He slowly drifted into consciousness when he felt small hands pull his mane. Morning so soon? He snorted, mockingly indignant that anyone would think to rise this early and disturb his sleep. Ah, well! Who needed more than a few hours of rest anyway? He opened his eyes and blinked several times to awaken his drowsy mind. Then he parted his massive jaw and yawned, revealing a mouthful of dangerously sharp incisors to any who dared to look.

"Hold still, uncle!"

He lifted his head to peer down at his tail which he wrapped around his body when he slept. A indignant child, armed with a hairbrush, whacked him on the nose. "Auntie says you need to be brushed!"

He growled to let the girl-child know just what he thought about such unreasonable demands.

"Aurora," his mate called gently. "You were supposed to ask, honey. Go on now, your sword master is here."

The girl scrambled to her feet. She traded Aria the hair brush for her small rapier and dashed off.

Damien watched her go, a small smile on his lips as he recalled the debt he owed the youngling for bringing him to Whitestone. Aria promptly took the child's place by his side. She raised the hairbrush, but he nipped her hands. "Don't," he mind-whispered. "Use your fingers." His Rider happily obliged.

"Papa's coming to visit in a few days," she murmured after a long while.

"Again? He was just here a few weeks ago."

"You know why he comes," Aria teased.

Damien did indeed know. He'd been commissioned to play matchmaker again. This time, the woman in question was the governess he had purposely hired for Aurora.

Now ten years old, the child was getting too old for governesses anyway. Besides, she was proving to be much more adept at swordsmanship and archery and riding than sewing. She would make a good Rider, Damien absently thought, though not for the first time. He'd already been approached by a few dragons over the possibility of rebuilding the Dragon Riders Alliance.

Breaking the news of Lord Farage and Lady Melindre's deaths had been one of the most difficult things he could remember doing. Part of him had wanted to hide what had happened. Part of him had wanted to dismiss Melindre's death as the Black Lizard's doing, but he knew that nothing could be gained from lying. So it had been with much regret that he had first told Lord Godfrey of his daughter's involvement. Later, after interviewing Farage's people and other witnesses, he announced to the kingdom the truth that he had been able to piece together: Lord Farage's men had uncovered the Black Lizard in its iron mines. They had assumed that the creature had escaped leaving everyone unharmed, but in reality it had immediately consumed Lord Farage and worn his skin. Melindre, eaten alive by jealousy, had become its willing accomplice, scouting out victims during her shopping trips and performing the ceremonies that allowed the creature to travel without being detected. The war in the East had been an attempt to summon the [Mon]Draconian so that he could be identified and hopefully neutralized.

The chaos and mayhem that only two individuals were able to wreak on the world had embarrassed both dragon and human alike. And from that embarrassment came the very real solution that the Dragon-Rider Alliance be reborn, thus ensuring that the burden of guarding against black magic would be shared by others. Of course, there was another solution.

"You're thinking much too hard, Star-cat," Aria murmured.

"Aria," he announced, "We need to have a lot children."

"Guess we better keep practicing," his Rider laughed and she drew his head down for a kiss.

There. It's done. Sorry it took so long. I finally had to sit down and force myself to finish it. My main problem is that the story I'm working on now is much more involved, much more interesting (to me at least) and I'm constantly coming up with new ideas for it, leaving next to nothing for this. I'm debating if I want to add it here or if I just want to leave this as my only entry. Guess you'll eventually find out what I decide...