. If he could conjure up some scrap metal and leather…

Callum flipped to a clean page of his notebook, sketching out a single side of Azymondias’ tailfin. It was a fairly simple shape, stretching across a few distinct rows of support… cartilage?

It occurred to him that Callum had no idea what a dragon’s skeleton looked like. Whether it was bone or some other support that lined their wings. Whatever it was that outlined the fin, metal would be a sufficient substitute.

Callum began to draw an outline of the tailfin, ignoring the sting in his wrist and carefully making sure to create a working wing. He’d have to take measurements of the actual fin at some point, lest he waste precious materials to create a prosthetic that doesn’t even fit the dragon.

Oh Thor, he was actually drawing the plan for a dragon’s wing. To help a dragon that he shot down and injured in the first place.

The dim pre-dawn lighting turned golden as he finished the blueprint.

He sighed, looking over the image once more before closing the sketchbook and peering out over the sea. The dragon arena was to his right, and he could see Gren’s figure making its way up the long path that led into it to set up for that day’s lesson. He felt vaguely guilty about not helping the man, seeing as Amaya had been there with him for all of the years prior.

It wouldn’t be long before he had to pull himself to his feet and return to train with the other teens. He wasn’t looking forward to Soren’s inevitable jabs.

Callum sighed, hastily eating the last of his bread and pulling himself to his feet, carefully navigating the rocky pathway and returning to the village road, where he could see people beginning to exit their home and commence their daily sets of chores.

It was almost peaceful.

He made a sharp turn and began to make his way up to the dragon arena, forcing the sleep from his mind and ignoring how cold the air around him was.

Knowing their luck, winter would be early this year. Especially considering how their first snowfall was this early into the autumn season.

The other teens were already waiting within the arena by the time Callum arrived.

This day’s lesson was much more elaborate than the previous one, and a large maze of wooden walls had been arranged in the center of the room.

They were released into the arena just as a Deadly Nadder was released from it’s cage.

“Today is all about stealth,” Gren explained from his position inside the stands lining the arena, “find it’s blind spot, and it won't be able to see or attack you.”

Easier said than done.

Callum quickly grabbed himself a shield, holding it close to his chest as he made his way through the maze, headed in the opposite direction from where the sounds of Claudia and Soren’s bickering originated.

The loud voices stopped briefly, and a plume of thick, black smog filled the maze and wound itself through Callum’s path.

Claudia’s magic. He figured he’d see some of her dark magic spells sooner or later.

“Excellent use of the dragon horns on your shields, Caludia. But this lesson is about finding the dragon’s blindspot, not creating your own and blinding everyone around you.”

“I got the job done, didn’t I?” Callum heard the said girl shout back, followed by a loud shriek and Gren shouting at her to get out of the arena before she was killed.

Callum let himself fall to the ground, pressing his back against the wooden wall and quieting his breathing as much as possible. It took several minutes for the fog to fade away, with the harsh ocean winds being blocked by the tall walls of the arena.

A sharp scream shot through the air, the walls to his left shuddering as something was slammed against it. Callum took that as a sign to move, his feet stumbling as he raced around the corners of the maze and slipped into a shadowed gap between two walls.

The Deadly Nadder shrieked somewhere to his right.

This was fine.

He slowly shifted his weight and peered out into the long stretch of hall within the maze. The silver-haired girl was leaning against a corner not far from him. As if sensing his presence, her head turned and their eyes connected.

There was a crash, and Gren’s voice shouted from above.

Corvus and Nyx were out. This left only him, Rayla, and Soren.

How Callum had once again survived longer than some of the most qualified vikings, he hadn’t a clue.

He heard the Deadly Nadder hopping from wall to wall, and Rayla motioned for him to follow her. He quickly complied, shuffling across the space between them and cursing his long and awkward stumbling movements.

They turned a few corners before Rayla held a hand out in front of him, forcing the boy to stop. She quietly reached behind to where her twin daggers were stored within her belt, drawing both of them in a swift and silent motion.

The dragon was around the corner, he realized. She’d gotten him to follow her in order to avoid him ruining her strategy.

She slowly walked forward, and Callum complied to the silent order to stay . Rayla moved to strike, when the determined war cry of a very overly-confident Soren rang out around him.

Rayla let out a sharp curse as she fell backwards onto Callum, the wall they’d been previously hiding behind crumbling around them as the dragon appeared in front of the two, wingspan stretching across to block out the sun as it let out a long, sharp roar.

“What now?” Callum asked.

“Now,” Rayla replied, “we run.”

She rolled to the side, and Callum winced as her elbow hit his ribs as she moved off of him, and Callum desperately scrambled to his feet, turning to follow the girl as the dragon turned to where Soren stood, large sword in hand as he challenged it.

He could hear the teen mocking them for running.

They turned a couple of corners, and Gren called out for Soren to exit the arena as the sharp sound of spikes shot over their heads.

Rayla cursed again, “Why did I have to get stuck with you?”

“Thanks for the encouragement.”

Shush .”

Callum shushed.

He tried not to think about his close proximity to a girl who was very much so inconvenienced by his presence.

“Stay here,” she ordered, lifting her body slightly and shifting her weight so that she could peer around the corner.

“Right.”

Rayla moved, disappearing down the corridor and leaving him in silence.

Then, because the universe just loved to mess with Callum, a low growl grew from behind him.

He shut his eyes tightly, heaved in a breath, and began to run, ignoring the sounds of splintering wood and the giant shake of large footsteps.

“Wha-”

Callum grabbed Rayla’s arm as he passed her, dragging her forwards and trying to ignore her frustrated cries of disbelief as she saw the dragon storming after them.

What did you do?

“Nothing!”

“Somehow I find that hard to believe.”

They quickly split up as a fork appeared in the road, the dragon slamming into the wood and causing every wall behind that one to fall crashing to the ground, giving them a clear view of the exit. A fallen plank hit the weapon racks, sending the heavy weaponry crashing to the floor, shields and metalwork scraping against the floor and scattering against the stone.

He didn’t even want to think about how many hours of repair work that would be.

The dragon let out a long, warning growl as it turned its attention to Rayla, who was currently crouched in a defensive position. The Deadly Nadder spread out its wings, knocking the remaining walls to the ground and rendering any hiding places destroyed.

The dragon crept towards Rayla, and the girl moved backwards, only to trip over a piece of fallen wall. She crashed to the ground and onto a large pile of splintered wood.

Things seemed to happen quickly, between Gren shouting at them from above to get out of the arena and the Deadly Nadder raising its head in preparation to blast fire at the young viking. A glint of metal caught in the corner of Callum’s eye, and he hastily palmed the area at his side, gripping the hilte of the spear that had fallen next to him.

He only had one shot at this, and before he could overthink the entire situation, he was throwing the spear, flinging it forward and into the wing of the dragon. The Nadder let out a pain-filled screech and Callum found himself wincing at the sight of blood that began bubbling up from the clean cut that ran straight through the dragon’s wing.

Rayla shot to her feet, running to the exit as soon as Gren managed to enter. The viking quickly used his shield to corner the wounded dragon pack into it’s pen.

There was a long pause of silence before Gren let out a laugh.

“Well then, it would appear that we need to get Ethari to build you a spear.”

 

 

-

 

 

Callum reached the cove just as the sun reached the highest peak in the sky. Melting icicles and patches of mushy snow surrounded him as he slid through the small tunnel, a basket full of fish slung over his shoulder and a satchel of medical supplies at his side. A single, thin spear was strapped across his back, digging uncomfortably between his shoulder blades as he moved.

It was a cheap, ancient weapon, one that had been sitting in a closet of old and worn-down spare weaponry at the back of the forge. Ethari had said he’d be willing to help Callum craft his own, and gave it to him as a temporary replacement.

So, apparently he was going to learn how to use a spear.

It made sense, if he really stopped to think about it. His mother was a master of fighting with the said weapon--him being able to handle it with some amount of ease was only natural.

Zym perked up as soon as Callum entered the clearing, running up to meet him as he carefully made his way down the icy path to meet him at the bottom of the cove.

The dragon’s attention immediately shifted to the basket, his nose sniffing at the woven material as Callum slung it to the ground.

“Okay, calm down,” he said, gently pushing the dragon’s snout away and undoing the latch and letting a large pile of fish pour out and onto the ground.

Zym yipped happily, quickly consuming large amounts of trout, carp, and the large variety of whatever oysters he’d been able to grab without being spotted.

“I stole enough fish to feed a single family for weeks, I hope you know how much trouble I’d be in if I get caught.”

Zym ignored him, continuing to sift through the fish, cracking oysters from their shells and carefully peeling the flesh of the fish from its bones.

Taking the dragon’s distraction to his advantage, Callum made his way to the tail, setting his bag of medical supplies down at his side as he crouched and began to inspect the damage he’d caused only a few days prior.

The fin seemed to be only a single half of a whole. There was a short, jagged line of clotted blood coating the entire left side of the fin, and Callum could vaguely see the remains of small, thin stumps from where the fin was once controlled.

Carefully he removed a soft cloth from his bag, reaching over and dunking it in the icy water from the small lake that filled most of the cove. As gently as he could, he began to wipe away at the black and crusting blood, wincing at the layers of dirt and grime that came up with it.

Azymondias’ tail flinched, and the dragon let out a pained yelp as he turned to face the boy, his gaze questioning.

“I need to clean this,” Callum tried to say, holding up the rolls of bandages and praying to the gods that the dragon would understand.

The dragon let out a low whine, before settling back down to finish the fish Callum had brought.

Callum went back to cleaning off the gunk that coated Zym’s wound, trying not to gag as the scent of metallic blood hit him and the raw red skin underneath was revealed. Callum worked quickly, scraping off the last bit of crusted dirt and applying a thick salve. He carefully pressed down the opposite tailfin, pausing only briefly as Zym stiffened and wrapping it in the cloth bandages he’d brought.

He used the remaining bandage to measure the length of the fin, cutting it with the knife he kept on his belt and placing it back into his satchel.

Zym’s tail looked odd like this, wrapped in layers of gauze and medical paste and resembling the tail of a snake more than a dragon.

It would have to do for now, until the rest of his skin healed over.

Callum stood and stepped back, and Zym took that as permission to move and inspect the bandaging.

He found a rock to sit at by the water, pulling out his sketchbook and looking back towards where Zym had gone back to eating the fish he’d brought the dragon. Without another thought, Callum continued to sketch out and edit his designs for a new tailfin.

Azymondias was going to fly again.

Callum would right his wrong, even if it was the last thing he did.

Chapter Text

The heat of the forge was always a sharp contrast to the air outside, with ash and stray flames replacing the frost and cold that was present in any other location on the island of Katolis. Ethari had decided to join Callum on this particular day, much to the boy’s silent disappointment.

His hands ached from nonstop work, sore and tired from having stayed up for countless hours the night before in an attempt to finish the tailfin he’d been making for Azymondias. There was no dragon training this morning, with the first set of lessons ending and the vikings being given the week’s end as a chance to go over the information retained and to practice with their weaponry.

The week had passed by slowly, with Callum finding himself becoming stuck in a repetitive, stressful routine.

He’d woken up well before sunrise to go down to the docks, where the fish from the day prior waited inside of barrels and crates to be prepared and sold, or taken to the great hall for group meals. He’d stolen a large basket of them--as he’d done every morning for the past three days--to take to Azymondias.

Callum had probably gotten only a few hours of sleep that night, if one were to take into account him staying up late into the night to use the forge to craft Zym’s tailfin.

Currently a long, thin stretch of metal sat in front of him, white-hot and slowly forming its desired shape as Callum worked. Compared to the weaponry Ethari made it was nothing more than a twisted piece of flaming iron, but Callum thought he was doing quite a decent job when taking into account his sleep-deprived state.

His mind kept drifting from the metal in front of him as Ethari spoke to him about mindless things. He questioned him about dragon training, as if that was a fun and everyday topic.

So far dragon training was going terribly, if he were to be honest. The assortment of burns and bruises covering his body was evidence enough. Callum was honestly surprised Gren hadn’t just kicked him out already. He was good with a spear, but spears were by far the worst weapon available when going up against a two-ton dragon that breathed streams of fire and had skin that was harder than rock.

One would think that, by seeing the most feared dragon on a daily basis, he’d be better than the others in his class.

One would be wrong.

Ethari didn’t need to know that though.

“Your spear head is too thin.”

Callum barely reacted to the voice that spoke from behind him, his blurred vision focusing onto the metal in front of him only to see that yes, he’d somehow managed to flatten the hot metal to the point that it would surely shatter if faced with any actual combat.

Lovely.

“Right, sorry,” Callum replied, quickly removing the metal from the stone surface he’d been using to shape it and placing it back into a stone bowl to be once again melted and reshaped.

“You seem tired,” Ethari noted

“Couldn’t sleep.”

It wasn’t technically a lie, but it wasn’t the full truth either.

“If you need help making your spear, just ask,” Ethari said, before he turned away from where he stood behind the boy and went back to his desk one room over.

The older viking had been busy sketching out new weapon designs as the day went by. Callum couldn’t deny being curious of the drawings the papers held, but he also knew better than to be looking behind the viking’s back.

For all he knew they were just some random heavy hammer-like weapons meant to smash in the skulls of Gronckles.

He stopped asking questions a long time ago.

His eyes felt heavy as he pulled out the liquid metal, pouring it into the mold--a traditional Katolian shape that looked more like two twin watchtowers than a spearhead. It had apparently been used to shape Sarai’s favored weapon, the one that hung over the hearth within their house to this day.

Callum had taken it down one day when he was a lot younger. It was a nice, well-balanced spear. He’d been caught, of course, and scolded accordingly by Harrow.

He missed his mother, and could understand the chief wanting to preserve her weapon, yet it seemed like such a waste to have it just sitting up on a wall collecting dust instead of serving it’s intended purpose.

Setting the mold at a nearby window to cool, he sluggishly pulled off his leather apron. He needed to leave now that Ethari was distracted. Who knew when he’d get another chance.

Stepping outside, he was immediately greeted with icy wind and freezing air. He regretted not dressing the slightest bit warmer, but his mind hadn’t really been focused on dressing warm after spending the past several hours in the one place in the village that fended off the cold year-round.

If all went well, he wouldn’t need to spend many more sleepless nights there.

Ethari had been busy over the past week, with Callum being at the arena for the better half of the morning and disappearing into the forest almost immediately after. The workload for him was almost doubled, and he simply left Callum to his own devices whenever he entered the forge.

He’d been given full, unsupervised access to the metals and materials in the forge, supposedly to help craft his own weapon.

Callum used most of the metals for the dragon tail.

The prototype was done now, and Callum quickly headed his house to pick up the bundle of metal. 

Ezran was nowhere to be seen as he entered the building, wincing as the smell of frozen fish hit his nose. The tailfin was tucked safely under his bed, having been placed there as he went to sleep earlier that morning. Its leather bundle was thankfully undisturbed. He grabbed it and quickly went back down the stairs. His eyes scanned over the surrounding area as he walked through the back door and grabbed the basket of fish from where it sat, hidden behind a barrel of rainwater and a small shrub that had been dead for who knew how many winters. He now realized too-late that hiding it didn’t really matter if anyone could simply walk by and smell its presence.

He didn’t notice the sound of crunching ice as he strapped the basket onto his back and made his way through the quiet alley the houses formed, walking up the steep slopes and out of the village.

The forest was strangely quiet as he walked into the now familiar wall of trees, overconfident in his path as he made his way through the dangerous dragon-infested woodland. His footsteps crunched loudly on fallen twigs and pine needles, the quickest path now familiar to him.

If anything was off about the trip, he wouldn’t have realized.

The distant sound of dragons grew as he passed the Cursed Caldera, avoiding the site of Azymondias’ crash and holding the bundle that held the prototype tailfin clutched tightly to his chest. The basket of fish strapped to his back that pulled uncomfortably at his shoulders was something he still wasn't quite used to, but he did his best to ignore the soreness from the basket’s leather straps.

 The entrance to the cove came into view, and just as he made to step into the tunnel a voice called out behind him, causing his blood to run cold.

“Callum?”

He froze, a curse suddenly muddled in his throat as he turned to face the direction he’d just come from.

“Callum? Where are you?” the voice called again.

He went still, his mind racing at how this situation had possibly happened. He’d grown reckless, just assuming that no one would follow him, let alone his own brother.

A small boy walked out from the trees, a glowing dragon clutched tightly in his arms.

“Ezran, what--”

“What are you doing out here?” the child asked.

He desperately searched for words as the boy questioned him, “I- um, I go out here to draw.”

“I thought Dad told us not to go near the Cursed Caldera?”

Callum’s mind went blank briefly as he scoured through his mind for some explanation to his presence.

Eventually he managed a simple “Exactly… um, what exactly are you doing out here?”

“I was following you.”

Heck .

Callum tried to move from the entrance to the tunnel as discreetly as possible.

“Why are you acting so weird?” Ezran asked, “And what’s with that basket?”

“It’s nothing.”

“You reek of fish.”

Callum grew red at the sudden realization that, yes. Carrying a large basket of dead fish for who knows how many miles most certainly did make him reek.

“Right.”

Ezran looked over him with quizzical eyes, and Bait made a soft grumble from his position in the boy’s arms.

“Bait says you smell like a dragon.”

It took all of Callum’s willpower not to curse under his breath, “I’ve been training with dragons every day this week, I’m sure it’s just that.”

Bait grumbled once again.

“He says it’s not any of the dragons from the arena.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure he’s mistaken,” Callum replied, forcing back the urge to ridicule Ezran for “translating” what the small dragon was saying and instead putting a hand on Ezran’s shoulder and attempting to turn him around.

He’d just have to make an extra trip back here after making sure Ezran was under watchful eyes.

Ezran’s gaze drifted to behind Callum, on the sudden sloping hill and lack of trees, “I’ve never been on this side of the island before. It’s really far from the village.”

“Yes, which is exactly why you shouldn’t be here .”

Ezran quickly ducked under Callum’s arm, rushing past him and over the rock that hid the entrance to the cove.

“Ezran--”

Ezran slipped into the tunnel. Callum quickly followed the boy, trying his best to not cry at the sight of the child looking out over the cove, to where Azymondias was curled up by the side of the water.

“I knew it!” Ezran shouted, spinning to face his brother.

“Knew what?” his voice cracked.

This was not going well.

“Bait told me you smelled like a Storm Fury, he was right!”

The immeasurable joy on his face was startling, and Callum was filled with a sudden sense of both dread and relief. The two emotions mixing together into something more akin to a huge wad of stress.

“Right. Of course he did.”

Before Callum could say or do anything else, Ezran was gone, racing down the tunnel and into the cove, where a sleeping Zym awoke to the noise and approach of the child. Callum hastily followed after him, grabbing Bait and fully preparing himself to drag his brother out of the cove at one sight of things turning south.

He caught up to Ezran at the bottom by the water. Azymondias had pulled himself to his feet, and now stood towering over Callum’s brother. Ezran’s hand stretched out to meet the dragon’s head.

Callum couldn’t quite comprehend the scene in front of him, wondering whether or not he should move to pinch himself in order to wake up from the scene before him.

This had to be a dream. There was no logical way this could be real.

“Ezran- what?

“Oh, I already know Zym,” he mentioned, as if that were a totally normal thing to say.

“How?”

“I found him on the beach a year or two ago while looking for Bait. We were playing hide and seek,” Bait grumped in agreement from the position in his arms.

“I-”

Zym moved past Ezran, walking up to Callum and nudging the bundle of metal and leather that he held.

Right, the reason he was here in the first place.

Deciding that he’d be better off just ignoring the sudden revelation for now, Callum pushed Ezran to the back of his mind and went to crouch next to Zym’s tailfin. Setting the fin and his sketchbook off to the side, he began to carefully unravel the bandages that covered the surviving half.

The skin was still red and raw, although much better than it’d been at the start of the week. He’d lined this fin with a soft cloth to act as a temporary bandage, since this was just meant to be an experiment. If this went well he’d be making a nicer one.

“This might hurt,” he whispered to the dragon, “I’m sorry if it does.”

Callum carefully began to strap the fin to the injured tail, settling himself lightly onto the end of Zym’s body. He tightened the leather strap, buckling it securely and praying that it would hold.

Before he had the chance to remove himself from the dragon the ground was ripped out from beneath him, solid dirt giving way to open air. His breath caught in his throat as a silent scream strangled him. It didn’t take him long to realize that they weren’t rising in the air, and Callum scrambled to open up the prosthetic tailfin. 

Their angle shifted suddenly, shooting straight upwards as Callum felt his body falling as his grip on Zym’s tail was ripped out under him by gravity’s harsh hold. He could hear Ezran’s unintelligible screams from somewhere far below.

He was barely able to inhale a single sharp breath before he fell head-first into the lake that consumed almost all of the cove. Icy water engulfed his body, stealing away the small bit of warmth that he’d managed to maintain whilst living within the Meridian of Misery. He frantically scrambled upwards, pulling against the heavy pull of water filling the thick fabric of his doublet.

His eyes shot open as he breached the surface of the water, the cold air somehow feeling a million times worse against his skin than the freezing liquid that engulfed the rest of his body. Callum made his way to the edge, his body feeling as if it were made of lead. His throat felt as if it were full of cotton as he coughed up bits of water he’d unintentionally inhaled.

The sudden warm, damp sensation of scaled skin pressed against his cheek, and Callum looked up to see Azymondias standing by him, the fur along his neck soaked and clinging to his skin.

“Callum!”

He looked up to see Ezran running towards him.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” he decided, carefully pulling off his soaked jacket and letting it fall to the ground, “just cold.”

“Should we go home now?” Ezran asked, and Callum could see his brother scanning over the cove, where patches of snow and ice covered the ground. 

“It’d probably raise too many questions if I went back looking like this,” Callum gestured to himself before reaching to remove his tunic, which clung painfully against his skin. “I mean, I’m known to mess things up a lot, but even I know not to fall into a freezing lake.”

Zym made a strange, strangled sound, and Ezran turned to the dragon.

He proceeded to make a very similar jumbled-up noise.

“Um?”

Ezran looked up at Callum, innocent and oblivious to how strange the sounds he’d just made were, “What? It’s Dragonese. I told you about it.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t think it was real.”

Ezran moved to Zym’s tail, crouching next to the prosthetic tailfin.

“He said that the tailfin started to hurt.”

Callum frowned, joining Ezran where he stood and crouching next to Zym’s tail. The thin metals he’d used as support had twisted and shifted the placement of the fin.

He quickly moved to remove the ruined prosthetic, carefully checking over the wounded area.

“Well, looks like I’ll have to start from scratch. At least we know it could work.”

Callum set the fin to the side and stood, crossing the beach to grab his sketchbook.

Heck, it was really cold, even with the cove offering shelter from the harsh ocean winds. He moved to where his discarded doublet sand tunic sat in a jumbled pile, now covered in dirt and small rocks from being placed on the small beach.

“I don’t suppose Azymondias knows how to breathe fire?”

The dragon in question let out a short chirp, which Ezran promptly translated to “no.”

Callum picked up the soaked clothing, shaking them off to remove some of the dust and dirt that had collected on the wet fabric. He found a large, flat-ish rock to lay them out on and removed his boots to set beside them.

“Hey Ezran, could you go get the basket of fish?”

Azymondias perked up at the word “fish”, standing to follow the younger boy as he moved to retrieve the large basket.

“I couldn’t find any salmon this time around, so I threw in a few eels instead.”

Immediately Zym’s mood did a complete shift, his innocent curiosity giving way to what seemed to be similar to fear. He hissed at the basket as Ezran grabbed it (note to self- dragons could apparently hiss), backing away with his back arching.

“Um, Ezran?”

“He says that eels are bad.”

“Noted.”

Callum quickly moved to Ezran, taking the basket from his hands and mentally grimacing as he dumped the fish out onto the dirt. He could see the black scales of the eels poking out from under piles of fish.

Eels. Why did he have to choose eels? Why couldn’t he have chosen a few more cod? That was a safe food. But no , he just had to steal the rarer fancier fish for a dragon.

Callum held his breath, forcing back a gag as he began sifting through the pile of raw fish, pulling out the two long eels and tossing them far off to the side, where small bushes had overtaken the border of the cove.

“Alright. There. No more eel.”

He made a mental note of that.

They ended up leaving the cove several hours later, when the sun had passed its peak and was left slowly sinking towards the horizon. Callum’s clothes were still soaked, the sun doing little to help eliminate the water and pieces of ice had begun to form alongside the edges.

When they finally arrived back at their home Callum quickly changed and hung the clothing up by the fire.

There was currently one one thing on his mind, as he turned to face his younger brother.

“Ezran, teach me Dragonese.”

Chapter Text

The air in the dragon arena was thick with tension. Everyone around Callum stood in pairs, buckets of water held close to their sides as they awaited the chaos that would eventually ensue.

His hands were calloused and blistered from burns. He’d spent the remnant of the weekend in the forge, working on the new tailfin any moment he could find, painstakingly waiting for hours on end for Ethari to leave or turn his back in order to reveal the intricate metals he’d been slaving over.

Needless to say, he was beginning to regret not bothering to wear gloves. Bare hands meant more mobility, and detail could be placed into his work, but the burns and cuts from hot metal… he wasn’t sure the ease of movement was quite worth it.

Today, Gren had explained, they would be facing a Hideous Zippleback. One of the more dangerous dragons that the vikings had managed to capture and force into captivity.

Without the slightest bit of warning a lever was pulled, and the door to the dragon’s cage flew open. A large plume of foul-smelling smoke filled the air around them until all Callum could see was the vague figure of Rayla beside him.

He suspected that Gren paired them up together solely due to their past interactions in the class--most of which were disastrous in his opinion. He personally wished he’d been paired with Claudia. Maybe then he’d be able to return to her good graces and no longer be the awkward ex-friend she seemed so intent on ignoring.

“Don’t mess this up,” she hissed under her breath, as the other groups ran out through the fog.

“No promises,” he replied.

His hand instinctively flew to a small weight in his pocket, where an eel had been carefully confined earlier that morning. He prayed to the gods that the stench of fish hadn’t lingered on his clothes.

Actually, nevermind. If the Hideous Zippleback smelt the eel then maybe it would avoid his group.

The air was thick and moist when he breathed in. Then again, maybe it was just the leftover congestion from briefly getting sick over the weekend. It turns out falling into a freezing lake and then just spending the rest of the day in soaked clothing isn’t very good for your health--especially when you were as prone to illness as Callum.

Sounds of shuffling could be heard from around them. The area was growing dim and the gas only rising in thickness, to the point where he could barely see two feet in front of him.

He heard a splash of water and sudden shriek from the side, one that sounded suspiciously like Nyx. A hand on his shoulder startled him. Rayla stood close at his side, her expression serious and blank.

“We need to move and hide in the mist. If we can survive long enough for the fog to begin to dissipate…”

“...we’ll be able to easily find the correct head.” Callum finished Rayla’s sentence, his water bucket clutched tightly in his hand.

These dragons weren’t like Zym, he kept having to remind himself. They produced forms of fire, water would eliminate that threat.

Zym was immune to water, he realized suddenly. If a fire dragon would be submerged they’d be unable to produce fire for as long as they were wet, with Zym the same rules didn’t apply. Water conducted electricity. If Zym were to use that to his advantage…

The sound of footsteps appeared to the left of them as they backed towards a wall, and Callum turned to the sound. The figures of Soren and Claudia appeared. Soren’s bucket was empty.

A look of disgust crossed his face as he spotted Callum.

“Aw, come on! I thought you were Corvus!”

“Sorry to disappoint.”

Rayla’s mood seemed to immediately sour at their appearance, her eyes flickering from each sibling as she studied the two, “Soren, your bucket is empty.”

Claudia let out a laugh at that observation, “Yeah, he used it on Nyx. You should’ve seen the look on her face, it was hilarious.”

“I’d rather not, if I were to be completely honest,” was Rayla’s reply.

It suddenly hit him that Rayla really wasn’t that popular with the other teens. Sure, she was respected and praised as the prodigy among them, but never seen actually hanging out with them.

A low grumble sounded from off to the side. Rayla let out a curse before grabbing Callum’s arm, dragging him off to the side.

“We can’t talk. Not when there’s a literal dragon stalking us.”

The two of them disappeared into the fog before the two siblings could follow them.

“So, is there any plan other than hiding the entire time?” he heard himself ask, immediately regretting the words as soon as they left his mouth.

She’d just told him to be quiet. He was an idiot.

“Do you have a better one?”

Okay, so Rayla didn’t kill him.

That was a plus.

“I mean, if we were to find both of the heads and doused them one of them has to be correct, right?”

“How would you expect to do that?”

A voice shouted out from overhead, calling for Soren and Claudia to get out. How they would manage to do that, Callum didn’t have a clue.

“The fog is thicker over here because this is where the dragon is,” he said, spewing his thoughts aloud so Rayla wouldn’t be left in an awkward silence, “if we head in the direction of the thickest fog, we’ll eventually come across the Zippleback.”

Rayla stared at him through the gas.

“That is a ridiculously stupid idea.”

“I mean, we don't have to-”

“No, shut up. We’re doing it.”

Rayla turned and began to move in the direction they’d come from. Their vision became more and more clouded as they walked. He felt a hand on his shoulder, and realized that it was Rayla keeping track of his location, so that they weren’t separated.

Soon, the low grumble of a dragon’s voice echoed through the air around them. Callum felt Rayla’s stiff grip on him disappear as she shifted her full attention to the sound.

The noise silenced, and a split-second later he saw the huge outline of a tall, long neck appear in front of him.

He panicked, and before he could think things through clearly he shoved his bucket forward. The water inside surged quickly in the dragon’s direction, before promptly falling short and splatting across the ground.

He was pretty sure he heard Rayla mumble the word “ idiot ” under her breath.

The Hideous Zippleback’s growl grew, the noise filling his ears and causing adrenaline to spike as the dragon’s head lowered quickly to his height. In another bout of panic, he shut his eyes and spurted out a quick, jumbled “ howdeedodeethere ” to the dragon, not thinking for a second of the pretty girl standing only a few feet away.

The growl silenced, and the thick fog immediately began to dissipate as soon as the Dragonese word left his mouth. He slowly peeled open his eyes to see the dragon’s head hovering only a few feet away from his face.

It’s gaze wasn’t filled with any malice, only curiosity. It opened its mouth and spoke, it’s words sounding more like gibberish than anything to Callum.

He held his breath as the dragon sniffed at him.

The brief moment of peace was interrupted by a wave of water splashed over the Zippleback’s head.

Chaos immediately erupted, the dragon letting out an animalistic screech and rage filling the air as plumes of thick gas spewed from the jaws of the dragon.

“Wrong head!” Callum shouted as he hastily backed up.

“We wouldn’t have had to worry about the wrong head if you hadn’t wasted your bucket!” Rayla shot back, seeming content on abandoning him as the dragon began to attack.

Rayla, Callum, get out of there! ” he heard Gren’s voice shout, and Callum was about to do just that when his thoughts drifted back to the eel he’d slipped into his pocket.

He didn’t have any time to linger on that idea.

There was a brief lull in the noise before a quiet click sounded throughout the arena, a small orange light illuminating somewhere to his right.

Almost instantaneously white filled his vision, unbearable heat filling the air around him. Blasts of fire surrounded the two of them in quick, rapid succession. He heard Rayla fall to the ground beside him, a cry of pain so quiet Callum could’ve imagined it following.

Almost as quickly as the fire had begun it’d faded once again, the Hideous Zippleback now in full view before them, the flames having burnt away all of the released gas and leaving everything in full view, the only remnants of the fog being the ash that floated throughout the air.

“What are you doing? Run!” Gren once again called from above, and it took him a second to realize that he was referring to everyone in the arena, not just him and Rayla. The silhouettes of Corvus and Nyx could be seen across the arena, scrambling frantically to the exit.

He looked to his side, where Rayla had begun to leave, she was clutching her left hand tightly. Burn blisters were stretching across her wrist.

They needed to leave.

The dragon let out two simultaneous roars as its long necks twisted about with no real rhyme or reason. Its large body was blocking the way to the exit.

“Rayla, when I give the signal go to the exit,” he said, devising a plan in his head as he spoke.

“What? Why?”

The dragon began to move towards them.

Run ,” he heard himself shout, immediately turning and dashing in the opposite direction, to where the large cage stood with its door wide open.

His hands frantically fumbled with the button to the pocket that held the eel. He could feel the looming presence of the Hideous Zippleback behind him as the pluming gas once again filled the air around him.

He tried not to think about the fact that, if it were to ignite the fumes in that moment, he’d be nothing more than a burnt pile of ash.

Finally, finally the pocket flew open, and Callum gripped the eel tightly as he dragged the long fish out and into the air, ignoring how the cartilage crunched under his fingers. The looming shape above him halted as he spun, turning towards the exit and hurriedly blocking the way out.

He lifted up the eel in front of him, and the dragon made a terrible shrieking noise, repeating the same painful, gibberish sounds as it backed up. Callum bit back the rising terror at the sight of the violent dragon, slowly forcing himself to step forward. He moved far too slowly, with the fog quickly dissipating without one of the heads constantly spewing the foul mist.

With one last stride forward, the dragon was in its pen. He tossed the fish forward, guilt clawing at his chest at the fearful shrieks of the dragon. It took all of his strength to reach up and force the door shut, making sure to secure the latch and turn back towards the exit… where Rayla was standing, leaning against the arched entrance to the arena, a look of disbelief written on her face.

Callum was suddenly all too aware of the eyes that drilled into him. He quickly crossed the arena, to where Gren had approached and was looking over Rayla’s wounded hand.

“Callum, could you go get the first aid kit and take care of this? The others have some injuries that I need to tend to.”

“Sure.”

He regretted agreeing as soon as the words left his mouth.

Rayla’s eyes looked like they held something akin to murder. Her lips quivered slightly, as if she was holding herself back from speaking.

The burn on her hand looked worse than it was, he realized as soon as he returned from the storage with the medical kit they kept at the arena. It was very minor, the only skin affected being the very top level. It was relatively harmless long-term if properly treated. At worst it would scar, which was likely considering the side.

They were both lucky that this was all they came away from that fight with.

Rayla let herself sit down against the wall, and Callum kept silent as he spread the required salve across her skin and applied a bandage.

“I suppose you have a lot of experience doing this?” she asked, breaking the silence.

Her voice was very much unstable.

He was not looking forward to facing her after this.

“I’m not known as the village menace for nothing,” he replied simply, holding back a cringe as countless memories of his various mess-ups and injuries resurfaced.

She quickly took her hand away from him the moment he tied the bandage, standing and grimacing as she moved her hand.

“This is going to hurt for a while, isn’t it.”

“Burns are some of the most painful injuries I’ve found you can get, so yeah.”

“Lovely.”

Her attention turned to Gren as he dismissed the class, and she quickly made her way over to him.

He took that as his signal to leave before anyone questioned him on his actions against the Hideous Zippleback.

Callum tried to ignore the furious footsteps that followed him as he exited the arena.

His ignorance was shattered the moment a furious silver-haired girl yanked on the back of his doublet, immediately stopping him from walking a single step more.

Sometimes he really hated how thin and bony he was. Most days, in fact. This moment only confirmed that fact.

“What the hell was that?” Rayla’s voice was sharp and condescending. The knowledge that she could easily snap one of his bones made her voice all the more terrifying.

Callum swallowed, trying to force down the rising panic that had been bubbling up ever since he slipped up and tossed the water in the arena, “What was what?” he asked, hating how his voice had the audacity to crack when he said that sentence.

“Don’t you dare play dumb with me!”

“Play dumb?”

His voice cracked again.

Callum desperately raked through his mind for some sort of explanation. She’d heard him speak Dragonese. How the hell was he going to explain that?

“Look I know this seems really bad and I--”

“What was that thing you threw at it?”

Huh?

“What..?”

Rayla rolled her eyes, and the sound of mindless chatter rose from up near the arena, where the other teens were beginning to make their way back to the village.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this…” she muttered, grabbing onto Callum’s wrist and dragging him away from the path and into the forest.

“Rayla, where are you--”

“Just shut up for a minute, okay? And don’t you dare tell anyone about this.”

They stopped walking when the overgrowth gave way to a small clearing, tree stumps and fallen logs lining the edges.

She released her grip on his arm roughly, shoving him forwards into the clearing and standing there expectantly with her arms crossed.

“Well. What was that?” she asked, “No one can randomly coerce a dragon into returning to the place of their captivity, especially not someone as small as you. You were holding something. What was it?”

Oh gods, Thor help him. He wasn’t getting out of this was he.

“So? What is it. You obviously know more about dragons than you’re letting on. What, have you been receiving training in secret or something?”

“...or something.”

“Callum.”

“Fine!”

Callum threw his hands into the air, before untying one of his leather pockets from around his waist, trying not to gag at the smell that still clung to it. He tossed it to the ground in front of Rayla. She threw him a critical look.

“What is this?”

“Smell it if you want.”

She rolled her eyes, crouching next to it. Her face turned sour as the scent reached her nose.

“Why does it reek of fish?”

“It turns out dragons really hate eel.”

This peaked her interest, and she brushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear as she stood back up, kicking the foul-smelling pocket back towards him. The lock was braided. Since when did she braid her bangs?

“And how would you know this?”

Callum bit his lip, searching for a lie that would pass Rayla’s intellect, “I spend a lot of time in the forest.”

Her response was almost immediate, “I call BS. I spend half of my time out here.”

“I may or may not have started hanging out around the Cursed Caldera.”

“The Cursed-- Are--” she seemed to stumble over her words, “Are you insane?

“I was looking for the Storm Fury! Okay?”

Callum was currently regretting every word that escaped his mouth.

“The Storm Fury that you claimed to have shot down last week?” Rayla’s voice had lowered slightly, no longer sharp and painful to his ears, “And I suppose you never found this fabled Storm Fury?”

“No. I didn’t.”

The lie slipped out too easily.

“And the eel?”

“One washed up on the beach.”

Wait, was there even a beach on that side of the island? He couldn’t recall whether or not the shoreline was bordered by rocks or sand.

“The dragons avoided it, and so I decided to test my theory on Terrible Terrors that wandered into the forest.”

Rayla was silent for a long moment, seemingly processing the information she’d just been given, and overturning his story to search for plot holes or inconsistencies.

Eventually she spoke again, “You mean you willingly carried around an eel in your pocket all morning, because of the off chance that you’d be able to use it against a dragon,” she confirmed, “without even knowing if the larger dragons would be affected?”

“It sounds really bad when you put it like that…”

“I don’t know if you’d noticed, but this class is meant to teach us how to fight and kill dragons, not scare them away.”

Callum was all too aware of that note, “Yeah.”

They stood there, in the small alcove under the trees. She drew one of her swords and walked past him.

“Fine. You can leave, if you want,” she said.

“Gladly,” he replied, noting the long gashes covering the logs and trees.

He hurriedly grabbed his discarded pocket from the ground and rushed out of what he assumed to be Rayla’s training area, not looking back once as he returned to the path that led to the village.

Rayla was super suspicious of him now.

He was going to have a hell of a time keeping her from finding Zym, wasn’t he?

Chapter Text

The slightest bit of warmth had returned by the time Callum had returned to the cove with Ezran. Sunlight shooting across the water and melting the traces of ice that had begun to form along the lake’s edge. Ezran thoroughly enjoyed the newfound lack of cold, with he and Zym racing about the cove, laughter echoing against the stone walls.

Sun shot through the overhead clouds, casting a golden light over them.

It was nice, peaceful.

Callum looked back to the sketchbook that lay open on his lap, the pages filled with small sketches of Azymondias and Ezran. Bait sat at his side, leaning against him and dozing off under the sunlight.

The air felt crisp and clean this particular morning, with dew instead of ice spread across leaves and the tips of the grass that sprung up stubbornly through the rocky ground.

Most of this vegetation would disappear in the next few weeks, being replaced by a thick layer of snow that wouldn’t fade for countless long months.

His mind was filled with thoughts of possible saddles for Azymondias, along with the nagging dread of Rayla stumbling upon this cove at any given moment. His head hurt from the stress that clung to him.

And so, in an attempt to ward off the thoughts plaguing his mind, he drew.

Training that morning had gone well in comparison to previous days. Due to the amount of injuries acquired the day prior Gren opted to teach them general first aid that could easily be applied in the midst of battle, a lesson that others had protested immensely, craving violence instead of medicine.

Gren had to constantly remind them that a downed viking was as good as dead.

He turned to a clean page in his sketchbook, absentmindedly sketching out a figure on the pages as Bait shifted and turned into a new position beside him, humming a familiar tune under his breath as he worked.

The charcoal was dark and dusty on the page, a side effect of not sharpening the writing utensil he used any time in the past week. The lines were larger than he would’ve preferred, but it worked just fine. He wasn’t currently working on any blueprints. He’d have to sharpen it before turning back to the designs of the new tailfins.

He still hadn’t figured out how to connect the tailfin to the pedal in his designs. If he added some supports along Zym’s tail that could work… but the question he had was how .

“Is that mom?”

Callum was startled out of his thoughts by the sudden presence of Ezran beside him, the boy peering over his shoulder and to the sketchbook in his hands. He followed his brother’s gaze to where the rough sketch of a woman was spread out across the page.

“Yeah,” he eventually replied, “it is.”

Zym’s head popped up behind Ezran, his body looming over the top of them. Without lingering for more than a few seconds, he bounded off into the overgrowth. The sound of leaves and breaking wood filling the air around them.

“What was she like?” Ezran asked, drawing Callum’s gaze from the area Zym disappeared to.

He took in a deep breath, gazing over the drawing. It didn’t do her any justice.

“She was the most amazing person ever,” he confessed, “and I don’t think I ever realized it then, but I don’t think many people liked her.”

“Why?"

“She didn’t agree with most of their ideals.”

Zym returned from the bushes suddenly, holding a long, thin tree. He ran off to the other side of the cove, making loud cries of excitement as he went.

Ezran settled himself next to Callum, picking up Bait and pulling the glow toad into his lap and looking out to where Zym had run off to, “Everyone says she was an amazing fighter, one of the best Katolis had ever seen.”

Callum grinned as Ezran’s presence created a small warmth next to him, “She never fought dragons though.”

“Really?”

“She fought mostly in battles against other clans and outcasts. She only began attending the voyages when Amaya started to go.”

Zym was dragging the tree across the ground, the upturned dirt visible from where they were seated.

Callum looked over his sketch once more, and began filling in smaller details. The beauty mark on her cheek, the stray hairs that framed her face and refused to stay in her braids.

“Mom was very against the war with dragons. She believed that the fighting could stop, that we could make peace with the creatures.”

“Why didn’t we?”

“She died before she could convince Harrow of that.”

“Oh.”

Azymondias paused in his movement, looked up at the two boys, and promptly went back to dragging his tree against the ground.

Ezran lifted up Bait, holding him close to his chest as he began to glow a soft color.

“I wish I’d gotten the chance to know her.”

Callum gently shut the sketchbook, cutting off the drawing from view, “Yeah. I wish you could’ve too.”

Azymondias continued his strange, sporadic movements across the ground before them.

“You know, I’d always expected the fabled Storm Fury to be more… ferocious than this? Scary? Moreso an unholy demon of lightning than this,” Callum confessed.

“He’s just a baby still, it’s not surprising.”

That caught Callum off-guard. Although he did seem to briefly recall Ezran mentioning it,  “What do you mean?”

“He’s a baby dragon. His parents were much bigger, more whale-sized than dragon-sized.”

“How do you know that?”

“He told me.”

“Right, dragon-speak.” Callum set his sketchbook to the side, pulling his arms behind him and  attempting to stretch away the lingering ache that was the result of constant dragon-fighting and long nights of fiddling with metals to create things for Azymondias. “So, about how old is Zym anyways?”

“A little older than a hundred.”

Callum forced back the gentle shock that came with that revelation, “He’s over a hundred? I would’ve thought he’d be bigger than that, if he was going to be as big as a whale someday.”

“They grow slowly,” Ezran explained, “he’ll probably live several thousand more years, unless he’s caught by vikings.”

That made sense, he supposed. It wasn’t so far-fetched when you took into account how little they actually knew about dragons.

Vikings tended to lean more on the kill-first-ask-questions-later strategy when it came to the creatures.

“What happened to his parents then?”

Ezran shrugged.

 “I don’t know,” he confessed, “usually younger dragons stay in or around their nests until they’re older. There’s no huge dragon nest on our island though. Maybe it’s different with larger dragons.”

Azymondias looked up from where he sat across the cove, calling out to them.

Ezran stood, “He says he wants to show us something.”

And that was it. Their conversation was officially over.

Callum tucked put his sketchbook away, forcing himself to his feet and helping Ezran up before heading across the cove, with Bait following closely behind, to where Zym sat expectantly.

Spread out before them was a wide variety of curling lines carved into the dirt.

“Zym drew us!” Ezran exclaimed.

Callum stared at the curling lines, “That’s us?”

Zym let out a whine.

“Of course it’s us!” Ezran exclaimed, “Look, there are our eyes, and our hair… Bait is over there, the smaller drawing.”

Callum looked at the mess of churned up dirt.

“Yeah, I guess I see it.”

He did not see it.

Callum made his way back to where he’d been seated before as Ezran stayed to play with the dragon, turning over his charcoal pencil in his hands and drawing the small dagger he always kept at his side from its sheath. He began to carefully slice off bits of the writing utensil, angling it in a way that he cut off as little as possible of the material whilst still allowing enough of a point to sketch out details.

The sounds of excitement and laughter halted from across the cove, and Callum looked up to see Zym intently focused on the ground not far from where he was seated.

He shot a confused glace at Ezran, who simply shrugged.

Callum moved to set the pencil to the side, and Zym suddenly shot across the cove, settling on a spot around ten feet away from where he previously stood. His clawed paws were settled on the tops of each other, as if he were a cat going after a small bug.

He stood, confused as to what the dragon was doing.

Zym moved once again, scrambling to a new position.

It took Callum several seconds to realize that the knife he held was reflecting the sun.

He crouched to the ground, a small smile on his face. He began to deliberately angle the knife against the sun, his eyes locked onto the small spot that shot across the ground as the dragon raced after it.

They were meant to be facing a Terrible Terror the next day.

He had the feeling that this small trick would be useful.



-




“Are you sure this is safe?” Callum found himself asking as he ducked under yet another line of branches that stuck out from a fallen tree. Moss and foliage were common in Katolis, with the frequent rains and musty conditions deeming it the perfect place for greenery to sprout up, but this specific part of the forest seemed to be completely untouched by the relentless frost that cut back most of the overgrowth.

It felt as if he was surrounded by walls of emeralds. It was strange, almost unnerving.

Ezran paid no mind to his concerns.

“Yeah. As long as we don’t try to enter their actual dens they won’t pay us any mind.”

Callum felt he should be more concerned with how comfortable his brother was with approaching the Cursed Caldera. Sure, they weren’t going anywhere near the actual cave entrances, but still .

“This should be close enough,” Ezran declared, happily exiting the cover of trees.

Callum forced himself to push back the nagging feeling of wrong and followed him, finding his brother seated on a patch of moss a few yards away from where the ground cut off and the ocean spread out below them. The cliffs were still countless hundred yards away, yet the dragons  suddenly seemed to be a million times larger. What was once nothing more than tiny specks dotting the cliff sides were now large, reptilian creatures with very, very defined teeth and flames spewing from their jaws.

“Yeah. Close enough.”

He settled down next to his brother, his posture tense as he tried to think of anything other than the swarms of deadly, fire-breathing reptiles that resided on the cliff not far from where they sat.

“So,” Callum began, trying to ignore the fear that threatened to bubble to the surface, “what exactly are we doing?”

“You said you wanted to draw more dragons, and what better way to do that than to meet more dragons?” Ezran responded. Bait grumped in agreement.

“And how exactly would this help?” Callum found himself asking.

“Terrible Terrors are notorious for seeking out trouble. If they see us sitting out here they’ll probably want to investigate.”

Callum bit back the remark that maybe counting on a “trouble seeking” dragon to find them wasn’t the safest thing to do.

He sighed, resigning himself to an afternoon filled with drawing as he pulled out his sketchbook, with Ezran running off somewhere closer to the edge with Bait.

There was a small thump from somewhere in front of him, and Callum lazily lifted his gaze only to suddenly freeze at the sight before him.

A single Terrible Terror stood there, its head cocked to the side as it looked at Callum expectantly.  He sat there awkwardly as the small dragon stood and began to quietly creep towards him, and Callum found himself looking back towards Ezran, who was completely oblivious to the Terrible Terror.

“Um, Ezran?” he called.

The boy looked back towards them, simply flashing his older brother a smile. “Good! Now you can draw them!”

A small, scaly head bumped against his knee. The dragon looked at him expectantly.

Callum found himself being reminded of a cat, if that made any sense. Its eyes held that familiar, feline shape that bordered on reptilian. They were reptiles, in a way. Scaly skin, lizard-like bodies…

Very large, very dangerous reptiles.

Except it was hard to see this particular Terrible Terror as anything but a harmless household pet.

He instinctively reached out his hand, and before he could quite comprehend what he was doing the small dragon bumped its head onto his palm, creating a sound that sounded suspiciously like a purr deep within its throat.

“How on Earth did we ever label you guys as dangerous?” he wondered aloud, even though the answer was all too obvious if he spent more than a few seconds pondering the thought.

Alone, one could simply be as harmless as a house cat, or a small dog. Just add a pair of wings. But in the flocks that they normally traversed within?

He’d witnessed first hand the damage one could cause. Shredded skin and features mauled to the point that they were unrecognizable.

It proved to be near impossible for him to connect the image of blood and carnage to the small creature before him. The dragon made a small noise in its throat, one that sounded far too similar to a meow, before curling up at Callum’s side.

His focus returned to his sketchbook, and he carefully began to sketch out the dragon at his side, taking extra care to include the small details of the Terrible Terror’s scales. Each and every tiny nook and scar. He found himself wondering how exactly the creature had obtained the small, barely noticeable injury remnants.

It wasn’t until small droplets of water fell from his hair and onto his drawings did he realize it had begun to rain.

…or sleet?

Looking up and over the cliffside, it appeared to be a mix of both snow and water, melting midair and creating a gross slush that he was only now realizing both he and Ezran would be stuck walking home through.

Callum sighed, closing his book and standing, much to the annoyance of the small dragon at his side.

The walk home was quiet, the sleet around them hazy and cold as the thoughts of yet another day of dragon-training slowly approached.

It was only when they finally reached their house did Callum realize he’d completely forgotten to test the light-chasing trick on the Terrible Terror.

Chapter Text

Callum couldn’t sleep.

Every time he closed his eyes he was met with the insistent need to do something . It was as if he was dragged down with overwhelming exhaustion up until the point he could actually lay down and rest.

It could also have been the cold, creeping into his bones as the sun’s absence sucked away the brief relief of ice and replaced it with new layers of snow. It wouldn’t be long before sickness set in, as it did every year. It was an inevitable part of winter.

After hours of fitful sleep, Callum sighed, pushing off the layers of furs that covered his bed and slipping out into the dark world. He reached under his mattress to remove the unfinished saddle and quietly made his way to the hall. The door to Ezran’s room was firmly shut, thankfully, although the small, carved-out hole for Bait was still present.

Callum was careful to skip the stairs that creaked.

Stepping out into freezing night air was a feeling he never got used to, no matter how often he snuck out. A fresh layer of snow was spread out across the ground, crunching as he walked into the darkness.

The forge was filled with a biting cold when Callum arrived at the building, his eyes drifting from every crowded corner as he carefully added pieces of wood and coal into the giant furnace that sat along the back wall. The spark of flames illuminated the darkened smithy and filled his bones with a comforting heat that seemed to dance alongside the moonlight that sifted in through the closed windows. The scent of iron and burning leather was thick in the air as Callum pulled out scraps that he’d be using, opening his sketchbook to pages of saddle designs.

There was still an hour or two until sunrise. More than enough time to get what he needed and leave… at least he hoped.

How was one meant to make a saddle for a dragon anyway? Heck, he didn’t think anyone on the island even knew how to make a saddle. It wasn’t as if they even had horses, not with the rocky cliffs that made up their island, and most (if not all) of their travel simply being by boat.

The blueprints he’d managed to create were, without a doubt, severely flawed. He’d be lucky if the contraption would even fit over Zym’s body, much less keep him on long enough to actually fly. The saddle he currently had was simply a placeholder, a way to remain on the dragon without worrying about falling immediately.

His eyes strained as he forced himself to look over the messy drawings.

He sighed, letting his sketchbook fall to a nearby counter. Burnout was inevitable, he supposed. He’d been working on stuff for Zym nonstop for over a week now, with little to no sleep each night.

The mess of metals and leather went promptly back into their alcove, and he carefully laid out bits of his spear. He’d already started the fire, and it was easier to cover his tracks with what he was meant to be doing rather than erasing his presence all together.

The icy air hit him in a single, freezing gust as he stepped outside of the smithy. Snow fell heavily upon him as he made his way back by his house to grab the basket he’d been using to bring fish to Zym. From the freezing weather of the past week, winter seemed to be headed in early.

Good when you took into account the decline in dragon raids, not so good when you took into account the lack of food and relentless cold. 

Ezran was still asleep as he slipped quietly through the house, and Callum found himself grateful to see that he hadn’t woken him up with yet another night of relentless insomnia.

The walk down to the docks was familiar at this point, and it was an almost effortless pattern of slipping between buildings and avoiding the faint glow of firelight from the few torches that remained lit throughout the night.

It was colder by the water, if he were to be honest. The already icy air mixing with the salty humidity of the sea was enough to ward any sane person away.

Vikings weren’t exactly sane though, at least not the ones who resided in Katolis. Which was probably why they’d even chosen this island to settle on in the first place.

Regardless of whether or not the conditions were favorable, the fishermen would be returning to their boats shortly. He’d done this enough times to have their arrival time pretty much memorized, their route glued into his mind in order to avoid any potential confrontation.

As dim-witted as some of the vikings were, they would have to catch on to the loads of missing fish eventually, if they haven’t already.

Thankfully, due to the voyage having drawn away a large portion of the village, it was nearly completely dead in the early morning. He glanced at the sky, where the bright half-moon shone out over Katolis. They’d embarked on their voyage almost two weeks ago at this point. It was already halfway over.

The thought hit him with such intensity that he stumbled over a loose stone in his path, creating a racket as his basket shifted from where it was strapped against his back. He cursed under his breath, freezing as his ears strained for any sign of someone awakening or entering his general vicinity.

What felt like an eternity later, he began to move again, slowly closing the distance between him and the dock’s storage room.

He grimaced at the pungent scent of dead, frozen fish as he forced open the old, riggidy door to the storage shed. He slung the basket off of his shoulder, opening the latch and removing the lid to carefully pile fish after fish from the storage crates and barrels inside. As soon as the last fish was in and the lid was firmly replaced he quickly stood, turning to the exit only to freeze in his tracks.

What on earth do you need that many fish for?

Rayla’s voice was barely more than a whisper, yet it sounded louder and more intimidating than even an angry Chief Harrow.

Rayla-- ” he squeaked, his grip faltering on the basket’s strap as he fumbled to move it across his back, narrowly avoiding dropping it. “Why-- What are you doing here?”

She held up a single black eel, her eyes narrowing at the basket strapped to his back, “I’m more concerned with why exactly you have so much fish.”

Callum’s mind went momentarily blank, and Rayla took that as an invitation to continue speaking.

“I overheard a fisherman talking about how low their stock has been this year, I didn’t know it was you .”

“I-- well--”

Rayla leaned against the wooden door frame, and Callum tried to filter through his thoughts for a reason--any reason for him to have the overwhelmingly large amount of fish.

“I, uh, wanted to see if any other fish scared them off?”

He phrased the excuse more like a question than anything else, trying his hardest--and failing--to keep a perfectly straight and serious face.

If Rayla’s expression was anything to go by, she wasn’t convinced.

“Right.”

She didn’t move from the door frame.

“Okay, so… are you just gonna stand there?”

“Oh, don’t mind me. This frozen, splinter-filled wood is extremely comfortable.” She shifted her position slightly, as if to prove a point. Even he could see her grimace as the old wood creaked under her weight. “I’m mostly concerned with why you have such a large basket of fish--and if what I heard from the fishermen was anything to go by, why you’ve been sneaking in here to collect them frequently enough to make a dent in our store.”

Dang it, stop hesitating so much, Callum!

“I- er… I need to draw out the smaller dragons. It turns out terrible terrors are a fan of-” what did he put in the basket? “-carp… and salmon.”

“Food we need to make it through the winter.”

“Yeah… I didn’t really think about that…“

Callum couldn’t think of how he’d get out of this one.

The silence they sat in was thick and tense, only heightened by the close proximity and riggidy walls.

He could almost ignore the overbearing stench of fish.

Almost.

Rayla let out a sigh, removing her shoulder from the door frame and calmly stepping out of the way. Callum scrambled out of the confined space and back onto the wooden surface of the docks, ignoring the way wind cut through his furs and sprinkled goosebumps across his skin.

He stood there awkwardly next to Rayla as the storage door swung shut--much louder than he was comfortable with.

It felt wrong to just leave , especially considering how she could easily get him into so much trouble just by exposing what exactly he was doing. Even if what she thought he was doing wasn’t nearly as bad as the actual truth.

“So you’re really feeding all of this fish to dragons on the off chance you find another fish that harbors the same reaction as an eel?”

“Yeah?”

Oh gods, could this day get any worse?

She stared at him for a long moment. Callum could feel his hands going numb from the constant bombard of icy air.

Finally, she spoke.

“I have a proposition.”

He did not like the sound of that, “What proposition?”

“Tell me anything you learn about the dragons from this point onward, and I will… ignore this incident.”

Callum could feel the weight of fear lessen upon his chest. Only slightly.

“But,” of course there was a but , “if I run into you with that much fish again, I won't hesitate to report you. Our stores are already low enough, we can’t afford you constantly stealing weeks worth of food just to feed wild dragons.”

“Yeah, that sounds reasonable enough.”

They didn’t exchange any more words, and Callum found himself carefully slipping past her, back onto solid ground and climbing the rocky path to the village. The first bits of sunlight began creeping over the horizon as he quickly made his way back through the village.

Why did the chief’s house have to be at the furthest point from the sea?

His lungs ached by the time he finally entered his home, closing the door with little to no regard of the noise. A glowtoad stood in front of him, a quizzical gaze sent his way from where Bait was seated by the hearth.

Callum let the basket of fish sling to the ground from where it was strapped over his shoulder. He made his way across the room to Bait, sitting down next to him and ignoring the way the heat seemed to burn his skin. The sharp contrast from the cold and the fire was painful, yet he couldn’t bring himself to move. He simply resigned himself to placing a hand on Bait’s head and waiting for the sun to rise and the day to begin.




-




Claudia was staring at him. There was no doubt about it.

His stance became tense and awkward as he fell upon that realization, his mind drifting back to Rayla cornering him in the forest and demanding he explain his sudden talent with dragons, and her confrontation at the docks that morning. He still reeked of fish, and couldn’t help the panic gripping at his chest as he halfheartedly listened to Gren’s lecture.

He remained distracted as the door to the Terrible Terror’s enclosure was opened.

To say this dragon was threatening was a major overstatement at first glance. They were small dragons, most growing no bigger than a young dog at full size. They normally traveled in packs though. Their teeth were razor-sharp, and their jaws were powerful. They were mischievous little creatures, oftentimes found stealing large fish and chickens even on days without raids.

Seeing this one in the arena, tiny and malnourished, it was hard to feel anything other than pity, especially considering the day prior, when the small dragon had approached him wholeheartedly.

He ducked to the side as the dragon lunged at the group. Soren cried out as the small reptile latched onto his arm, sinking its teeth into the leather armor that covered his body.

Callum let out a laugh at the sight, unable to stop himself. This lesson seemed more chaotic than anything else.

“Aw, come on! This was new!”

Taking Soren’s distressed cries as a signal to act, he silently drew his knife, angling the sunlight around the dragon. The Terrible terror spotted the light and immediately released the boy’s arm, diving onto the ground and following the light all the way back into its pen.

And just like that, the class was over.

He tried not to think of Rayla’s harsh gaze as he made his way back out of the arena. Her left hand was free of cloth bandages, with the burn marks an ugly red blistering color against her pale skin. Despite being received the other day, it still looked painful.

A hand on his shoulder stopped him before he could fully leave, and he mentally prepared himself for Rayla once again interrogating him.

Oh gods, he’d forgotten to tell her about the light trick. She was going to kill him--

“Hey, Callum.”

Oh. It was Claudia.

Somehow that didn’t comfort him.

Still, his heart couldn’t help but do a flutter as he turned to face the girl.

“Oh, hey,” he did a quick glance around them. Nyx and Soren were walking down the path to the village. Rayla was lingering, waiting at the  entrance to the arena. “Um, sorry. Did you need something?”

Claudia smiled. It was a sweet, awkward grin.

“What, can I not say hi to an old friend?” she asked.

Right. Something was definitely up. But still… this was Claudia. Sure, he didn’t really know what she was like nowadays, but she was still Claudia, right?

“I mean, you haven’t really spoken to me in, well… forever.”

She bit her lip, her hands locking together in front of her, “I know we don’t really hang out any more, but I was hoping we could maybe change that?”

Now Callum was just downright confused, “I don’t mean to sound rude, but why?

He couldn’t think of why she would just suddenly speak to him after years of nothing .

“I was just wondering, seeing as you’re naturally talented when it comes to dragons, maybe you could help me? I’m good at magic, but not really combat it would seem. I could teach you some spells in return.”

Oh. Oh .

Of course. Anything else was too much to hope for.

“I don’t see why not,” he decided.

Yes, she’d hurt him in the past. It was just a small exchange of knowledge though. This couldn’t really harm anything, right?

Claudia’s smile grew, “Thank you, Callum!” she exclaimed, “Would someday today work? Or would you be busy in the forge?”

He didn’t even think she knew about his work in the forge.

He still needed to finish his work for Ethar, thoughi. He’d been slacking all week in favor of Zym.

“Not today, I’m running a bit behind on work, but maybe some time next week?”

“I’ll hold you to that.”

“Of course.”

“Great! Thank you, Callum! Would Monday be fine? You could meet me at the library after training?”

Callum agreed, his mind spinning as he turned away.

“Oh, and Callum?” Claudia called.

“Yeah.”

“You reek of fish. I just thought I’d let you know.”

He couldn’t help the heat that flared up through his face despite the cold as Claudia ran down to join her brother.

A trip to the hot springs was needed, it seemed.

The familiar presence of a silver-haired girl appeared at his side.

“You have a crush on Claudia?” Rayla asked, and Callum could hear the laughter in her voice, threatening to break out.

“Can you please forget what just happened?”

“I dunno. You do smell like fish,” she replied.

“Because someone decided to block me into the storage shed at the docks.”

“Hey, you’re the one who’s been stealing fish frequently enough for your clothes to cling to the scent.”

Desperate to change the subject, he brought up the one thing he’d been previously fearing, “So I kinda forgot to mention it this morning, but it turns out Terrible Terrors are like cats, I guess? They like to follow small lights.”

“Yeah, I was about to say. You didn’t tell me.” Her eyes seemed to glint as she tore her gaze away from Claudia’s retreating form, “Don’t let it happen again.”

His throat seemed to constrict with her unspoken threat, and he nodded, not trusting himself enough to speak.

She flashed him a sweet smile, before making her way back down the path away from the arena.

He watched her leave, walking down the steep hill that led up to the precipice that the dragon ring sat upon. He quietly lifted his sleeve to his nose, inhaling once before gagging.

Right. He’d send Ezran to feed Zym today. Gods , he needed a bath.