A couple of workers jumped out of the way as a wyvern screeched overhead, its powerful wings blasting the air and sand beneath it. A resounding thud later and it had landed in the middle of the dusty open area, a confident youth giving a loud "whoop" from its back.
Cero hopped off the back of the young bull wyvern, leading it to its stall in the stables. As he had expected, the chief came fuming.
"Cero! How many times do I have to tell you to land properly in the clearing at the north end? This is the second warning this month; the next time this happens -," the chief of staff scolded, his ever-present clipboard quivering nearly imperceptibly in his agitated grip. Cero, by now, could tell how angry he was by how much it shook.
After a quick glance at the clipboard, Cero answered confidently "I know, I know, I'll be grounded next month. I got it. But hey, no harm done, anyway."
"And the dozens of broken equipment, dirtied supplies, and fainted employees count as -,"
"Alright, not much harm done. I'll be careful next time, I promise," he said, hardly batting an eyelid as the chief finally left him at the door of the stables.
"Don't bother promising what you can't follow through, boy," the gaunt man huffed, walking away quickly, as though to avoid any further aggravation.
"Don't bother promising," Cero mimicked in a high-pitched voice, talking to the wyvern. He secured it in its stall, slamming the doors and setting down objects with a little more vigor than usual. "Tch, make up your mind, old man. I'll be head of this place soon enough, so-,"
"You getting along fine, Cero?" a boy around his age called out to him as he walked out of the stables. He was carrying an irregularly shaped piece of machinery, just barely managing with its weight. His hair was tied in a tight ponytail high on his head, but the rest was plastered with sweat to his face, and his clothes also spoke of the toil and heat he'd been through throughout the day.
"O hey, Dante," Cero said, idly waving at the boy. "Just came back from a ride."
"Ya don't say. Wouldn't have told by the wyvern landing in the middle of the courtyard," Dante said, setting down the machine and wiping off sweat with a scarf that lazy loosely around his neck. "So that makes it- how many this month?"
"It's just the second warning, man. I'll be fine," he said, shrugging off the thought. "D'you need help with that or something?"
"Sure would appreciate it," Dante said, waiting for Cero to come over. They both bent at the knees and got ready to pick up the heavy object.
"Alright, on the count of one, two-," Dante began.
"Hey, Cero, the boss's calling ya!" the gruff voice of one of the other workers boomed from across the courtyard, in the doorway of the stables' main office.
"Oof," Cero said, setting down the machine. "Well, sorry, Dante, but I'm a busy man."
"Ah, heck, go get yourself in trouble, airhead," the other boy said, picking up the heavy object by himself.
"Trouble always seems to find you, now doesn't it, Cero?" Orem said, leaning forward on the only table in the room.
Cero laughed before replying. "Now there's a nice way of putting it. Getting into trouble finally sounds good."
"Bako here has helped me go through your records-," the owner of the stables said, motioning to his chief-of-staff, standing at his physical and figurative right-hand side, then to papers stacked on his desk.
"I've only got two warnings this month," Cero said defensively. "And I even discovered that crack in the hatchery wall last month-,"
"By promptly crashing through it with one of our finest bull wyverns," Orem finished. "And you've been consistently poorly-rated for the past several months, not to mention you've been grounded almost every other month for reckless, imprudent, and dangerous behavior."
Cero remained silent this time.
"You have to understand that I'm trying to run a respectable wyvern stud here. And though you may be my s-," Orem said, but then cut himself off, sighing deeply and rubbing his forehead. His voice was weighted with heavy emotion. "And though you are family, I expect you to behave appropriately, and uphold this family business."
"I get it, Da-," Cero replied, catching himself mid-sentence. "I understand, Boss."
"Good. Now," he said, suddenly lightening the atmosphere. "It has been decided that you be given due punishment for your actions. And here it is," Orem said, sliding several pieces of paper to him.
Cero picked up the papers and glanced through them. "So you're giving me- an assistant?"
"No, an applicant for wyvern handler. They're going to be working part-time here at the stud."
"And you're giving them to me because- why again?"
"Well, Mr. Hotshot Wyvern Rider, you're going to be training them."
"-And so, it is with great pride and pleasure that I welcome you to the Mannali wyvern stud, home of the finest wyverns in the entire kingdom," Cero said, with a flourish of hands at the end of it.
"You have no idea what you're doing, do you?" Dante said dryly, from where he sat atop a pile of lumber.
Cero had dragged him away from his workshop first thing this morning in order to test his new "trainers' script" for the new part-timer. They were sitting a ways from the cluster of buildings, up against a cliff that ran the northern wall of the stud.
"Well, you forgot to mention that we are actually the breeders of the fastest racing wyverns, and that we also have the most state-of-the-art hatchery, complete with fully-automatic temperature regulations-,"
"Blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada," Cero said, mimicking mouth movements with his hand. "This is why I never bother to listen to those things. No one wants to apply to a job to be bored to death."
"And this is why Orem's giving you this assignment in the first place. To teach you about patience or responsibility or- something. But hey, at least you're not grounded, like the time you flew into the hatchery wall-"
"Don't you start bringing up these things again. Yeesh, sometimes I wonder if you're a psychometric or something."
Dante laughed heartily, nearly falling off the stack of logs. "Nope, just metalsmith through and through," he said, motioning vaguely to his back, where three spirit-stones lay aligned with his spine, giving him power to work with metal and other machines.
Cero nodded vaguely, then glanced over his shoulder absently. Everyone on the wyvern stud knew that Cero had no spirit-stones; hence he had the nickname of "Zero." Not that he was especially angry about it or anything. It just made him- different.
"This Shima better be worth my time. I don't want to have to babysit this 17-winter-old kid," Cero said, glancing at his copy of Shima's biographic data.
"Saith the beardless youth of 18 winters," Dante jabbed, leaping off the wood. "Well, I'd better leave you to your mentor duties. Raise your young padawan well."
"Oh skitter off," Cero said, playfully punching the metalsmith as he walked away. "This is gonna be a breeze."