Things quieted down for a few seconds after the impression, but talk started again almost immediately, only a few people waiting for the dragonet's name to be
announced. Even Delana had calmed, her finely shaped head tilted as she looked at the empty egg. Kurama patted her neck and hopped down, nodding
when her eyes whirled at him. "It's definitely a gold egg," Kurama murmured, touching a section of the busted shell. The golden color carried through to the
inside, though it was lighter there. Any possibility that the egg had been colored was discarded. [A male from a gold egg...what does it mean?] Looking up,
Kurama's eyes narrowed as he stared at the small silver dragon currently eating as if its life depended on it. "I don't know what it means, but he's going to
overfeed it." The red dragon behind him gave a low sound and the silver baby blinked at her before gobbling another chunk of meat. Smirking, Kurama left
her to walk to the short black-haired boy. "That's plenty."
Turning his head, Hiei looked at the tall white-haired youko, his hand halting over the dragon's open mouth. He no more than paused before the thing let out
another of those high-pitched cries. [More! More!] Hiei's eyes narrowed at the incessant voice and he shoved the meat toward the dragonet's snout,
ignoring the tall male. A hand caught his wrist and he gave a dark glare as he jerked away. "He's hungry."
"You can't feed him every time he cries," Kurama said lightly, not bothered by the short boy's glare. "Newly hatched dragons will eat whatever is offered to
them, but it's dangerous to feed them too much. They don't know when they've reached their limits." Red eyes stared at him and he waved a hand toward the
silver dragon's large belly. "You can tell just by looking at him, he doesn't have room for more."
Hiei looked down at the little dragon, his eyes narrowing at how bloated it looked. But how was he supposed to know about hatchlings? Red eyes whirled at
him as the baby let out another of those cries and he glared at it. "So why is it crying?"
"He's a newborn," Kurama said, his eyes shifting over the small dragon's shape. It looked different from Delana's previous dragonets, its body more compact,
the wings too large for its height. The coloring was the same silver throughout, but he could tell its wingtips were thicker than they should be, its hide looked
as if it were already cracking. "He may be dried out, though he shouldn't be. You'll learn how to take care of him, Botan will show you." The boy glanced at
him and he nodded to where the pale blue-haired girl was making her way across the sand toward them. "But first, you're supposed to tell everyone his
name. That's usually the first thing a candidate says after impression."
"I don't know his name," Hiei muttered, his eyes dropping to the dragon's whirling eyes. They weren't as red now, hints of blue or purple creeping in around
the edges, but they continued to spin as if the irises were made to rotate. It was disconcerting. The dragon lurched toward him suddenly and he took a quick
step back, avoiding its outstretched head. If it was still hungry, it would have to take that up with the tall male beside him. He didn't plan to be a snack for
some baby dragon. Those eyes turned green and its jaws parted so a soft croon could escape, its neck stretched in his direction. For some reason, that
sound bothered him and Hiei frowned, looking up at Kurama. "What does it want?"
"Can't you hear him?" Kurama asked, pale golden eyes widening in surprise. The short male made a face and he raised an eyebrow.
"I don't *want* to hear him," Hiei muttered. Despite his words, he gave a sigh, listening to the voices around him. He could hear the dragons above making
quick conversation about a missing egg, but another voice was much louder; the baby lurched toward him again. [Riyu!] The word meant nothing to him, but
he assumed that was the dragonet's name and turned back to Kurama. "Riyu. Now how do I get him to stop that?"
Those wide eyes were dark and Kurama folded his arms, tilting his head to the side. "Comfort him, of course. Can't you feel his loneliness?" Hiei's lip
twitched into a sneer and he blinked when the boy scowled at the sand. At least he held still when the dragonet pressed its silver cheek against him. Kurama
nodded when the cries ceased. "See? Riyu is just a baby, you have to treat him as one. It's your responsibility as a dragonrider."
"Ch'." Hiei brushed his palm over Riyu's smooth neck, throwing a glare to Kurama that belied the soft touch. "So I'm a babysitter."
His lips curved into a small smile and Kurama nodded. "For now." Botan reached them and he nodded to her. "Get him to the lake, would you? Yusuke can
take care of the other candidates." His eyes narrowed for a second as he looked to the girls still standing around the pit. The sympathy he'd felt for them
earlier was gone. He was thinking about the egg and he turned without another word, stalking to Delana and climbing onto her back. She knew exactly what
he wanted and his white clothing whipped past his legs when she gave a jump, rising over the lower levels. Sejika, Yomi's bronze, gave a bugle to her, but
Kurama wasn't interested in explaining. One of the girls hadn't looked as frightened as the others and it gave him an idea he planned to act on immediately.
Hiei's black cloak blew in the wind caused by the queen dragon's lift off and he glared when Riyu's thin wings shook briefly. They folded back quickly, though,
and the silver dragon never tried to take its head away from his chest. He was still irritated and uncomfortable by the contact, but the previously loud voice in
his mind was now a contented purr. It was a huge improvement over the cries. The blue-haired girl looked at him and he raised an eyebrow at her wide eyes.
"He was so abrupt," Botan murmured, more to herself than to the boy near her. But she remembered her place quickly enough, a bright smile spreading over
her face when the little dragon wavered on its feet. "Tell him to follow me and you can give him a bath. That's always the first thing after feeding. Then I'll
show you where you'll be staying."
Hiei started to follow when the tall girl walked away from him, but he remembered the head pressed against him almost immediately. [No...] The voice was
much quieter than it had been earlier and he felt a twinge of something at how pitiful it sounded. Green eyes opened and whirled at him as Riyu looked up.
"No bath?" Hiei asked, his voice harsh despite the fact that he'd tried to lower it. He felt ridiculous talking to the thing, though he knew it was a normal
occurrence in the weyr. [Scratch? Itches.] The dragonet rubbed its snout against him and Hiei frowned, looking at the shiny skin between its eyes. The skin
looked as if it had cracks in it and he rubbed the spot with his fingertips, blinking when the dragon nearly collapsed onto him with a low croon.
"Oh, what's wrong?" Botan asked, moving back to them. She grabbed Hiei's arm when she saw what he was doing, but she let go very quickly when the boy
glared at her. "Don't scratch it," she said, "it'll peel if you do. We have oil you can rub on there. Although...he shouldn't be cracking yet. There's no reason
for him to, he was just hatched." A finely shaped head turned toward her and her eyes widened at the whirling red eyes the dragon flashed at her. Blinking,
she frowned at Hiei. "His skin should still be soft, he's a newborn."
"Newborn or not," Hiei muttered, frowning when Riyu pushed a snout at his hand, "it itches him. Where's the oil?"
"By the lake," Botan said quickly, her smile flashing back into existence. "Come on."
The moment her back was turned, Hiei rubbed the spot again, just for a second before he stepped away. The dragon followed, butting his hand and he
rubbed again before moving further. Whether he was supposed to or not, it did get the baby to come. But he didn't like the idea of giving it a bath. If its skin
would peel from being rubbed, he imagined water would just make the cracks wider. They'd be chafed. Then again, the girl seemed to know how to take care
of dragons. Holding his hand just out of Riyu's reach, he made his way off the sand, not giving any greeting when Yusuke passed him with a quick nod. The
girls who'd run earlier were standing at the edge of the pit and they backed away as he went by. The one who'd hidden behind his back almost fell over in her
haste to get away from the small dragon and he smirked, rubbing Riyu's forehead with something akin to affection as the silver dragonet waddled beside him.
* * *
A dark reddish-gray dragon slept on a large pile of cloths in the back of the room and the people kept their voices down out of respect. But the short woman
bonded with the dragon shook her head as she gestured for them to sit at the long table. "She won't wake up no matter how loud you talk. She's getting old,
you know." Genkai sighed, brushing a bit of gray-streaked pink hair away from her face as she looked at Kurama. The teen's hair was still white and she
could tell by Yomi's pinched expression that the weyr leader was not happy. Kurama usually only turned into a Youko during mating flights or when angry. But
she knew the queen rider had been in that form during the entire season as Yomi's mate. It didn't say much for their relationship. "Well, Kurama? You flew
out of here quickly enough. Did you learn anything?"
"It was Kelli that gave me the idea," Kurama said, his voice low. "She's been at all of Delana's hatchings, so she was calm throughout this one. But it
reminded me that one of the candidates didn't show up."
"That's right," Kuwabara said, his voice trailing a bit when Yomi glared at him. "She was sick."
"Right," Kurama nodded, "but we knew about her weeks before this. She kept giving excuses not to come until the last minute. It's an odd coincidence that
she happened to get sick at just the right time. I went to pay her a visit. She's gone."
"So who is she?" Genkai asked, her eyes narrowing. "I assume you're talking about a herdman's daughter?"
"So we thought," Kurama said, "but the entire family is gone now. Do you know what we found behind their land? A sand pit, still warm. Delana tells me the
egg was definitely there at one time, probably when Kuwabara stopped by. It smells of magic."
"But who did it?" Yomi asked, shifting in the uncomfortable chair. "Why use a candidate?"
"She would have known when the hatching was scheduled," Kurama murmured, "we kept sending people to get her so they would know from her how mature
the egg was. They probably wanted to wait until the last minute before taking it. The real question is where they got the egg they switched our queen with.
I'm sure you all know that wasn't a queen dragon that hatched earlier. My guess is it wasn't *laid* by a queen dragon either."
"But it was gold," Yusuke said quickly, his dark eyes wide. "It wasn't colored, we would have known, right?"
"It was gold," Kurama nodded, "but it wasn't a queen egg. I've never heard of females, besides queens, laying nests, but it's possible another weyr let one do
so. We don't know what color eggs those females would have. My guess is a group didn't have a queen and decided to try and raise a weyr without one. But
the other female dragons don't have queen eggs, meaning they wouldn't have the powerful males we have."
"You think that silver dragonet is a flaw, then? You must not have looked at it very closely." Heads turned to her, but Mukuro's gaze was frozen on Kurama's.
"That was no flawed dragon they switched with the queen egg. He's shedding already, Kurama."
Yusuke blinked, his eyes flashing from the hooded female to Kurama's narrowed eyes. Dragonets' skin cracked as they grew, but it took weeks before the first
growth spurt, months before they actually started shedding. He hadn't bothered to check in on the little dragon after the hatching, and he regretted that now.
"He's already growing? In a matter of *hours*?"
Kurama frowned when Mukuro gave a sharp nod. "If that's true, then why would they switch him with one of ours? The purpose of queens is that they lay
better dragons, if that dragonet grows faster than ours it's probably going to be just as strong as any bronze."
"Not necessarily," Yomi drawled, "you're reading too much into it. So it's growing fast. For all we know, it could have some sort of genetic defect."
"Or this is the first time they've gotten eggs from a female," Kurama interrupted. "In that case they wouldn't know what would hatch from the gold egg. They
would simply assume it would be weaker than a gold egg laid by a queen so they switched it with ours."
"Someone out there is trying to raise a weyr using one of Delana's queen eggs," Genkai said. "I think you're right about that. The green females are
rendered sterile when they fight thread by chewing brimstone. It makes sense to assume a female that's never fought could lay eggs. The gold egg is the
strongest, the queen that takes after the queen who laid it. If a green dragon laid a nest, it's reasonable to assume she would have a single egg with more
potential than the rest, a gold egg even if the dragon inside isn't a queen."
"And they gave us the best of their litter," Yusuke said suddenly, a smirk stretching his lips. "So they'll have nothing when we take back our queen egg. They
should have picked a different weyr to steal from."
"How are we supposed to get the egg back?" Yomi asked, his eyes sliding to Kurama. The tall male had yet to look at him and he once again wished the
hatching were over. The sooner Delana flew again, the sooner he could get out of the weyr.
"Delana can't sense it, but it's possible they're blocking the egg from us." Kurama glared, his folded arms tightening over his chest. He'd figured out the plot,
but he was no closer to discovering the culprit than he had been before.
"Every dragon has a connection to its parents," Mukuro said lightly, her left eye glinting from under her hood. "You might ask Riyu." The sound of her voice
seemed to cause the flash of teeth Yomi revealed and she smirked at him, not minding his distaste. He didn't approve of her, but he was a bad weyrleader.
His opinions didn't matter. "Or better yet," she continued, her eyes flicking to Kurama, who was watching her, "ask Hiei."
"Who?" Kurama blinked, noting that only Genkai knew who she was talking about. The two of them knew everything that went on in the weyr.
"The new dragonrider," Genkai supplied. "All of you were so busy over the egg you missed quite a scene earlier. He refused to give Riyu a bath. Poor Botan
had to get Mukuro to talk to him."
"He was trouble when we tried to bring him in," Yusuke said. "It figures he wouldn't listen to anyone."
"He happened to be right," Mukuro said, the boy jerking back at her sharp tone. "As I said, Riyu is shedding his skin. A bath now would do more harm than
"Oh." Yusuke stared at the table for a moment, hiding his irritation with the short female. He didn't really have anything against her, but she was always hard
to read and he never knew how to deal with her. After all, she was the only dragonrider present who didn't have a dragon. He couldn't think of *anyone* who
knew how to deal with such a person. Anyone else would have died with the dragon. Kuwabara gave him an elbow to the ribs and he blinked, glaring briefly
before looking to Kurama. "I guess you *could* try asking him. That guy heard our dragons earlier, or at least he said he did."
"Where did you find him?" Yomi asked, his glare pinning the boy to his seat. "That fool nearly caused Delana to attack during the hatching."
"The ice mountain," Kuwabara muttered, not looking at the current weyrleader.
"So *that* was him," Kurama said suddenly, his eyes widening. "How long have you been looking for that candidate?"
"Since we became dragonriders," Yusuke said. "Who'd have thought it'd end up being some strange guy. And don't ask me how he got up there. He's
"He's a jaganshi," Mukuro supplied.
"What's that?" Kuwabara couldn't see her face, but he had the distinct impression she was looking at him as if he were an idiot. In fact, he was sure of it.
"You didn't notice the eye?" Mukuro asked, her voice light and mocking. She turned to Kurama and nodded at him. "You did."
"Of course," Kurama said quickly. "But I really didn't think about it at the time. I've never heard of someone who lived through a jagan implant."
"You mean that's not his eye?" Kuwabara blinked when Yusuke gave him a droll expression. "What?"
"Moron, don't you know anything? People aren't born with *real* jagans, not anymore. Besides, if it were his real eye he wouldn't have to bind it up to control
the third sight." Yusuke nodded to Kurama, ignoring the glare his friend gave him. "I heard they let people see things. Even if he can't *hear* the baby
queen, maybe he could *see* it."
"I'll find out," Kurama said, standing suddenly. He paused long enough to nod his thanks to Mukuro, his eyes moving over the others. "We won't move until
tomorrow morning. Get plenty of sleep. We are going to get that egg back." He left the room, but he didn't get far before Yomi caught up with him. His lips
twitched when he saw the man's dark expression and he raised an eyebrow at him. "Eager for the hatching to be over, are you?"
"You are one of the coldest bastards I know," Yomi murmured, his voice not holding the malice his words carried. "I'll be glad to be rid of you. Until then, I'm
still the leader of this weyr."
"I told you not to fly Delana," Kurama said lightly, pale golden eyes caressing the man's black hair as Yomi walked a few steps in front of him. "You were the
one who ignored my warnings. Just because I was caught in her passion doesn't mean you get any favors from me. That isn't how matings work."
"I've been a dragonrider longer than *you* have," Yomi reminded him, not looking back. He didn't feel like seeing the youko's condescending expression.
"Don't tell me how matings are supposed to be. No queen rider would threaten the order of her weyr the way you have."
"Poor, frustrated Yomi, that's what you get for trying to push me. You knew I wasn't interested, but you simply couldn't take no for an answer. Your mistake,
I'm afraid. Did you really think I wouldn't turn into a youko? I *told* you I wasn't submissive. Stop blaming me for your arrogance."
"Shut up." Pale, silvery-white hair brushed his face as the tall male stepped by him and Yomi glared, his eyes snapping down to Kurama's long tail. Despite
his words, he couldn't help but be attracted to the infuriating youko. Of course, Kurama was very aware of that. The queen rider had to be one of the most
sensual creatures he'd ever met. The one mating was almost enough to make him wait around to fly Delana again. But it wasn't worth the hell of actually
living with a temperamental youko bent on refusing his every advance. No, he wasn't going to be tied down to him for another six months. Despite that
decision, his fingers still tingled to touch the silky hair of that whisping tail.
* * *
The little silver dragon was sleeping on a small mound of cloths similar to adult beddings. Hiei was stretched out next to him, his back supported by Riyu's
forelegs, the small dragon's head resting across his stomach. It was an adorable picture and Kurama paused, stopping with his hand still holding the curtain
that had sectioned them off from the rest of the cave. Remembering the boy's belligerence, he couldn't help but smirk at his sweet expression.
"Now there's a cute one," Yomi drawled. The youko shot him a very dangerous glare and he raised an eyebrow, taking in the angry golden eyes. There was
no law against mated riders looking at potential lovers, but the youko definitely was giving him a heated glare. He just didn't know if Kurama was jealous of him
or the boy. "You don't think so?"
"Keep your lust in check," Kurama said coldly, his voice a low whisper. "We need his help. This isn't the time for *you* and your roving libido."
"You're so vehement," Yomi murmured, eyeing his angry mate. Kurama looked away suddenly and he blinked, his eyes widening at a sudden flash of light.
The sleeping boy was standing in front of them, a slender blade held with the tip sparkling in the dim light. For a second he was tempted to get angry at the
threat, but he smirked instead, his eyes sliding over Hiei's glaring expression. "So sorry to disturb you."
"What do you want?" Hiei asked, his eyes flicking between the two men as he held his sword readily. He didn't plan to use it, but they should know better than
to try and sneak up on him. That mistrust he had of dragonriders was definitely proving useful.
"We have a favor to ask of you," Kurama said, not daring to glance at Yomi. Times like this made him wish he could just get rid of the man, maybe drop him off
a cliff somewhere. The silver dragon's head was raised and he nodded to it, noting the swirling red eyes. They'd only been attached for a day, but they
seemed to be in tune with each other. Both Hiei and Riyu looked angry that their sleep was interrupted. "If we may?"
Hiei snorted softly when the white-haired male turned liquid eyes on him. Presenting his back to the two, he sheathed his sword and moved to sit in front of
Riyu, leaving them to stand on the rocky floor. "Ask."
With a smile for the boy's stubborn expression, Kurama crossed the floor, dropping into an easy seat as if he cared less for the fact that his clothing was
white. "Thank you, Hiei." Red eyes blinked at him and he jerked his head at Yomi as the man moved to stand behind him. "I'm Kurama, the current queen
rider of this weyr. This is the weyrleader, Yomi. We would have introduced ourselves sooner, but this hatching has been very unusual. I'm sure you realize
Riyu isn't the dragon we were expecting." The boy didn't move, those eyes blinking slowly at him and Kurama's gaze drifted up to where a small white band
covered Hiei's jagan. It wasn't a kekkai, but a simple white strip of cloth. Without the shielding power Kurama wondered why he bothered covering it. Then
again, it didn't matter. "How much do you know about dragons?"
Yomi shook his head, ignoring the frown shot up at him. "This isn't the time for a history lesson."
Riyu's head dropped onto his shoulder and Hiei's eyes flicked down as he calmed his natural tenseness. "I know enough, just ask your favor."
"Riyu wasn't born by a queen dragon," Kurama told him, his lips twitching at the dragon's heavy-lidded eyes. The black-haired male might not have known
how to comfort it before, but he seemed to have learned during his absence. "We need to find the dragon that laid him. And the real queen egg. Most
dragons have a connection to the queen who laid them, so Riyu might be able to tell us where his dame is. If not, I wanted to ask you if you could use your
abilities to find the egg yourself."
"My abilities?" Raising an eyebrow, Hiei snorted. "I don't distinguish one dragon from another. My jagan isn't to find dragons."
"Delana's gold egg is the only gold egg present right now," Kurama said, "if you can find a gold egg, it's guaranteed to be hers."
Green eyes whirled slowly when Hiei looked at Riyu and he frowned, his gaze shifting to the small curl of skin clinging to its neck. It made the silver dragon
look like a snake with its skin peeling backwards, but it also reminded him that it was a baby. [Don't know the dragon, or egg. Don't know anyone but you.] If
he didn't know better, he could swear the little male sounded regretful and he was starting to understand the color of its eyes. It looked depressed, as if green
were the color for discontent. "You don't need to know," he muttered, his low voice making Riyu tilt his head closer to his neck. The white-haired queen rider
smiled at him when he glanced up and he glared, his hands raising to lift Riyu's head from his shoulder. The little dragon gave a soft mewl but he stood,
folding his arms. "I'll look, but know this, my jagan is not for your use."
"Of course," Kurama nodded, "we would never ask if it weren't such a serious need."
"Take me to where the egg was last," Hiei said, stepping toward the curtains. A rush of panic stopped him and his eyes widened for a second before he
realized it wasn't his emotions. [Wait! I go with you...] Turning, he stared at the silver dragon, taking in its outstretched neck. Riyu had risen to his feet and
really did look ready to wobble after him. Those thin wings were spread in preparation as if it would take flight to pursue him. "You stay." Riyu let out a quiet
bugle and he frowned, wondering if it were going to wake the weyr.
"We usually don't separate riders from their dragons," Kurama said, "but this is an extenuating circumstance. I found where they took the egg after stealing it,
but we'll have to go between to get there. He can't do that, yet, his hide isn't thick enough."
His hide was already losing a layer and Hiei gave the white-haired male a droll expression. "He thinks he can follow us. What now?" A head butted his back
and he glared at whirling red eyes, not the least bit concerned that Riyu was now angry with him. [I go with you. I won't stay.] "You'll stay," he told the little
dragon, his eyes narrow, "or I won't come back." He didn't think of himself as having much of a conscience, but he almost grabbed the baby when Riyu jerked
back, wavering on his hind legs. Those eyes turned back to green as quickly as the emotion turned from anger to fear. "I won't be gone long, stop that."
"That's harsh," Yomi commented, black eyes turning from the little dragon to Hiei. The black-haired rider glared at him, but he turned to Kurama. "Why don't
you have Delana talk to him?"
The weyrleader was irritating, but Kurama had to give him credit, he did know dragons. Delana was resting in her nest above them and he sought her out in
his mind, his lips curving into a smirk at how quickly she responded. [He'll get the egg back?] The dark-haired boy was frowning at him, but Kurama didn't
speak. //Riyu thinks he can follow us. Could you please explain to him? We shouldn't be gone long.//
Hiei wouldn't have paid attention to the voice that was added to the usual murmuring, but he could tell from Riyu's reaction that the dragon was talking to him.
The silver dragonet's eyes had calmed, turning a dark blue that Hiei hadn't connected with an emotion yet. He didn't recognize Delana's voice, but he
assumed it was her since the female was trying to reassure Riyu. His dragon lowered back onto the cloths and Hiei raised an eyebrow at it. [I'll stay.] If he
didn't know better, he would have sworn the silver dragon was smiling at him. Its too-thick tail thumped behind it before wrapping around its legs. Riyu looked
to be making himself comfortable and Hiei wondered at the irritation he felt. It wasn't like he *wanted* the dragon to throw a tantrum. He just didn't like the fact
that Delana had calmed him so quickly, he'd thought the baby more stubborn than that.
"There," Kurama said, smiling at the silver dragon. "Delana says he'll be fine." Hiei shot him a look and he raised his eyebrows. "What?"
"How can you talk to her if she isn't here?" The black-haired weyrleader laughed at him and Hiei's eyes narrowed into slits, glaring at Yomi.
"Your dragon uses telepathy with you," Yomi reminded him, smirking, "and you think you have to speak aloud to him? You really *don't* know much about
dragons, do you."
Kurama sent a frown to his mate before turning to Hiei. "What you hear when Riyu or other dragons 'talk' is thoughts directed to you. Dragons are born with
the ability to send their thoughts to the person they impress upon, the way Riyu does with you. Not every thought he has is sent to you, and he can't read
your thoughts. But if you focus on him and try to *direct* the thought to him, he should hear you as easily as you do him."
Frowning, Hiei turned to stare at his dragon, meeting half-lidded blue eyes that whirled slowly. What he heard from the dragon was the same as speech to
him, only he heard it inside his mind, rather than with his ears. As if he were speaking aloud, he tried to form his thoughts into dialogue. //You let that female
influence you. Why?// Those blue, whirling eyes sped up abruptly, and he had the distinct impression Riyu was smiling again. [I like her. She was afraid
before, but not now. She said you will help her find her baby, that's nice.] Hiei raised an eyebrow, giving the dragonet an odd look. //I'm only doing it so they
will leave me be, don't think it's charity.// Riyu's head tilted to the side. [What's charity?] Blinking, Hiei let out a soft snort. "Forget it." Kurama smirked at him
when he turned back to the two men and he glared. "Let's go."
* * *