The stars had begun to fade from the still dark skies as he made his way across the grassy field, dew wetting his leather riding boots.
Brisk, fresh air tussled his dark hair as he approached the staging area, his leather helmet tucked under his arm.
There was the usual bustling around the corrals as he arrived; the young Handler apprentices running to and fro at their masters' commands. The old Handlers, most of who were retired Pilots themselves, making sure all was prepared for the early morning departure.
He neared the corrals' blackened Stonewood fences and one of the apprentices ran hurriedly up to him to take his leather satchel from him, and then sprinted back to the pens to pack it on his mount.
Stopping just outside the corral gate, he looked up at the blackness of the clear sky; deep, purplish blue began to seep into the edges of the horizon as the sun made its way back from its nightly journey.
This was his second favourite part of the day; his favourite would come soon enough.
A familiar sound came from behind him and he turned to see a grizzled, old Handler leading his mount out of the shadows of its pen.
While some of the other mounts of the Patrol pulled and lashed against their reigns as the Handlers struggled to keep them in check, his simple strode toward him, its head held proudly high and its gaze held steadily upon him.
Pride filled his own chest as well as the magnificent creature cantered closer to him, not needing to be led by the old Handler at all. The old man grunted his greeting and passed over the reigns before ambling off to attend to his other duties back in the pens.
With a soft whisper, he patted the creature's armour-skinned neck and it purred deeply, rumbling like some massive feline at its master's touch.
A quick adjustment of the stirrups and saddle upon its strong back and, donning his helmet and goggles, he clambered up onto the beast and strapped himself in.
Behind him, the other members of the Patrol were mounting up as well.
With a quick shout and a gentle prod of his heels, his mount leapt into the air agilely and began to beat its powerful wings.
Almost spanning twice its own length, it beat its leathery wings gracefully, lifting both rider and beast easily into the chilly dawn air.
Deftly guiding its movements, he spun them around in a smooth arc that faced them with their backs to the rapidly approaching sunrise.
The entire team of the Dawn Patrol came into formation around him in its standard flying wedge as he took the lead.
The cold wind whipped around him and could not help but grin with the pure pleasure he felt as they flew across the skies; racing against the dawn's orange light.
Tapping the beast's sides with his heels in a complicated pattern, he sent a message to his mount and felt the surge of energy within its mammoth body.
With a deafening roar, his Dragon belched forth a torrent of flames from its mouth, signalling to all those below that the Patrol was high above; keeping them safe as always.
This was his favourite part.