(SHUSH SWEET CARROT. THIS IS A V GOOD ONE. imma be a butt tho and take a lil twist.)
Castiel squinted at the quickly-filling auditorium.
The stands were almost full, spectators taking up as many seats as possible. Only a few rows were saved lower down, toward the grounds of the stadium. Already, those were filling with the darker-clad figures of the Riders.
The air was filled with sound; human voices intermingling with the trumpets, calls, and roars of dragons. Smoke and hints of sulfur teased at the nose underneath the familiar briny scents of the sea.
Great fire-warded bars with metal mesh enclosed the stands. The metal gleamed in the sunlight, reflecting hints of blue and yellow with their ingrained magic.
Castiel shifted, feeling the dragon at his side nuzzle his shoulder. He turned with a small smile. Scales met his hand, hot to the touch. One great golden eye regarded Castiel from the dragon’s lowered head.
The creature huffed, a plume of smoke issuing from it’s nostrils and curling overhead. Castiel patted the dragon’s nose.
“I know, Imp. I know.”
It was an important day. The one day a year that all Riders came together in the auditorium; showing off their skills and prowess. New Riders and those who’s dragons had fallen to old age or battle chose new companions from the Aery.
The Riders were soldiers of their land, for millennium, they had been trained in aerial combat, battle magic, strategy, and multiple arts of war. Over the world, their nation was feared and respected because of the Riders and their companions, the dragons.
Castiel wasn’t a Rider. He was a Keeper, a trainer and caretaker of sorts. He’d grown up with dragons, learning how to converse with them in their language of touches, sounds, and looks before speaking any human languages. He’d never have the thought connection a Rider had with their dragon, but Castiel could communicate just as well through the other manners.
He was, hands-down, the best Keeper in the land. The dragons he raised and kept were fierce, intelligent, and unable to be matched by any other Keeper’s.
Imp huffed again, her eyes rolling before she nuzzled at Castiel’s hands. The simple sign of affection warmed him from the inside out despite the sadness that threaded through his veins.
Imp had reached maturity just after last year’s Rider-Day. She was rather large for her gender and blacker than an oil slick. Her eyes shone a bright amber-gold the same color as her fire. She was temperamental and clever, loyal to a fault. Castiel had been there at her hatching and had raised her from fledgling age. He’d helped train her. He’d watched her grow from being no bigger than knee-high to dwarfing the horses the civilians rode.
It was a bitter-sweet day for the both of them.
Castiel knocked his head with her’s when she nosed at his shoulder. Imp let out a low hum that vibrated through his bones. She was just as emotional as Castiel was.
They both listened to the opening ceremony from the interior of the Aery’s underground caverns. The space led up into the auditorium. Other Keepers were gathered there with their dragons.
Smoke filled the tiny space, curling high over the ceiling.
When the gates were drawn up, the dragons and their Keepers would parade around the auditorium in a lap. The Riders would be watching, trying to determine which, if any, of the dragons would suit them. After the lap, the Keepers would take posts around the auditorium as the Riders filed inside. From there on, it was the dragon’s choice to which Rider they would accept as their’s.
Castiel’s nerves jangled. Imp raked her claws over the ground and tossed her head. He reached out and stroked his hand over her wing. The membrane shifted and fluttered as she ducked her head in apology.
With a deafening creaking screech, the gates rose.
Light poured inside the caverns. Sound seeped in, deafening and raw. The Keepers marched out, dragons at their sides.
Castiel eyed this year’s Riders. Only two were familiar faces, two battle-wizened elders who had refused dragon after dragon out of respect for their fallen companions. Castiel dipped his head out of respect as they passed.
The other Riders looked young, fresh-faced and yet to be scarred by battle. Their dark, weathered leather outfits stood out starkly from the brighter colored clothes of the spectators and civilians. Some were female, some male; bright-haired and dark-haired, light-eyed and dark-eyed, light-skinned and dark-skinned. They were all strong-looking and attentive as the dragons paraded past.
Castiel manned his position and watched Imp settle into her place.
Her black scales shone like obsidian in the sun as she fitfully toyed with her wings.
The Riders filed into the auditorium one by one.
Castiel watched as they walked up to and around the dragons. Some matches were immediate; dragon and Rider bonding instantaneously.
Imp snarled at the first Rider that approached her, hands going straight for her muzzle without permission. The second, third, fourth, and fifth fared no better.
Castiel bit his lip as the sixth approached. The Rider’s hood was up as they sprinted across the auditorium from the stands. When they reached up to cast it off, Castiel drew a sharp breath.
The Rider was broad and tall, built solid and strong. His face was a work of art; freckles evident across his nose and cheeks. The sun-spots softened his good looks, making him appear almost boyish. His hair was fair and his lips full.
The Rider halted before Imp, simply admiring her. Imp blinked, clearly taken aback by the turn of events. After a moment she puffed up slightly, pleased with the attention.
Imp sniffed delicately when the Rider offered his hands for her to scent. She then rose off of her haunches and circled the man, playfully snapping at his limbs to gauge his reactions. The Rider was quick on his feet despite his frame and even managed to tag Imp’s nose a few times, displaying just his skill.
Imp bent, touching her forehead to the Rider’s. Both sets of their eyes shut as Imp solidified her bond.
The Rider laughed out loud, a low, husky sound when Imp wormed her head between his legs and flipped him onto her back. Her wings spread as the Rider settled, hands wrapping around her spines and feet finding the grooves behind her legs.
Imp bounded over, joy practically radiating from her every move as sparks flashed between her jaws.
The matched dragons and their Riders were taking their first flights. Some Keepers declined to be a part of the rite of passage, not wanting to intrude on the moment of bonding. Castiel always relished that last moment on his companion’s back.
The Rider stooped, offering a hand when Imp lowered herself. His eyes were a bright green that reminded Castiel of peridot and summer fields.
“Come on up, Keeper.”
The Rider’s voice was just as rich and deep as his laugh had been.
Castiel settled in front of the Rider, his back to the man’s chest. Her gripped Imp’s spines as her wings fanned wide and she launched herself into the air.
Imp trumpeted loudly as she flew for the ocean.
The Rider leaned close, his voice obstructed by the wind.
“What’s your name, Keeper? I’d like to give you honor. Imp is a beautiful, great girl.”
Castiel half-turned, feeling heat trip down his spine at the proximity of the Rider’s face to his. He could have counted every freckle on his cheeks right then.
“Name’s Dean. You don’t have to call me ‘Rider’, Cas.”
Imp banked, wing-tips skidding across the waves and spraying up water. Dean’s grin was wide and bright as he laughed. The man’s arm around Castiel’s waist tightened and Castiel felt his insides erupt into warmth.
After they’d returned and the Riders and the dragons had completed the day’s events, Castiel found himself sitting atop Fair Scale Hill with the Rider, Dean.
Imp was curled around the two of them as fireworks sailed high in the sky and music filled the air. Her scales reflected the sparks and light.
Dean’s hand lied on the grass between their bodies, fingers entwined with Castiel’s. They shared small kisses as the celebrations broke out in the streets below as Rider’s Day closed.
Castiel felt like his heart would explode with heat and happiness as Dean grinned at him.
Her loud trumpeting roar of happiness echoed over the hillside when Dean bent close and kissed Castiel once more.
cookie dough or dildos