Alaron awoke that next morning to find that he once again reeked with that same smell he had given off two months earlier. His entire cave was filled with it. There was a certain eagerness within him today that he hadn’t felt before. He wanted to fly, and spit fire as far as he could, to see his friends, and fly as fast as he could until his wings could flap no more. He stomped down the tunnel leading to the main chamber that served as the royal quarters for the king and queen. His chest swelled a bit with pride as he noticed some loose debris shaking on the tunnel’s floor as he walked. The prince emerged into the main chamber only to find that it was completely empty. He sniffed the tunnel that led to his sister’s room, but she had apparently left already too. Hoping he hadn’t slept in too long, he rushed down the tunnel to the grand hall, which he also found empty. Not even a single guard was at their usual posts. Caution swept through him, and he lifted his lips in a snarl, ready to shoot flames from his maw if necessary, something was definitely off today. He reached the staircase that led to the Golden Scale Gates, and heard a raucous clamor beyond them the likes of which he had never heard before in the valley. Eagerly, he flapped and flew to the top of the stairs instead of climbing them on foot, and gazed out into the valley, blinking as the sunlight slowly revealed what exactly was going on. What he saw he would never forget, the sight of every dragon for miles around all flying or lounging on the natural cliff faces of Drak’ir was something to behold. Scales gleamed everywhere, in every color imaginable, except of course for gold. Alaron spotted his mother and father nestled on a large cliff to the right of the gates. He cautiously began to approach them, the way a puppy approaches its’ mother when it wants to bite her tail, only to have his father roar at him louder than he ever had before. Startled, he instinctively lowered his head and snarled back, which caused raucous laughter to fill the air around his parents. Alaron leapt into the air again, and got a better view of the cliff. On it were the couples who had already mated or had offspring. He looked confusedly at his own parents, and his father winked at him, then nodded to the younger dragons that were looping and whirling in the middle of the massive valley. The prince turned, and began to head towards them when out of seemingly thin air; a ruby missile collided with him. It took the prince a moment to realize his own sister had tackled him, and once more he heard laughter from the elder dragons behind him. He met his sister’s gaze once he had recovered, yet there was something odd about her today. He noticed for the first time just how pretty she looked, but then snapped out of his little reverie when he saw the obvious similarities between Alaria and his mother in her features. The twins had begun to look more distinctly male and female and less alike over the past few months, and it was a welcome change. Alaria nuzzled him playfully and winked before spinning off and flying to join her friends. Her tail hit Alaron on the head as she turned, which caused yet more laughter from behind the prince. Deciding he had had enough of being laughed at, he flew off to join his own friends, who were butting heads and clawing each other as young males usually do. When he finally reached them however, they all stopped and began snarling at him. Even his golden eyed friends who were destined to rule alongside him in the future growled. His closest friend, Larion, flew up and met his gaze saying, “Man Al, you STINK!” Alaron snorted red flames in his friend’s face, and he was met with blazing azure ones in response. The two then began to wrestle, and the others went back to fighting too. It wasn’t long before the prince realized just why exactly his friends were fighting each other. The females who had grown up beside them were perching and flying around a cliff edge not too far from them. Everyone was showing off, and Alaron decided to join in.

Alaria, who had rejoined her own friends, chuckled at the sight of her brother joining in the fray the males were having below. Illia, who had become very good friends with the princess since their final test a few weeks prior, looked at her and said, “We should all fly by them. I bet your brother doesn’t even know why they’re all fighting so hard.” Alaria looked at her amber scaled friend, and saw the gleam in her eye. Her stench gave away her intentions more than any gleam though, and she knew the rest of her friends had smelled her brother when he first emerged from the grand hall, and it had set them all on edge. “Alright ladies,” Alaria said with a big sigh, she began flying in a small circle around her friends who were both flying and perching on a nearby cliff, “Let’s go bug the boys. We all smell so bad; I’ll be surprised if they don’t fall out of the sky when we pass.” The females shared a chuckle, and leapt into the air behind the princess with evil grins on their scaly faces.

On the cliff outside the grand hall, Meridra pointed at their girls, who had begun to fly closer to the mosh pit of fighting males below them. “I do hope Alaria isn’t planning on doing what I think she’s doing…” The Queen muttered. “Don’t worry dearest,” Tyran chuckled, “They’ll all soon find out exactly what males are like once they get a whiff.” Meridra playfully smacked her mate’s muzzle then said, “I know, that’s what I’m afraid of.” The other parents were all watching now, the king and queen having voiced their concerns for them. The males all knew what was about to happen, a few even started to make bets, the mothers all worried for their daughters. Things were about to get very interesting in this part of the valley.

And so, blissfully ignorant of just how aggressive young male dragons could be, the princess led her eager friends towards the brawling males, but instead of flying around them like she had wanted, they each flew through the fighters. A loud groan echoed from the cliff where their parents sat and watched. Without warning or planning, the males flew back from each other, shaking their heads as the aroma from the girls meshed with their own. Lorian, who had just begun to lose ground in his fight with the prince, started to drool a bit as the females passed through their group. Alaron raised a scaly eyebrow at his childhood friend, but when he met his eyes, the only thing he could see was madness. Lorian took off after one of the females, a nice shade of cobalt, and began circling her. Alaron shook his head and looked around, the smell was starting to get to him too, but he felt he could keep his head as long as he stayed focused. His focus was utterly shattered when Illia flew in front of him, circled around him in the air, and then winked as she flew away again. Flames shot from his nostrils, and for reasons he would never recall or understand, he began to chase after the amber scaled female. The two looped and circled each other in the air, almost dancing on the heated air that flowed in the valley. Determined to meet Illia’s gaze, Alaron twisted and turned, and corkscrewed through the air until their eyes eventually met. Similar things happened throughout the group, eyes locked; partners began to circle each other, emotions flowed as strong as the smells that filled the air, this continued for hours until the sun went down. When it finally set, nobody could remember what had happened earlier that day. For him at least, the prince thought, mating season was over. He snuggled closer to the warmth Illia’s body was giving off as the two sat on one of the higher cliffs and stared at the moons above them.

The next day, Alaron had his first challenge. The first of many, as he would soon find out. There were many males who hadn’t found a female the previous day, or that hadn’t locked eyes with one successfully. Driven by their desire for companionship, the rejected males flew towards the nearest attractive female they could find, and challenged the male with her. Mating season began in earnest. The prince’s first challenger was a blazing orange scaled behemoth called Aryan, he was at least five years older than the prince, and therefor had five years of growth on him that made him significantly larger than the prince. “Sorry princeling,” Aryan snarled, “That beauty belongs to an older male who knows how to care for a female properly.” “Just try and take her.” Alaron snarled back, crouching low into his ready position. The older male laughed, a sound that boomed like thunder, “Are you serious hatchling!? You want to fight ME? Hahaha! Very well whelp! I’ll gladly knock some sense into you!” He crouched as well, and met the prince’s gaze. Neither of them moved for a full minute. Alaron feinted a swipe with his right paw, and Aryan bought it. The larger male charged the prince headfirst, only to be met by Alaron’s smaller but still rock hard skull. The pair’s horns locked together, and Alaron began to see how size would be a good thing to have. Aryan tossed him around in a circle three times before their horns unlocked. Alaron flared his wings, desperately trying to regain his balance in the air as the larger male, thinking he had won, moved towards Illia. Blinding rage filled the prince, and his vision turned red, the only thought on his mind was to fight and claw this male until he left his future mate alone. And that’s what he did, in a blaze of fury that his father later claimed he was proud to have witnessed; the prince struck Aryan head on, hitting the side of his skull at a full speed charge. The older dragon’s skull began to bleed on the side near his ear, and Alaron roared at him as loud as he could. It was that roar, which sounded so very much like his father’s that snapped him out of his rage. Blinking his eyes clear of the red haze, he snorted a puff of flame at Aryan, and crouched low, daring him to charge again. The older male backed off, as did quite a few others who had seen the prince’s strength. Yet before the prince could rejoin his potential mate, he was again challenged, this time by Ky’Ran, the male who had fought and lost against him in their final battle at ‘school’. Alaron, who had just landed in front of Ilia, laughed and snorted flames again. He met the obsidian scaled dragon’s cold envious black eyes, and crowed, “I have already bested you, weakling. This female is far too good for you.” Ky’Ran growled, and opened his maw to give a retort, but Alaron was quicker. “Spare me your silver-tongued lies Ky’Ran. You have no claim to Illia, find another female.” Alaron kept his head above the slightly smaller black dragon, who had assumed the fighting crouch. Glaring at him, Alaron stomped forward, and caused him to walk backwards. He repeated this until Ky’Ran was off the ledge. Once more, Alaron roared at him, and spat fire to boot. Cowed, Ky’Ran dodged the red flames, and flapped away. Several more challengers came seeking Illia over the next three weeks; all but one of them was fought off by Alaron. The last arrived too late, he had the gleam of desperation in his red eyes, and Alaron felt pity for him. He was the prince’s age, and was one of the males that had never been the center of attention, and therefor had never really befriended the prince. Once the red scaled male was told Illia had already been mated with, he howled in frustration. Three weeks had already passed, and Alaron advised him to try again next year, when he would be bigger, and stronger. The male accepted the prince’s advice, and bowed before proceeding to fly off, his head drooping as a sign of his depression.

Mating season officially ended when the Golden Scale Gates were opened once more. Unknowingly, Alaron had not waited until the gates opened to mate with his chosen female, but none dared challenge him for going against tradition. It had been clear after the first week that only death would stop the prince from having her as his mate. He led his new mate to his cave, which he immediately began clawing to make it larger. He was too old to have his father do it for him, and the pair would need room for a clutch of eggs. Once he was finished, and Illia was settled in, he left to find his sister. So focused he had been on protecting Illia, he had completely ignored who had mated with whom, and who had won or lost challenges. He was eager to see what male had dared to approach his sister. He didn’t have to wait long, since she was already in the main cave with their parents. Eagerly, Alaron stomped over to the male next to Alaria, and met him eye-to-eye, forgoing all royal procedure. Meridra opened her mouth to say something, but Tyran nudged her, and slowly shook his head ‘no’. Alaron began to chuckle, after he realized who had won his sister. He was called Zoran, and his gold eyes met Alaron’s evenly. Backing out of the emerald scaled dragon’s personal space, Alaron bowed to him formally saying, “Good job my friend, I was hoping she would meet someone I wouldn’t have to bash away. Welcome to the family.” Relief poured from Zoran, who smiled and bowed in return. Alaron realized then that his opinion mattered more than he originally thought it did. He met his sister’s gaze, and the twins touched snouts. Alaria spoke softly, yet the whole room heard her, “So brother, where is Illia?” A cold touch of fear ran down his spine, and the prince guiltily looked towards his parents instead of his sister. He had a feeling it was they who wanted to know the answer to that particular question, and his feeling was correct. “She’s err…resting, in my cave…” Alaron began a bit nervously. His tail began to swing back and forth on the floor as he became even more agitated. “So are the rumors true, son?” Tyran’s deep voice cracked through the cave, his thoughts on the matter were clear, “Did the two of you already mate?” His embarrassment melted away, and he felt his courage returning. He puffed out his chest, and the prince met his father’s gaze evenly, “Yes father, we did. Roughly two days ago.” Tyran sighed in relief, saying, “Thank Draco…had you two mated earlier, the egg would have been smashed. It is the highest taboo to mate outside one’s cave Alaron and during the mating season especially. You should know this. Did she have any challengers in the last two days?” Alaron nodded saying, “Yes, a red male, my age, he was more desperate than serious. I’m pretty sure he was shooting out of his league because every other female was taken, and he lost his duels to each of their males.” Tyran nodded again, and rose saying, “Come than, and let us visit the poor lass. I’m afraid you know not what you’ve done to her son; the rigors of egg-bearing are not pleasant.” “No,” replied the queen, “But they’re well worth it.” Confused, Alaron followed his parents to his cave, Alaria and Zoran followed as well.