We were all sat around the breakfast table, like any other morning. Papa was muttering to someone on his phone while we all not-to-discreetly eavesdropped. Papa hung up, and we all remained silent, waiting for it. My sister moved her headphones off her ears.
"Walota thinks there has been a new hatch,"
We didn't need to ask of what; papa was the best wrangler on the island.
"What breed?" asked mama.
"Kura" he said; "and at least five eggs he thinks."
I was too excited to stay quiet; "oohhhh that is my favourite kind. Can I have one pl..ease?"
"Don't be so ridiculous, Ema", said, mama.
"But I will take re..ally good care of it."
My sister, Sereana, snorted into her cereal "You couldn't look after a pot plant, Ema".
"That's because plants are boring".
My 'big' sister is always rude to me. She is only slightly older, not even a whole year, but she thinks she is so grown-up. I turned back to mama.
"Joni had one when he was my age."
Mama replied "And look how that turned out; he got burnt. And come to think of it he was 16, and you are not even twelve yet!"
Sereana chipped in; "why are you so shabby, you will never get a boyfriend if you become a tamer."
"That is the only thing you think about; boys! Classic Sereana. You are so boring."
My sister rolled her eyes and put her headphones back over her ears. She was always so perfect and beautiful. Her long black hair carefully braided and shiny, so fashionable and feminine. Whereas I had to cut my hair short when it got too matted, and I was always full of bruises and scrapes.
Papa chipped in; "Come now, daughters, be kind to one another."
"Sorry, papa" we replied in unison.
Papa broke the silence "I think I will go into work today."
Mama replied; "I thought there were no tourists on the island?".
Papa sometimes took groups of tourists up the volcano for money. Since the mountain had been grumbling recently, foreigners were not as keen to do the hike to 'gaze into the gates of hell.'
"Well, I am going to check out this hatch. It won't be possible with foreigners sniffing around. We can't have them knowing about our natives."
I jumped up, "Can I come, papa? Please, please, please." I put on my best puppy eye look.
Mama snapped "Don't be so silly, it is way too dangerous, you are just a little girl."
"But you always say that I can be whatever I want to be, and I want to be a tamer like you," I said, looking straight into papa's eyes. That made him stop and consider. He stood quietly for a moment, and I could almost see the cogs ticking in his mind. I had said the right thing; papa saw himself in me; fiery, brave and ambitious. I was trying hard to keep quiet, bouncing on the balls of my feet.
"Very well, then." I let out a squeal of excitement.
"But you must do everything I say."
"Yes, I promise, I promise."
"And you must stay behind me with Joni", I nodded enthusiastically, "and wear all the protective gear".
"Yes, yes, I swear it."
"We will leave as soon as Bukafi returns from hunting and pick up your brother on the way".
I couldn't believe my luck, I let out a squeal and stumbled a little as I ran to get ready. I could hear mum arguing with him as I left.
We heard the distant screech of Bukafi returning. Papa started his sonorous ululation call, and I joined in the summoning cry. Sereana always giggled when I did this, but I had been practising since I first started to talk and was getting quite good; almost sounding like papa. Bukafi came into view, even though he was as familiar to me as the rest of my family the sight of him was always awe-inspiring. His colossal form was silhouetted against the rising sun, his wing-span at least the size of two houses. His black wings were beating, causing waves in the warm morning air. He reared up and landed in front of us with a boom that made the ground shake, the shock waves making my knees tremble. He made a tremendous greeting roar and bowed his head to my father while snorting smoke from his nostrils. Papa affectionately patted the smooth black scales of his snout, and the dragons bright red beady eyes looked down at us. It always seemed so unreal such a magnificent creature obeying a human.
There were few dragon riders left, new hatches were rare, and few people survived the taming. My brother attempted to tame a Golden Koura a few years ago, they had a promising bond at first, but she turned on him when he tried to ride her. He suffered severe burns down his left side. He hasn't been the same since. He still works with Dad, but he is reserved and nervous now.
Papa climbed onto Bukafi's neck. I remained still, I bowed to Bukafi to show my respect and approached slowly. I was careful not to make eye contact and kept my hands visible. Even though the dragon knew me, it is always risky for a human to approach a dragon that is not united with them. I could feel mamma watching from the window. She didn't approve of dragon taming since Joni had his accident and she still treated me like a baby. Papa pulled me up, as Bukafi would not tolerate anyone except papa to climb on him. As soon as I sat behind papa holding around his waist, dad squeezed his legs, and Bukafi leapt into the air. I let out a scream; the speed and the height were always a shock no matter how many times dad took me flying. Within seconds we could see the entire island aglow with an orange sunrise. The beaches were deserted, and the tides were calm. We quickly arrived at the next village to meet Joni. He was waiting for us. He kissed his new wife Litia goodbye, bowed and then we pulled him up behind. We made our way to the peak of the volcano.
Bukafi seemed to know where papa wanted to travel without any direction as if their minds were connected. The mountain was smoky as if something was cooking inside a giant cauldron. Bukafi touched down at the summit. It was already unbearably hot and smoky. Papa's friend Walota was waiting for us with his black Tiwha dragon, who is the brother to Bukafi; they were from the same hatch. Papa and Walota had a bond like brothers, mirroring the dragon's relationship. Papa often referred to Walota as his 'dragon brother'. They clasped hands in greeting as the two dragons bowed to each other in acknowledgement.
Walota nodded at me "Isn't she a bit young for this?".
"I am almost twelve!" I protested.
Dad put his hand on my shoulder. "She has the fire in her spirit".
Walota nodded, and I felt like I was suddenly taller, I couldn't keep the smile from my face.
Joni ruined the moment by saying "Well it puts us all in danger having her along, I can't imagine Mama approved".
Papa replied, "She is going to stick with you at a safe distance, and she has promised to listen". I nodded. Joni looked unconvinced but turned to grab the gear bag.
We put on our protective clothing, which was so thick it made my arms stick out to the side, and I could barely bend my knees to walk. We put our face masks on, as a single breath of the sulphur fumes could boil your lungs. We followed Walota to the precipice of the volcano. We then used ropes to descend towards the churning ocean of lava. I watched and followed Walota carefully, as the smallest misstep could mean being burnt by a plume of acid smoke or lava. The rock face was marbled with red, copper, yellow and purple colours; intricately patterned by millions of years of smoke and fire. It got hotter and hotter as we descended. Just as the heat was almost unbearable, we reached the mouth of the cave.
We gathered close together towards the side of the entrance. Papa used hand signals to tell Joni and me to stay put, while he and Walota edged towards the cave. They were barely through the portal when the ground started to reverberate. I thought the volcano was going to blow and incinerate us all, but then the rumble turned into a growl. A blinding fireball flashed from the cave, papa barely dived away in time. My eyes were streaming from the sudden light and heat. The red Kura mother dragon now visible illuminated by the inferno, she let out a deafening roar. I reflexively covered my ears. She was fiercer than the Tiwha dragons, her scales were blood red with a golden underbelly and dark eyes.
As if sensing their humans were in danger, the two black dragon brothers appeared behind us. They let out a cacophony of a reply and then the air was filled with an inferno as the three flames collided. I was frozen in place, covering my ears, closing my eyes and trying to make myself as small as possible pressed into the wall of the cave.
I felt Joni pulling on my arm, and he pulled me into the cave. I opened my eyes and ran towards papa. The mother dragon was defending the cave from the two male dragons, we were but ants scuttling by unnoticed. We ran into the depths of the cave, away from the eruption of screams and fire. The ground was shaking as if we found ourselves at the epicentre of an earthquake. It felt as if the whole world could shake apart.
Walota stopped to catch his breath, and we all gathered close, trying to regain some sort of composure. He pointed towards an opening on the side of the cave, and we made our way towards it. We entered the side chamber and found piles of animal bones and discarded carcasses on the floor. This was the burrow. We climbed upwards towards the rear of the lair and found the nest. Resting on what must have been thousands of bird feathers, were six giant eggs. I picked up one of the eggs, and the world seemed to freeze as I beheld the majestic beauty of it. It was exquisite and weighty, so I carefully cradled it with both arms. The smooth shell was pure gold with red veins running through it, shimmering like water. I was mesmerised by it and felt like I was connected to it somehow. Like it had always been mine, and I had just returned to it. The egg began vibrating as if the creature inside knew me and was trying to reach me. I looked at papa, and he seemed to understand.
"She is whispering to me!"
Papa nodded; "You are destined to each other."