Disclaimer: I own the voices in my head and my computer. (I resent that.) Shut up, you!

In Which a Stone May Not be a Stone After All

John bolted up, breaking from sleep in a cold sweat. He gritted his teeth as his leg twinged in response to his dream- the leering face of the Urgal as it swung its cruelly spiked mace at his leg.

Looking outside, John saw the first rays of the dawn creeping over the mountains. He sighed. Well, it wasn't like he would've gotten any more sleep anyways.

John slowly got up, stifling a gasp at the cold morning air. Packing up his few things, he pulled his sled outside, double-checking the bindings on the deer and the stone. In his head, John went over the trail he took home- not too many sharp twists and cliffs: he couldn't maneuver them.

As John limped home and the day grew longer, he found his thoughts straying over and over to the black stone he was towing behind him. He couldn't help but think that it wasn't meant for him; that he'd disturbed some- some ritual or something by taking that stone. But he also thought that it wouldn't have been sitting there, unattended, if it was important.

Of course it's important, just look at it! John had told himself, after hearing that last run through his thoughts.

Finally, John's small house came into view over a hill. John sighed, glad the rest of the way was downhill. For a moment, he thought childishly about riding the sled down the slope covered in late-summer grasses, but he knew the bottom of the slope was covered in small rocks that would make for a rough landing for his leg.

John gazed tiredly at the sled. "Damn my leg," he muttered. He could've been home half a day ago, but instead of walking, he had to limp.

"Damn the war, damn those Urgals, and damn my leg!"

Never was he so glad to see his small, neat house as that afternoon, when he postponed all chores to sit on his bed with one of his few books, occasionally glancing at the strange new addition to his home.

After several days of normal life (caring for his two chickens, Donovan and Anderson, and his horse, Molly) plus careful examinations of the black stone he'd found, John was frustrated with this new mystery. The thing had taken up residence in the far corner of his bedroom when he wasn't looking (not gazing) at it in the sunlight.

"What are you?" John asked the stone finally.

It squeaked in reply.

John drew back in alarm. "Oh no," he muttered.

The stone squeaked again, rocking a little bit too.

"No. Oh, tell me I did not bring home some kind of egg-"

The egg cracked a little in spite.

John backed up, warily watching the slivery cracks spread on the black surface.

The egg squeaked, then emitted a high-pitched growl, then hissed. Now vehemently rocking its egg back and forth, the hatchling inside pressured the shell constantly, spiderwebbing cracks over the egg.

With a final, triumphant mini-yowl, the hatchling stumbled free of its confines, shaking out its various limbs victoriously.

John stared at the hatchling. It was as obsidian black as the egg had been, with just as silvery of an undertone on it. Its back was strangely lumpy, though-

Ah. That's why, John thought as the hatchling stretched out long black wings.

Re-folding its wings more comfortably, the hatchling tried to take a step and promptly fell on its face, almost accordion-folding its long, graceful neck.

At the hatchling's indignant squeak, John knelt down to help the little thing. Its head twisted upwards, fixing John with pale, silver-green eyes. It sniffed disdainfully and untangled itself grumpily while John recovered from the force of the glare.

"Why won't you let me help you?" John asked it quietly.

The hatchling yawned, revealing sharp white teeth. Looking around the room, it ambled cautiously over to John's bed below the window, pawing at a beam of sunlight that fell over the edge. It crouched down, wings spreading indecisively, then boldly leaped up, somehow spreading its small self over the entire sun-covered part of the bed.

"You can't sleep there, that's where I sleep," John said bemusedly.

The hatchling gave him an unmistakable look of, Get Real.

John couldn't help but smile as he watched the little thing try to act tough. Walking over, he tentatively reached out a hand to the hatchling. It sniffed delicately at him, then evidently decided to accept affection rather than biting him.

The last thing John felt was a flash of fire running through him, before silver obscured his vision and he crumpled forward.

John woke to a pair of anxious silver-green eyes mere inches from his face. He got up stiffly, noting that a significant amount of time had passed since, well, since the little creature had hatched. The creature...

John looked at the small black hatchling, wondering what it was. There were legends about winged, scaled creatures in the lands to the South; legends of dragons, and their Riders.

"Is that what you are? A dragon?" John asked.

No. What I am is hungry.

John's eyes widened at the unexpectedly deep voice that echoed inside his mind. "That was you," he said to the hatchling. The little dragon rolled its eyes at him.

Obviously. Now if you'll stop being an idiot, I'd like some food!

"Well, er, what do you eat?"

The dragon bared its sharp teeth.

"...Ah. Right." John got up and headed for the small kitchen, glad for the deer he'd shot a couple days ago.

Then he turned back.

"No, hang on," he said, glaring at the hatchling, "You're a bloody dragon, and I can hear you speak inside my head! What is going on?!"

You're my Rider, obviously. Speaking is easy, I just went through a couple of your memories to learn the words.

"Okay, but- Rider?"

Of course. You've heard the stories, of dragons in Alagaesia. In the south. There are still a couple around-not a lot, by any measure- but still a few. Now, I suppose I'll have to get my own breakfast, won't I?

The hatchling leaped down and walked out into the larger room. John followed it, mostly out of stunned confusion.

When it- well, he, John supposed- saw the dried and cured remains of the deer, he squeaked triumphantly and snatched up a piece, tearing at the dried meat ineffectively.

How do you eat this stuff? he growled.

"It's called chewing, you should try it sometime," John said, pulling the meat away from the hatchling and using his knife to cut it into smaller pieces. The hatchling watched with something approaching gratitude, pouncing on each piece as it was cut.

"Well, there you go," John said, nudging the small pile of meat towards the little dragon.

The hatchling curled one long black wing around the pile of food, thoroughly ignoring John for several minutes.

When the wing was removed, only a couple scraps of the meat were left. The hatchling blinked a few times, then wobbled sleepily to the patch of sunlight on John's bed. Shredding the blanket a little as he scrambled up.

"You could at least try not to rip it," John protested feebly. The hatchling snorted and curled up.

"...What's your name, I wonder," John mused to himself.


A/N: Well! I finally got around to posting the second chapter! Reviews make me happy, by the way! :)