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Kuyoma swooped low over the jagged stone layers of the canyon, the soft drafts flowing under his wings and carrying his light, thin body through the air so that he barely had to flap. He steered to the side a bit, aiming for a tiny ledge of stone jutting out from the side of the cliff; spreading his claws, he prepared to land. As the ledge grew closer, he propelled himself forward with a last flap. The cliff was now under his claws; he grasped the ledge with talons specially shaped for this task and folded his wings. No other creature was in sight; the mottled dragon still looked around warily before squeezing into a small hole above the ledge and disappearing into it.
Within this hole, as he squirmed into the rock so that half of his body was still sticking out. At this point the hole widened suddenly and Kuyoma wriggled into a small pocket in the cliff, hidden from prying eyes and unknown except to him and the other dragons. There in front of him, another dragon lay curled around a single egg. As his full body came into the hollow, the other dragon’s eyes opened to slits. Kuyoma gazed lovingly at her.
“How is our egg doing?” he asked.
“Each day I feel a tiny shaking inside it, and each day it is a bit stronger.” The female, whose name was Shiron, rested her tan, scaly chin atop the egg.
Kuyoma bent his neck to examine the egg. Dark brown and round, the egg had a thick and strong shell, which was important for the canyon-dwelling dragons in their rocky environment. He, too, could sense that the young one inside was restless.
“The time is soon,” murmured Shiron. “Our second egg is soon to hatch.” Her slit eyes smiled at her mate.
“Indeed it is,” Kuyoma replied. He nuzzled Shiron, then turned to leave. “Sleep well.”
“You too, Kuyoma.”
With that, Kuyoma exited back through the small hole, outside of which he spread his russet wings and once again slipped into flight, heading off to join the others in the dragon clan.
At this point I must interrupt the story to tell you that these dragons you now read about are not quite the dragons you may know well. These were Windrunner gliding dra-gons, by their human name, one of the most little-known species of dragon in the world. About three feet long as adults, they dwell in canyons throughout the world, mainly ones with rock formations that provide shelter. They are long and snake-like, with small legs, long claws used mainly for climbing, and bat-like wings.
The reason they are so little-known and mysterious to humans is due to their amazing camouflage skills. Each of their scales (which some in a variety of earthy colors) can change its color, similar to a chameleon, but much more effective. This way, they can make themselves absolutely invisible when sitting completely still. Along with this, they have the ability to make their bodies colder, and so go undetected by some predators and, to a larger extent, manmade heat-seeking machinery. They can even make their breath shallow and silent. These small dragons are truly the masters of disguise.
Normally, they are a social species, living in small groups of about fifteen to twenty dragons, though they do not depend on one another much for food and other necessities. (Food for them is insects and some plants such as juniper berries from the bases of the canyons.) They are, however, caring for one another, particularly when there is an egg being waited on to hatch; and they watch each other’s backs, because thanks to their small size, mountain predators such as birds of prey are a danger to them. Young ones are watched over and helped during lessons such as flight by all in the group, until they are ready to care for themselves, which normally takes a few weeks at most.
Now the story may resume.
The rest of the clan was settled in some large holes in another nearby bit of cliff, which were dug with care by the dragons themselves. The distant mountains had nearly eaten up the sun completely by now, so that scarlet light embraced parts of the tan cliffs and left others in shadow. Diving into one cleft, Kuyoma could see that most of the other dragons were already curled comfortably and snugly against each other, covering the floor in a carpet of scaly bodies. The russet-brown dragon nuzzled himself into a space, but he didn’t feel like sleeping at all. Anxiety and anticipation made his head tingle. He wasn’t sure why he was so anxious, but he just felt that anything terrible in the world could hap-pen to his beloved mate. An older dragon had once told him that this was just a natural feeling that comes when one becomes a parent, but he couldn’t resist it.
“You’re really nervous about her, aren’t you?” came a voice by his side. Kuyoma star-ted at the sound, which came from another male dragon named Naad. Then he gave a small sigh.
“Yes, I am,” he admitted. “It’s just...our egg is so close to hatching, and it’s our first one, and I worry about Shiron because she’s far away from the rest of us...” Kuyoma’s voice faded here, and he winced at the way his voice was faltering and shaking.
Naad’s dark amber eyes blinked. “I think you’re stressing yourself out too much. What horrible thing could possibly happen? That little cave is the safest place we have here, and she’s not that far from the other dens. Plus, she’s a fierce old girl; I reckon she can take care of herself.”
“That is true.” Kuyoma flexed his claws in a stretch and closed his eyes. “It’s tough being a father,” he murmured after a pause.
“You’ll get through it,” Naad answered assuringly. He closed his eyes too, and as they drifted gradually into a world of dreams, the last thin sunbeams were cut off, shrouding the land in darkness. Soon the only sound to be heard was the gentle breathing of the dragon clan and the soft, cool night breeze murmuring to itself and caressing the stones.
The clouds below Kuyoma rippled like water in the high-up wind. He had never flown this high before; now he had gone above even the clouds, and he felt exhilarated. Swoo-ping and twisting in the air, he closed his eyes and relished the feel of the wind suppor-ting him.
Suddenly he heard a weird squawking sort of noise and a feathery rustling reached his ear-slits, and his eyes snapped open. In front of him, he saw curious dark dots beginning to appear between the clouds. As he stared incredulously, the dots grew bigger until he made out forms with long smooth wings and iridescent feathers that took on green- and purplish hues in the midday light.
Crows! Hundreds, thousands of them, swarming and squawking and enveloping the air before him. The roiling cloud began to sweep toward Kuyoma, who took a nose-dive toward the fluffy clouds. But one of the birds dove down with him with incredible speed. Then it hurled itself at the dragon. Just before they collided, Kuyoma glanced at the bird, but immediately recoiled at the sight of its wing. It was terribly disfigured—smaller than the other wing, sticking out at a weird angle, and oddly crumpled and with a few feathers missing. There was no reason this bird should even be able to fly.
A millisecond later the damaged bird drove its head into Kuyoma’s underbelly, knoc-king the breath out of him...and suddenly there was no air beneath him. Soft stone surrounded his body, and he felt another slam to his belly. Opening his eyes, he saw a blue-silver face twisted with excitement and rush. For a moment he thought it was his mate; it took him a moment to realize it was actually her older sister Chimma, who looked nearly identical to her apart from differently colored eyes and a slightly huskier build.
“Wake up!” she exclaimed loudly. Kuyoma was up in a flash, now fully awake.
“What’s happening?!” he panted, regaining his breath.
Chimma’s eyes were bright as moons. “Kuyoma, come quickly! Shiron’s egg—it’s hatching!”
Kuyoma was zipping past her before the silver dragon even finished her sentence. He launched himself into the night air, adrenalin pulsing in his veins and pushing strength into his wings. The entire clan was awake, but they were waiting in the clefts and mur-muring excitedly, except for one, Yuki, who was hovering outside Shiron’s nest. She turned her head to Kuyoma’s swift arrival.
“I’ve been waiting here for you!” she exclaimed. “There’s just a tiny crack in the egg, and it’s wobbling and squeaking.”
Kuyoma thanked her and squirmed through the slim hole into the nest. Shiron was waiting eagerly for him, her long body surrounding the egg but not touching it. A mom-ent later they were joined by Chimma, and the trio waited and watched before the egg. It wobbled, turned and kept cracking more, and squeaked every now and then. Long they sat, until the sky’s blackness faded to azure-blue, and that was when a tiny body finally spilled out of the brown shell. It flopped onto the evergreen needles cushioning the egg, producing slight squeaking noises. Shiron used her nose to clear its face of goop, and nuzzled a piece of shell off the top of its head.
The hatchling, a wet bundle about the sixth the size of an adult, boasted reddish-brown scales like its father. In fact, it looked nearly identical to him—except for its eyes, which were already beginning to force their way open—they were golden like Shiron’s. As the other dragons watched, it tried to spread its fragile little wings to shake them off. One unfurled neatly, though still very wet, but the other only came out about halfway. Chim-ma put her head to the side. “Is it stuck?” she asked.
Shiron nosed more goop away from it, smelled it with her thin black tongue, and nuzzled the hatchling to encourage the wing to open. But it remained stuck there.
“Something’s wrong with it!” Shiron exclaimed.
Kuyoma’s belly clenched suddenly as a memory came back to him. He leaned forward slowly and began to fully clean the wing. Soon it had been dried, and he stood back in dismay as the wing was revealed.
Shiron let loose a strange sound of anguish, and Chimma gasped. Kuyoma stared, horrified.
The half-folded wing was smaller than the other, and sticking out at an odd angle. The thin membrane was wrinkled and crumpled and some bits were even missing. A wing born deformed.
There was no way it could fly.