WARNING: Other players should not read this until Chapter 1 is complete.
Music: First Dragonride
Toria had tried to push down her anxiety as she followed the trio of adults up to the fireheights. The expectations of everyone at Katz Field weighed heavily on her. All the attention and gifts she received had made her feel both honored and overwhelmed. Then there was the fact she was leaving the second home she’d ever known, to go somewhere vastly bigger and more populated. She hadn’t much time to process the news before it was time to leave the hold.
She had been clutching her new jacket tightly in her hands and trying to keep herself calm once they reached the top. Master Valora and Lord Chadrick had looked calm and even a bit excited, but Lady Delenthia looked nervous. That had made her feel somewhat better… but also curious. Why would she be nervous?
When she had realized just how she would be getting to Healer Hall, Lady Delenthia’s nervousness suddenly made a lot more sense. The appearance of the dragons in the sky as she was scanning it was abrupt and made Toria’s heart race. They were huge! They were also right in front of her. Her thoughts scattered.
Almost in a haze, she barely registered her farewells to Master Valora and the Lord and Lady Holders. The rider who had introduced himself as K’len started guiding Toria towards his barn sized blue dragon and suddenly she was staring at a huge swath of blue dragonhide. The reality of what she was about to do hit her.
Toria had no sooner wondered if anyone had ever fallen off a dragon then it let out a rumble that had her nearly jumping out of her skin. K’len passed along Pentiath’s message, causing Toria to gasp. Her eyes flicked to the dragon’s face, startled that he had picked up on her thoughts. She knew dragons could talk to their riders, but not much beyond that.
Moving to put on her jacket, Toria took a deep breath and told herself to stay calm and she would be at Healer Hall before she knew it. She found herself sitting in the saddle in front of the young boy who looked about her age. He wasn’t a dragonrider. Was he bound for Healer Hall like she was?
The boy waited comfortably, confidently, astride the giant blue dragon. He waved quickly to Toria when she glanced his way and the adults weren’t paying too much attention.
Toria tried to smile, but couldn’t quite make her mouth move like she wanted, so she settled for a jerky nod as she settled on the saddle.
The three adults who escorted Toria to the fireheights move quickly out of the way, not wanting to be trampled or wing-buffeted when the dragons took to the sky.
Her fellow passenger had sandy blonde hair, cropped short on the sides and longer on the top and back, probably to accommodate goggles like the ones he currently had pushed up onto his forehead.
He wore a leather riding jacket very similar to K’len’s, with heraldry identical to that of the other dragonman who accompanied them on the larger brown dragon — a black volcano erupting smoke on an orange background. Also like the rider, he wore leather-reinforced pants and slightly odd-looking boots.
The boy watched more intently as she mounted blue Pentiath, and uttered a few quick, quiet words of encouragement as she settled in. “Welcome aboard. Don’t worry, Pentiath’s an old hand at this and a strong flier. We’ll be at Fort Hold in no time.”
Toria had her dirty blonde hair in a simple braid and wore fairly simple clothes, the one exception being the obviously new jacket she had just put on. She looked sadly at the three adults who had brought her to the fireheights and turned to the boy, trying to put a brave expression on her face. “Thanks. I’ve… I’ve never been on a dragon before. Are you going to Healer Hall, too?”
The boy smiled easily, obviously at ease with the situation – and adragonback. “‘S’okay. Everybody has to have a first time some time, right? Holding on is a lot easier than it looks, I promise.”
He shook his head in response to her question, “No, no Healer I. Your parents must be very proud of you for being chosen?” He glanced between the girl and her parents, remembering the glum look she gave them just moments ago, “I’m bound for Harper Hall.”
Toria furrowed her brow, puzzled, before she realized what the boy must have assumed. Shaking her head, she said, “Oh, no… those aren’t my parents. That’s Healer Valora and the Holders of Katz Field. They’re seeing me off.” If not for the fact that she was terrified and trying not to show it, she would normally have remembered to do things like introduce herself, ask his name and so forth, but alas for her…
K’len made a huge gesture with his arm and B’dir acknowledged it with a similar but shorter gesture. “Brace yourself,” the rider warned.
Toria could feel the blue dragon crouching as his wings spread outward to nearly their full span. The brown dragon also unfurled his wings and watched the blue closely. Pentiath ran forward a few paces, his wings barely moving, and Toria was pushed back a bit by the burst of speed. Suddenly, he leapt into the air and Toria was pressed forward against K’len’s back. Each strong beat of the blue’s wings brought the sound of rushing wind and left the ground farther behind. A minute later, Toria and Kebrin had a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape. When Toria was finally relaxed enough to look around, she noticed the brown dragon flying a short distance behind them.
[Attribute check: Will 9, rolled 6.]
Toria took in a breath and looked around. It was magnificent. A smile formed on her face and a laugh escaped her as the blue dragon rose higher and higher.
The boy laughed out loud when he saw the expression on Toria’s face, exhilaration instead of the terror. He pulled his goggles down into position.
Toria’s eyes were wide as they took in the sky around them and the ground barely visible. Her terror was forgotten.
Both dragons flew higher than Toria had ever imagined, standing atop the highest hills of Katz Field. Everything looked small and simple, like a beautifully woven tapestry. The low clouds hugging the hills were so close, she almost felt she could reach up and touch them.
The brown dragon caught up and flew alongside the blue. The younger rider saluted, his dragon banked right, and then disappeared. One moment he was there, the next he was gone.
Toria suddenly realized that she was next. The blue dragon was about to go between, a place of absolute darkness and terrifying cold, according to the Harper’s songs.
[Attribute check: Will 9, rolled 3. Critical success.]
The boy turned alarmingly from where he sat to wave to the dragonman on the brown dragon, and returned the salute when the time came. Knowing what was to come, he then turned back and checked his straps before the unnerving trip between. He called out loudly, right before he knew they would disappear, “Hold your breath! It makes it easier!”
Joy turning to dread, Toria grabbed for the belt of the dragonrider in front of her and closed her eyes. Hearing the words of the boy behind her, she took in a deep breath and braced herself for… whatever was next.
None of them could see, hear, or feel anything. They felt as if they were lost in an infinite void, literally the place between all other places. Cold seeped in through their clothes, chilling them nearly to the bone. One heartbeat… two… three…
The shock of sunlight made Toria gasp. Below was a mountainous landscape, rocky and difficult to travel. The trees were different, scruffier and paler green.
They could see roads winding their way through narrow passes, along canyons, and over ridges. At the center of it all was a massive Hold, far larger than any they had seen before. It was squat, wider than it was tall, with hard edges and little decoration. It was also stark; nothing green grew near it, except in one carefully cultivated meadow. To the left side of the Hold was a smaller courtyard, surrounded by more ornate buildings. The stone edifices were carved with columns and bass relief sculptures.
Pentiath glided downward toward the enormous fireheights in a slow, gentle spiral. Toria and Kebrin could see large braziers burning at the corners, giving off a little white smoke. They could see people walking in the main courtyard below stop and look up, taking note of their arrival.
Toria’s head was on a swivel. She was trying to take in everything at once. The Hold was enormous!
“Shards!” she muttered quietly to herself. “It’s so big!” Toria said a bit louder, while they were still circling around.
After a few moments, the boy called out, “You were very brave. You’re a natural-born dragonrider!”
The flight was over all too soon. They all had to lean forward as the dragon tilted upward, reaching for the ground with his rear legs, his wings beating faster as he neared the ground. There was a little jolt as he landed. Pentiath neatly folded his wings as K’len looked back to see how his passengers had fared.
“Are you sure you weren’t Weyr-born?” K’len asked Toria with a chuckle. He unhooked his belt from the D-shaped rings on the saddle, removed it, and stowed it in a little saddlebag.
Pentiath settled on the ground, lying down so that the children wouldn’t have to climb as far to reach the ground. The end of his tail flicked back and forth rhythmically and his eyes whirled a bright blue-green.
“Can you handle this?” K’len asked the boy, nodding toward Toria.
He pushed up his riding goggles and unhooked his straps, albeit more slowly and deliberately than K’len had. He nodded in response to the aged dragonman’s question, “Yes, sir. I’ll see her safely to Healer Hall.” He paused, grasping for the right thing to say, “Thank you very much for the flight, sir.”
The boy half-slid and half-hopped down off the mighty Pentiath, and busied himself unhooking first the girl’s luggage and then his own. He glanced up at her as his deft fingers worked the rings and knots, “Since I’m going to be escorting you, I’m Kebrin of Ista Weyr. And you are?”
Toria flexed her fingers a few times, having gripped K’len’s belt with all the strength she possessed on the ride to Fort Hold. She glanced down towards the boy as she registered she was being addressed and gave a tiny smile. “I’m Toria of well, Katz Field,” she said as she shrugged, knowing it was obvious that’s where she hailed from. She looked down from Pentiath, waiting to be helped to the ground.
Kebrin smiled at the introduction, “Pleased to meet you, Toria of Katz Field.”
He quickly finished unlashing their relatively meager respective belongings, and then trotted over to offer Toria a hand down. Once she was safely on the ground, he waved up at K’len, “Thank you again, K’len.” He then patted Pentiath – hard, because dragons are large creatures – “And thank you for the care, Pentiath. We couldn’t have asked for a smoother flight.” He then gathered their luggage and began looking around thoughtfully for someone he could ask for directions to Healer Hall.
K’len joined the children on the ground. “Welcome to Fort Hold! I’ll see you both as far as the courtyard,” he said with a smile. “It’s a long walk down the stairs, so there’s time for a few questions, especially when I stop for a breath.”
Pentiath rest his head on his forelegs and half-closed his eyes, content to wait.
K’len led them to the nearest watch tower, where they were greeted by a weather-worn Hold guard who also offered a cheerful welcome. Inside the tower, a wide spiral staircase led down from the fireheights, well lit by glows.
[Attribute check: Per 10, rolled 12.]
Each landing of the stairs had a number carved into the wall, indicating the level. The first, high number they encountered drove home the massive size of Fort, Pern’s first and perhaps most respected Hold. Neither Toria nor Kebrin could imagine how many people lived there.
Kebrin was a little winded by the stairs, too, mostly because of all the gear he carried. As they descended, he asked questions such as, “About how many people live in Fort Hold? And do you know how many work in Healer Hall and Harper Hall? How long has Fort Hold stood, and what’s its story… err… history?”
Belatedly realizing he should have probably asked something more practical, he also tried to slip in, “Any advice on finding our way around Fort Hold and the Halls, since they’re so big?”
Toria thought she knew what she would be dealing with at Fort Hold, but she was quickly disabused of that notion. This place was beyond her imagining. Following K’len and Kebrin in a daze, she heard the boy ask question after question. He was a curious one, that’s for sure! Her natural shyness was keeping her fairly quiet around these two people she had only met a short time ago. She felt bad she had no questions of her own for now, but she was listening and watching as they walked.
Every landing brought the sounds and smells of activity. Fort Hold was neither a small fishing hold, nor a mostly empty Weyr. They passed several people as they neared the middle levels, all dressed in clothes favoring different colors and unfamiliar styles. Most of them gave K’len a polite nod, which he always returned in kind.
“Between the Hold and Halls, about eight thousand,” K’len answered Kebrin. “There’s also a mine hold not far from here,” he added helpfully, “So add several hundred more.”
He smiled at one question in particular, “I think you know the answer. Fort Hold is one thousand, two hundred and fifty Turns old this Turn. As for finding your way around, that’s going to take time and practice. But don’t worry, you’ll be here a handful of Turns, at least. For now, did you bring your acceptance letters?”
K’len looked between the children, “Show it to anyone and they can point you in the right direction.”
Kebrin watched the people with open curiosity, a luxury still afforded to someone his age. Perhaps even more so there, where the residents of Fort Hold were long accustomed to receiving children from all over the continent to receive training in the Halls.
He nodded quickly in response to the much older man’s question, and patted the side of his jacket to make certain that the much-cherished piece of paper was really still there, “Yes, sir. I have it.”
Accustomed as she was to the cothold she grew up in and later Katz Field, Toria could scarcely imagine over eight thousand people living and working in the Hold and surrounding area. She nodded at K’len’s question and fished her letter out of her new satchel. “Yes sir, I have it, too,” she said.
Both Kebrin and Toria began to notice that every feature of the Hold was carefully shaped. Each step was the same size and the stairwell was perfectly round. Doorways were identical. Halls were straight and even the ceilings were smooth. They must have been carved by Master masons over generations. Even the air had a gentle, even flow.
By the time they reached the courtyard, they realized that their legs would be sore tomorrow. The courtyard was alive with people walking this way and that, some busy with tasks and others enjoying leisure time. From the ground, the sheer cliff rising above them was even more breathtaking. The courtyard spent much of the day in shade.
“This is where I leave you. Just go straight through that gate and down the ramp. Kebrin, take a right and follow the wide road to Harper Hall. Toria, you’ll follow him most of the way, but you’ll take a right branch. Healer Hall is mostly indoors, there’s no courtyard. You should see the heraldry above the entrance,” K’len explained, pointing in the right direction. “I wish you both the best of luck. Study hard!” K’len winked and turned back toward the main doors that probably led to the Living Cavern.
“Thank you, sir,” Toria said. Remembering Kebrin’s words earlier, she added, “And thank Pentiath, too. Riding a dragon was… not as scary as I thought it would be.”
Kebrin waved as the old dragonrider turned away, and then turned his attention to Toria, “So, I guess we’re to the Healer Hall for you, and then me to Harper Hall.”
Toria nodded and started walking in the direction K’len indicated. She put the acceptance letter back in her satchel and opened her jacket to let some air in. It was much colder than she was used to, but not as cold as it has been adragonback. “So you grew up in a Weyr, huh? You must be used to dragons and flying. I mean, you looked like you had ridden one before with the goggles and all.”
Kebrin seems surprisingly confident navigating the unfamiliar Hold, based solely on the verbal description provided by K’len. He nodded in response to her question as they walked, “Yeah, I’m from Ista Weyr. Long way East, and a hair South of here. And, yeah, I’ve flown a bunch of times before – mostly to other Weyrs, though. I’ve never seen anything like this before. I don’t think I’ve seen so many people in one place in my life!”
Toria nodded in agreement, “Me either. I grew up in a small cothold and my parents sent me to Katz Field a couple of turns ago, so this is… a lot.” She was glad Kebrin seemed more at ease with where they were going, and that she had someone to walk with her on her way to Healer Hall.
Kebrin replied, “Yeah, but you’re brave. You didn’t scream, or cry, or even whimper when you faced between for the first time – and I know adults who can’t even claim that. So I know you’ll do great in Healer Hall. You’ll make your… people… very proud.”
Toria blushed at his compliment, “I think I must have been too scared to scream.”
As Kebrin and Toria made their way down the “ramp” leading out of the Hold proper, they noticed dozens of small apartment buildings called “cots” built up against the Hold’s massive base. The cots had thick roofs, heavy doors, and large metal shutters for every window. Unlike the Hold itself, they were colorful and uniquely decorated.
Kebrin flashed that easy, infectious smile again. “No, I don’t think it’s that. You weren’t scared of flying, either. You’re either a natural-born dragonrider, or the bravest young woman I’ve ever met.”
Toria shrugged, and then a sly grin appeared on her face, “It was kinda fun. Maybe I’ll get to ride a dragon again some day! Healers and Harpers get to ride them to get around sometimes, right?”
Kebrin nodded slowly, a subtle peculiar expression briefly crossing his face. “I will.”
The wide road leading straight into Harper Hall finally branched left, leading away from the Hold, and right, leading toward Healer Hall nestled in the base of the sheer cliff. Even from this distance, they could see a fair of firelizards in every color sunning themselves on the roof of Harper Hall’s outer building. Their hides glistened in shades of green and blue, brown and bronze. There was even a shimmer of gold. It was more firelizards than Kebrin had seen in one place, and more than Toria had seen in her entire life.
Showing childlike enthusiasm, Kebrin was quick to point them out. “Look, firelizards! I see at least one bronze… and a queen! I’ve never seen so many in one place before! I wonder who they belong to?”
Toria gasped, “I see them! I’ve never seen so many ever! Maybe you’ll get to find out whose they are, since they’re on the Harper Hall roof.”
Kebrin watched the firelizards for a few more heartbeats, and then shook his head as if to clear it. He addressed the earlier question, “And, yeah, I guess Healers and Harpers ride dragons. Sometimes. When they’re posted, or occasionally to help out with an emergency…” He sounded conspicuously like he was a little dubious about this, but trying to be positive.
“I guess that will be one thing to look forward to if I get… posted,” Toria said, sounding unsure of the meaning behind word she had just used. She looked towards the path off to the right she was about to take and gulped. “Well, I guess this is where I leave you. I’m sure I’ll see you again, Kebrin. Thanks for helping me with everything.” Toria flashed a smile and gripped the strap of her satchel, trying to appear brave.
Kebrin smiled an easy smile again, an expression that obviously came naturally to him. “It was my pleasure, Toria. Best of luck in Healer Hall. I’m certain that a brave girl like you has a very bright future there.” He re-shouldered his duffel and started to turn away, “And if you ever need anything, you know where to find me. Kebrin of Ista Weyr.”
“Good luck at Harper Hall!” Toria waved at him in farewell and started walking towards her future at Healer Hall.