He stood barefoot on the warm sands, working his toes under the soft grit of the cavern floor.
The murky egg ahead of him split with an audible crack, fluid seeping from the wound; the dragon spilled out in a heap, nose over tail. One wing caught on a sharp fragment of eggshell, twisted painfully, and the dragon bellowed, wrenching away.
The world ground to a syrupy slowness. He felt his each individual beat of his heart hammer in his chest.
Then, guilt pushed him into action.
He ran to help the dragon, kicking in the egg to shatter it into smaller pieces, and reached out to try and free the wing, when something heavy hit him across the chest. Something wet and hot spilled down across the shredded front of his uniform. Pain. The little dragon was lurching at him, jaws snapping, eyes wild.
I love you, it was screaming at him. I love you, I love you, I love you.
He went down under the claws and body of the creature as it screamed at him, trying to shield his face, and something hit him hard across the throat --
Asheran jolted awake with a muted yelp, tearing at his neck, where a thorn from one of the weeds he'd rolled over on had dug into the skin.
He sat up, pulse racing, and looked around wildly. Then, as he recognised the unfamiliar treetops overhead and the smell of dirt below him, he relaxed.
It was early morning on the second day of the medical supply run.
As Asheran stood, he noticed that he had rolled over in his sleep and crushed the little white flower he'd found the day before. He stooped, picked it up, pocketed the bruised petals, then trudged blearily back to the clearing to get a crust of bread to start the day. Those still manning the stewpots looked as exhausted as he felt. He didn't blame them. He had seen things on the way there for dinner last evening that had drove him deeper into the woods out of embarrassment, away from the revelry, mildly uncomfortable and intensely lonely.
That discomfort had followed him through his restless dreams.
He rubbed at his neck again, wincing, then joined the queue for a cuppa, a bit of bread, and leftover stew from the night before.
Maybe he'd spot someone in the line he could talk to. That would snap him out of his funk.
If not, then there was always the klah.