Breath of Fresh Air

FaithLeafCat

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Noah, too, couldn't get enough of spending time with his newfound family. There was no pressure to flaunt his wealth, or even mention it. He was just one of the group here. He kept playing cards as long as he could. But halfway through the last game, his eyes began growing heavy. Finally he slumped against Chaital and gave a wide yawn. "Sorry. I think I gotta call it for the night," he mumbled, laying his cards gently down in the grass. "But you can play more if you want to. I won't mind the noise."

Chaital folded her wing over Noah like a blanket, giving a deep huff of contentment. Then she curled her neck around him and closed her eyes with a soft rumble.

Noah chuckled and patted her head. "Thanks, Chaital." He rubbed his eyes and nodded. "And thank you both, for staying over tonight. It was fun hanging out," he mumbled.
 

CanaryCry

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Lily smiled when Noah curled up with Chaital, and just started quietly stacking up the cards to put them away. "That’s okay," she said softly, "You should get some sleep. I’ll run and grab you a blanket."

Pumpkin had drifted off in her lap, so she picked him up carefully to take with her. Infernus, knowing he couldn’t follow into the house, moved over to where Chaital lay to give her muzzle a friendly nudge, asking permission before curling up close enough to complete her circle and make sure Noah had room to lay out if he wanted to but would be safe between them from anything that wandered around at night.

Jasper got to his feet to retrieve the lantern, setting it close enough to Noah to cast light where he could see but not be in danger of being knocked over. "I'll leave this here with you. Just make sure you turn it off before you fall asleep." He was sure the dragons would be awake until Noah was sleeping soundly, watching over him, so they could make sure he did what he was told.
 

FaithLeafCat

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Chaital gently nudged Infernus' muzzle back and scooted back a bit, inviting him into the space happily. It was far easier to guard her new human with two dragons instead of one, after all. And she trusted Infernus.

Noah smiled sleepily at the pair and cuddled further against Chaital's wing. "Aw. Thanks, you guys," he murmured. He closed his eyes and rested his head against his dragon's leg, feeling around to turn off the lantern. "Have a good night, both of you. Sleep well. See you later tomorrow," he added.

He was already sound asleep by the time Lily returned with a blanket, snoring lightly.
 

CanaryCry

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Jasper had to stop Lily from cooing too loudly at the sight of Noah all snug between the dragons, and herded her back inside once they'd laid the blanket over him. Lily took Pumpkin to her borrowed bed with her, while Nobu and Naga slept half sprawled across Jasper's limbs as normal.

In the morning, Lily was up early to wake and rushed out to get Infernus to fly her home where she could clean up and change for work, apologizing quietly to Noah for taking half of his safety net away. The sun would be up soon enough, anyway, and Chaital only curled around him more to keep him encircled so it would be fine. Pumpkin had been left with Jasper in his dragon-piled bed, and Lily would be sure to ask around at work and find out how soon she could go to Upper Floaten with Noah while she was gone.
 

FaithLeafCat

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Once Lily had managed to get the day off work and Noah had gotten everything prepared, it was finally time to make the trip into Upper Floaten. Noah brought out his space cruiser and let Chaital examine it while he finished packing the trunk of it. "What do you think, Chaital? Looks just like a dragon, huh?" he asked with a grin.

Chaital snorted and shook her spines, as though to say of course not. But she sniffed at the machine anyway and gave it a few gentle licks for good measure.

Noah smiled and patted her cheek. "I'll see you later tonight. Have a good day, okay?" He laughed when Chaital blew a puff of mist at him. "Okay, okay. Lily? Got all your stuff?" he asked, hopping into the front seat of the cruiser. The machine had barely enough space for two with the trunk in the back, but Noah was confident it would get them up to Upper Floaten safely.
 

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Lily was nervous the morning of their trip, unsure what she should bring and what she should wear. It wasn’t like her to fumble over such things, so Jasper talked her down a little and reminded her about the things she always told other people. She just had to do her best, and be herself, and if things didn’t work out it was only a day. She only had to do it once.

She decided finally on her nicest things - a purple tunic with a flattering vest over the top, plain pants and boots she did not wear to work, or to the Dragonry. She was a bit nervous still, but what mattered was that she felt like she looked nice, so it wouldn’t matter what people usually wore in Upper Floaten. She was a girl that worked hard and didn’t mind a mess, so it was okay if she looked like it.

When she got to where Noah was waiting she opened her arms for Pumpkin to come greet her with a big smile, and once her things were loaded up climbed in next to Noah with the small dragon clinging to her for affection as usual. "Ready as I’ll ever be!" She said with a grin. "Your dad knows we’re coming, right? This is gonna be fun!" She’d never been off the ground with anything other than a dragon keeping her up.

Like this, but less detailed and frilly, just plain colors with shorter boots lol
0E511AF5-A925-431D-AE69-95B055EA1EC7.jpeg
 

FaithLeafCat

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"Of course he knows you're coming!" Noah replied. Then he realized what Lily was wearing, and he blinked and smiled. "Wow. You look great, Lily! I've never seen you in anything that fancy." He buckled himself in and nodded. "Go ahead and click that buckle into the belt next to you. They help keep you inside in case of a crash or other damage." Once Lily was secure, Noah flicked a series of buttons and switches.

The cruiser whirred and came to life, steam billowing out the back.

Noah grinned over at Lily. "You ready?"

He pulled back on a stick, and the cruiser lifted straight up into the air; the sensation was similar to a very fast elevator. Clouds whisked past them nearly as fast as they had when they went up with Infernus. But unlike riding dragons, there was no wind to be felt. The glass windshield kept out all the air resistance.

Upper Floaten came fully into view as Noah pulled the cruiser even higher. From a bird's eye view, the pair could see how the city was built around a central structure of giant gears, machines, and pipes that whirred and clicked and let out steam. Closet to the central power source were the factories, hospitals, and stores. A bit further out were the upper class citizens. Then the middle class. And at the edges of the city, there were space cruiser docks, a few dragon landing docks, abandoned buildings, and the slums.

"See that one building? The circle one made of reflective bronze?" Noah asked, pointing. "That's Harn Saddles! Looks pretty neat, huh?" He beamed and pushed the stick forward, steering the cruiser towards the building. "Father and I live in a house pretty close to the factory. But we still have a few minutes before we have to meet him. You want a tour of the factory, or do you want to go straight to our house?"
 

CanaryCry

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Lily thought, if she were someone else, she might be offended by the implication that she didn’t look nice every other day - but she was herself, and while she wasn’t immune to caring about her own appearance she was at least not overly concerned about it. Besides, she knew Noah didn’t mean it like that.

Instead, she only smiled and buckled in. "Thank you. I thought I might try to look a little less like I got tossed around by a dragon." Some clothes were for work and dragons, and some were kept hidden in the back of her closet for whenever she felt like looking 'nice'.

The cruiser was terrifying but also amazing. It was so strange, getting that familiar feeling in her stomach of rising into the air, but with no wind in her hair, and no saddle to hold onto, no Infernus to give excited cries as they dove through the sky. It was almost funny, really, to be sitting like she was just in a normal chair, but also be going so high. Lily only made little 'oo's and 'aw's as they went, leaning over to look through the glass down towards the ground and smiling helplessly at the whole experience. It was so different from flying with dragons, and even if she didn’t think she liked it more, it was still fun.

"Oooh, so shiny," she said with a pleased little laugh, looking out where he pointed and holding Pumpkin close so he wouldn’t get bumped around. "It'd be neat to see inside! Would Pumpkin be allowed in, or should we go to your place first so he can hang out there while we’re touring?" She didn’t mind either way, she just was wary of what strangely strict dragon rules were around.
 

FaithLeafCat

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Noah landed the cruiser in his personal parking garage, which looked similar to the outside of the building. There were shiny brass walls, and a grey metal floor. Once the cruiser had powered down, Noah hopped out and waved an arm. "We don't get many dragons this way. But being it's a dragon saddle factory - yeah, dragons are definitely allowed. Come on, I'll show you both around!"

Pumpkin stretched out his neck at once, sniffing and flapping his wings excitedly. There were so many new scents and sights. His eyes pinned, and he gave a few loud chirps of excitement.

Noah laughed and pushed open a door. "Brace yourselves, you two. I hope you like the smell of leather." The scent had already been in the air, but inside the factory it was far stronger. There was an entire line up of stations to prepare saddles. One station prepared the leather for use. One station focused on measuring and outlining. The next cut the pieces out for sewing. And on and on, until the last station where the Harn brand was sewn into the sides of the saddles.

Noah walked along the floor, greeting various workers by name and explaining to Lily what they were doing at each station. "- and that's the machine that caught fire the other day," he explained, pointing to a large sewing machine. "But it's all good now."
 

CanaryCry

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Lily was eager to jump out after Noah, settling Pumpkin on her shoulders and wrapping his tail loosely around her wrist. "You hold on to me and stay real close, Pumpkin," she said gently, turning her head to give him a little kiss. "I don’t want you getting hurt on anything, okay?"

Once Pumpkin was secure in place, she was quick to follow at Noah's heals, hardly bothered by the smell when she was used to much worse. She drifted here and there to look at things as he pointed them out, and gave friendly smiles and waves to all the people that said hello. It was so nice that Noah knew everyone, she thought. Almost like the Dragonry, where the people that worked together were also friends. She wasn’t sure if it was the same, really, but at least people were friendly enough so far.

"I’m pretty used to things catching on fire," she said with an amused lilt to her tone, "but I’m still not sure how that happened. Friction on the thread? Too much oomph in the motor?" She gave a little laugh as she followed after him. "I’m used to beasts that make fire, not machines!" Dragons could be more dangerous, if they were hurt or afraid or hunting, but it wasn’t as if factories weren’t hazardous sometimes. Every person and place had their own trials.
 
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FaithLeafCat

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Noah chuckled. "Nah, one of the parts wore out," he explained. "The rubber cylinder that turns one of the gears got too old and snapped, and it set off a chain reaction. Happens sometimes. Thankfully most of the parts were salvageable."

He took hold of Lily's free hand and led her towards the end of the line. "C'mere a minute." He asked one of the workers to pull out a saddle for him, and he gestured toward it with one arm once it was set on the floor. "Wanna try sitting on one? I don't have Infernus' measurements yet. But you could at least see if you like the texture of the leather."

Pumpkin squeaked and tried to jump from Lily's shoulders onto the saddle, flapping his wings to get himself the rest of the way there. Then he sat at the front of the saddle and put his two front paws up on it.

"Hey, you're not Lily!" Noah teased with a laugh.
 

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Lily made a soft, surprised sound at being pulled along by the hand, but only gave a little laugh and let him guide her. She was caught off guard by the saddle being retrieved, and almost held on to Pumpkin's tail a bit too much when he suddenly tried to take off. Seeing where he was going, she was quick to untangle her hand and let him, laughing at Noah's accusation. Pumpkin was a good boy, and there were no moving parts around, so it was all right.

"It’s beautiful," she enthused, crouching down next to it first to look at the stitching and run her fingers over the leather, the handholds, the straps. "No wonder they're so pricey." It was worth the money, for something that was well-crafted and would last a long time, rather than repeatedly spending smaller amounts on saddles that wore out, she just didn’t always have the means to save up so much for things that weren’t 100% necessary. Things like food for herself, Jasper and Infernus, and a roof over their heads were more important than her having nice things. But it was nice to dream.

"You would really give me one?" She asked in awe as she settled on the saddle just how she would sit on Infernus' back between his wings, to see how it would feel on her hips and knees. "It's not too much?" Her current saddle was good enough for her, and customized for her work, but Harn saddles were just so nice. She didn’t really buy pretty clothes or expensive gadgets, but this. This would be a real treat. It felt like a dream that someone would just give her one for free.
 

FaithLeafCat

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"Of course I would, if you actually like it," Noah said with a grin. "I've never really used one of these before, myself. So I have no idea if they're actually functional or just pretty to look at." He chuckled. "Don't worry, I won't be offended if you don't want one. It's like boots, you know? Some boots are expensive but aren't comfortable to walk in. And some boots are cheap, but really comfy."

Still, he really hoped the Harn saddles were functional. If not, maybe Lily and Jasper could help him and his father design saddles that were both functional and comfortable.

Pumpkin clambered around on the saddle, sniffing and licking it once or twice to examine it. Then he curled up next to Lily, chirping again and closing his eyes. It was plenty comfortable for him.
 

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Lily gave a little laugh at Noah's implying his own family's product was bad, shaking her head at the idea. "It's hard to tell without an actual dragon beneath it," she admitted, but with a positive tone, "but it seems nice to me! Too much cushion is just as bad as not enough, really. Riding a long time is going to make you sore eventually anyway, but it can be too hard to hold on if it’s too soft." It would soften up with time, too, after all, in the shape of the dragon it was used on.

"For me," she continued, giving Pumpkin an affectionate rub at the base of his wings, "I would have to customize, attach some saddle bags to carry my deliveries so I don’t have to have one on my back and strain my shoulders, so I hope that’s not offensive." She hoped making probably less-fancy additions to a Harn saddle wasn’t something people frowned on, since it was a necessity for her, but that was something she could get on her own or ask Jasper to make.

Gathering Pumpkin up into her arms again, she got back to her feed and just cradled him close once she was up, not wanting to ruin his attempted cuddle times. "Thanks for letting me try it out!" She said with a smile, both to Noah and the worker that had helped them. "This place does good work." She had expected to be impressed, and it hadn’t fallen short of expectations.
 

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Noah's eyes sparkled. Lily had a dragon and rode with him daily, so if anyone would know whether a saddle was good quality, it was her. He grinned and nodded. "That's the whole point of having it be your birthday present. I want to make you a one-of-a-kind saddle. And hell, the customized ones are usually the ones people find more impressive. They're special saddles, for special people," he added with a wink.

The worker smiled and told Lily she was very welcome, as did Noah, and eventually the saddle was put away again.

"So!" Noah said, ambling back towards the hangar door they'd come in. "You ready to go meet my father? I should be able to time it where we won't have to meet any of the neighbors." He winced. "They're . . . less nice."
 

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Lily gave a big, amused grin when Noah winked at her, giggling and waving goodbye to the worker as they left. She petted idly at Pumpkin as they went, keeping him soothed so he wouldn’t dart off into machinery, though she was sure he was smart enough not to. She wondered if she would be allowed to bring Infernus with her to this place some day, if they were making something customized for him. Maybe if she had an appointment or some such thing it would be okay.

"Do your neighbors make it a habit to be outside your house?" She asked with a little laugh, despite believing Noah was serious. There were people out and about all the time in Lower Floaten, but if she was being honest she couldn’t imagine the rich people in Upper Floaten just sitting out in their front yards for fun. "If people aren't nice, I usually just say ‘have a good day!' and walk away." It was nice enough, as far as dismissals went. They might get offended, but it was better than staying still and being harassed.
 

FaithLeafCat

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"Not our house specifically," Noah explained, hopping back into the space cruiser and waiting for Lily to join him in the second seat. "It's just, with us being so close to stores and things . . . there's a lot of foot traffic near our house. And some of the fancier people who walk past are more ornery than others." He shrugged and smiled. "We shouldn't have to worry about them, though. Just gotta get into the garage and close the door, and we'll be fine."

Once Lily and Pumpkin were buckled up again, Noah drove the space cruiser over to his family home. It had multiple levels of cream walls with a mixture of wooden support beams and pipes. A large, arched porch and entryway faced the metal streets, and a flag with a dragon embroidered on it flew at the top of the home.

Noah pulled the cruiser into the garage on the street level, and then hopped out to quickly pull the copper door closed behind them. He sighed in relief and hurried to an inner door. "Father! We're home!" he called out.

It only took a few moments before Axle Harn burst through the door to pull Noah into a tight hug. He looked just like his son, but taller, slightly more gaunt, and with a short braided beard. "Noah! So good to see you!" he burst out.

Pumpkin screeched and flew over, ramming into the pair and joining the hug.

Axle laughed and ruffled the dragon's ears. "Pumpkin!" He finally pulled back, the dragon in his arms, and made his way to Lily. "You must be Lily," he said with a warm smile. "How do you like to be greeted?"

(Their house looks kinda like this, but instead of the brewery sign it's their last name and address lol)
1668559178630.jpeg
 

CanaryCry

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It didn’t seem like 'ornery' was something too big to worry about, Lily thought. If someone was mean, they could just keep walking and close the door in that person's face, right? Noah seemed worried about it, though, so she only smiled as she buckled in. "I’m sure it’ll be just fine."

Lifting off in the cruiser again was just as fun as the first time, even if they didn’t go too far. Everything down in Lower Floaten was either dark or had its colors changed by whatever lights were present, not to mention the pollution in the air that eventually started to turn any building grey or black anyway, so seeing so many light colored houses was a culture shock in itself. She usually only ever saw them in passing, from high above or far away, so to see them up close was a treat. The architecture was so different.

"Your house is so pretty!" She said as they made their way into the garage, twisting in her seat to look around. It was even nicer on the inside, and she was quick to hop out after Noah to go and have a look - it was almost distraction enough for her to forget they were coming to see Noah's father and not just a building.

Lily cringed when Pumpkin was so loud next to her ears, but after the initial shock just laughed. It was good to see him so excited to see his family after who knew how long. It was strange, too, to see the resemblance between Noah and his father, like they were simply the same person at different ages. They even had the same friendly smile.

"Oh- yes, that’s me!" She managed when addressed, smiling almost sheepishly and holding out a hand for him to shake. She wasn’t sure if that was considered abnormal for women in Upper Floaten, but she’d been told she had a nice, firm nandshake, and as friendly as she was she wasn’t really keen on receiving a bear hug like Noah had received from a complete stranger. "It's nice to meet you, Mr. Harn. I'm so glad we could bring Pumpkin back with us for a reunion!" He was so excited, it was adorable.
 

FaithLeafCat

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"Handshake, eh? Wonderful," Mr. Harn replied, giving Lily a firm handshake and being pleasantly surprised by how firm hers was. He met her eyes and nodded. "I can't begin to thank you enough for saving my son's life. If you ever need anything - and I mean anything - you call us first, you hear?"

Noah beamed proudly. "That's right," he agreed. "Hey, father, can we show Lily around the house?"

Mr. Harn smiled and raised an eyebrow. "Well, you can - but only after you all try some of the tarts I made with the strawberries you brought home."

"Strawberry tarts?!" Noah burst out. He grabbed Lily's hand and pulled her towards the kitchen. "Lily, you've gotta try these! We usually put whipped cream on them. They're so good." He hopped onto a swivel stool beside the central kitchen island, where he spun around excitedly.

"Goodness, Noah. You're going to swivel the stool to pieces," Mr. Harn joked, strolling into the kitchen with Pumpkin curled around his neck. He headed for the icebox and pulled out the strawberry tarts. "Lily, would you like whipped cream on yours?"
 

CanaryCry

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There they went again, with the ‘saving his life' business. She fidgeted a bit shyly like she did every time, clasping her hands together in front of her. "I really didn’t do all that much. . ." She insisted, though very quietly, and melted into a touched sort of smile at his insistence. "Thank you. I promise I won’t forget."

She was only just beginning to think Oh, strawberries when Noah took her hand and yanked her towards the kitchen, prompting a little laugh from her with his eagerness. And Jasper complained about her having too much energy.

"They look amazing!" She enthused when the tarts were visible, even more tempting when they were physically in front of her instead of just a wistful dream. It wasn’t that she never ate sweets, but regular food was more important on a budget, and they didn’t often have the spare change to be spending on enough fresh fruits to make such decadent things, especially with only two of them eating it. "Yes, please!"

She paused after heartily agreeing to the whipped cream, eyes going a bit wide as if she were just remembering, and reached to pull out the envelope she’d tucked into the side of her vest. "Oh! Before I forget!" She gave Mr. Harn a big smile as she set it on the counter for him to retrieve when his hands weren’t full, than stepped back and gave him a little salute. "'Rain, slow, sleet, or hail, you can always count on Dragon Mail!'" It was a cheeky little slogan, but one that still made her laugh a little, though afterwards she settled back down almost sheepishly, tone gone much softer and less playful. "It's . . . from your father-in-law. I promised I would make sure it got to you safely."