Toria: Chapter 1, Episode 3.9 – Burning Heart

WARNING: Other players should not read this until Chapter 1 is complete.

Toria had much to think about in the days following her ordeal in the cave and subsequent release from the treatment ward. She had faced almost certain death after being bitten by the Krite. She was lucky to be alive and it was in large part due to the help of a wild firelizard. A firelizard that, according to Sersha, went through great effort to get help and direct said help to where she had collapsed.

What had happened? She didn’t think un-Impressed ones bothered themselves with people much at all. Then again, there were those two who had begged her for food at the Gather a few Turns ago, which Kebrin had declared highly unusual. Maybe he would know what to make of this latest incident, or… what had Sersha said his name was, Tilton? She at least wanted to thank him and the watch-wher for their part in saving her life.

After the third night in a row of poor sleep, Toria decided to go running early in the morning, before it was light out. She had been feeling somewhat off balance since ‘the bite’ as she called it in her head.  She had been cooped up for too long. Maybe focusing on putting one foot in front of the other for awhile would serve to distract her, she reasoned. She had to make frequent stops because she still wasn’t completely recovered, and it was during one that she realized she was near the spot where she had been found. She had, without thinking, directed herself to the place where she had faced almost certain death.

She sat down near the spot she had collapsed and watched the sun come up.  She thought about life, she thought about second chances, and she thought she’d be a fool to throw it away. Thanks to many people and one stubborn wild firelizard, she was here today. She sat for a long time, breathing in the smells unique to Fort Hold, halfway hoping that the brown firelizard might make an appearance. It never did. With a sigh, Toria got back up and began her trek back to the Hall.

Toria had arranged to study with Sersha and Madi for an upcoming test in their Emergency Care class. Because of the classes she had missed while recovering, she needed their help to make sure she understood the material. The three of them had formed an informal weekend study group after she and Madi had been promoted to Senior Apprentices, and gotten much closer as a result.

The girls often went to the Hold after they finished studying, to eat, shop or just get out of the Hall for awhile. For the past few sevendays, Toria had been awkwardly flirting with a boy apprenticing at his family’s leather repair shop. She had found it when she wanted a knife sheath for her belt and ended up talking to Belan for some time after her business was concluded. He was quite handsome and made her feel strong, new emotions.

After a productive study session, she sought out Master Bryka. Toria wanted to ask her some more questions about the Krite poison and if it was possible to develop a medicine to combat it. She was told that all they could do was treat the symptoms of whatever poison it was, but if the affected person was too far from medical care or the poison was too potent, they often died. That got Toria thinking. What would someone from Spearstone have done if they had found the Krite in the cave instead of her? What if one of her brothers was bitten by a particularly venomous tunnel snake? It didn’t sit well with her.

The next day, she went looking for Tilton.  Belan had told her to go to the watch-wher’s weyr, which she had passed by over the Turns. She brought gifts of oil for Foltisk’s hide and a pair of fingerless gloves she had made for Tilton.

As she walked into the weyr, she called out softly in greeting, “Hello! Watch-wher Keeper, are you here? It’s Toria from Healer Hall!”

As she cleared the entrance into the weyr proper, she saw the curled up form of what she could only assume was Foltisk on a raised stone platform.

The dark, muscular watch-wher stirred from its couch at the sound of footsteps entering its weyr and moved quickly to intercept the young Healer.  It loomed over her, larger than a wagon, and its eyes whirled a dangerous orange color.  She could hear its massive claws clicking against the bare stone as it moved.  A tremendous growl filled the cavern until it drown out all other sounds, except for the wild beating of Toria’s own heart.  Clearly, no one was allowed in Foltisk’s weyr uninvited.

[Attribute check: Will 10, rolled 10.]

As Toria wrestled with the urge to run, Tilton dashed clumsily into the cavern, still desperately trying to work the fastening on his pants.  “Hello?” he called out in a voice tinged with both alarm and embarrassment.

Barefoot, bare chested, and hastily running fingers through his disheveled hair, Tilton ordered Toria out of the weyr and into the daylight.  “Move slowly, just drop the bundle and back away,” he urged her in as calm a voice as he could manage.

Tilton looked over his shoulder, nodding toward Foltisk’s sleeping couch.  Something passed between them and the watch-wher relaxed.  Once the great, ugly beast had settled and his eyes returned to a dark shade of green, Tilton joined Toria outside.

“Girl, never do that again.  Watch-whers are night creatures.  They’re short-tempered during the day, at best.  He could have maimed you,” Tilton explained.  “Or worse,” he muttered under his breath.  He put his hands on his hips and stood before Toria, “What brings you to our weyr, anyway?”

Tilton was in his early forties and in exceptional physical condition for his age.  As he listened to Toria speak, he pulled his dirty blond hair back into a short pony tail.  He had striking hazel eyes, a prominent nose, and a circle beard that almost hid his cleft chin.  Considering his build and his lifestyle, he was surprisingly soft-spoken.

Toria explained about her strange encounters with firelizards, from the pair that visited her during a Gather to the wild brown that had saved her life.  Despite her misgivings, Tilton seemed to take her seriously and didn’t disregard her story as a young girl’s fantasy.

“Well, there are people who have a special bond with dragonkind,” Tilton said matter-of-factly.  “There are folk who know what they’re feeling,” he explained.  “Once or twice in a generation, there’s someone who can actually hear them.”

He noticed the excited expression on Toria’s face and quickly added, “It’s not a good thing, I’m told.  They have to live far from the Weyrs.  Imagine if everyone talking at Healer Hall right now was standing right next to you, all the time.”

“It could be the firelizards feel what you feel, maybe they even hear you.  I can’t say for sure but Foltisk could.  If he’s willing.  I can’t make any promises but we can give it a try.  Come back at least two hours after sundown,” Tilton instructed her.

[Attribute check: Will 10, rolled 11.]

Toria had difficulty concentrating on her work for the rest of the day.

That night, Toria returned and waited outside the weyr with a glow basket.  Tilton emerged, fully dressed, and Foltisk lumbered noisily behind him.

“Alright, here’s what we’ll do,” began after brief introductions between the Healer and the watch-wher.  “Stand there, close your eyes, and think as hard as you can about the best piece of meat you ever ate.  Think about how it smelled, how it tasted, how it felt to chew it… think about how hungry you were.  I’ll watch Foltisk and see if he notices.”

[Attribute check: Will 10, rolled 9.]

Toria closed her eyes and imagined slow-roasted herdbeast on the bone, served in a bowl of its own juices, a haunch of meat bigger than she could hope to eat.  She was startled to feel damp breath blowing her hair back and ruffling her clothes.  She opened her eyes to see Foltisk’s bull-like muzzle drooling copious amounts of warm fluid on the ground at her feet.  She had to jump back to avoid soaking her sandals.

Tilton patted his watch-wher hard on the foreleg.  “Good boy, good boy,” he murmured as he pushed the beast one step back from Toria, then another, and finally a third.  “Well, there’s your answer,” Tilton commented.  “You made a connection.  Not much of one, but more than most.  You’d better get back to the Hall.  I need to take this one hunting and you sure as shards don’t want to watch.”

Toria left the weyr, after thanking Tilton and Foltisk. She felt better now that she had answers to her strange connection to firelizards… and apparently dragonkind. What it meant for her, she was unsure.

After Toria uncharacteristically missed her second training session, Kebrin decided to check on her – just to be on the safe side.  He groomed a little more thoroughly than usual and dressed in his nicest casual clothes.  He then set out for Healer Hall, which was only a short walk from Harper Hall – where he had spent most of his life for the last two Turns.

Toria was in her dorm’s common room, trying catch up on all the work she had missed while recovering from the Krite’s bite. Concentration was proving difficult but she persisted, doggedly reading and re-reading the words. A bandage covered her right arm from elbow to wrist and she looked more pale than usual. Hearing some noise coming from outside, she looked up and spotted a very cleaned-up Kebrin.

“Kebrin? What are you doing here?” she inquired, sounding tired.

Kebrin had been studying the architecture, mentally comparing it to the dorms that he himself had lived in – or at least visited – at Harper Hall.  He hadn’t quite gotten around to looking at the conversation areas purposefully arranged within the relatively small room.  His attention shifted immediately when he heard Toria’s voice, a familiar easy smile flashing across his features when he caught sight of her.

“Ah, there you are.”  He studied her posture and general body language as he walked over to her, sensing something was amiss.  “I came to make certain you’re alright.  You missed our last two sessions, and that’s not like you.”

Toria smiled and put down the book she had been reading. She gestured to her wrist, lifting it up to show the bandages, saying, “Ahhh, yes. That would be because of this. A Fire-banded Krite decided it didn’t like me being near where it was spending time and attacked me. I had to defend myself and in the process got bit and was quite ill for awhile.”

Looking somber and a bit emotional recalling the attack, she continued, “I was saved by a wild firelizard, if you can believe it. Otherwise, I um… might have died, I think.” She looked at Kebrin briefly, placing her left hand on her bandage and trying to collect herself.  “I’m sorry I didn’t let you know, it just slipped my mind with all that was going on.”

Kebrin walked closer and perched on the arm of a chair adjacent to Toria’s.  His brows furrowed a little with concern as he listened to her account of how she had been hurt.

“A krite?  Big, foul-tempered, and…”  He paused in concentration, “Venomous?”  He thought he vaguely remembered one of his friends from this region mentioning them during their early outings to search for firelizard eggs.  “No apologies necessary.  I just wanted to make sure you were okay.  Sorry you got bit.”

He paused for the briefest of moments and then asked, “It wasn’t too near Fort Hold, was it?  Do you know if they sent out a team to kill it?”

Toria nodded as Kebrin described the creature to her. An odd look crossed her face as she said curtly, “It’s dead, I killed it.”

She looked around the room, not wanting to be interrupted by dorm-mates or have any more gossip fly around than was already going to. “You want to go sit in the courtyard? We can talk un-interrupted that way.”

Surprise was written plainly on the young Harper’s face, “Oh.  I didn’t realize.”  He paused, one of the few times Toria had ever seen him fumbling for words, “Nicely done.”

He shrugged in response to her question, not certain why she wanted more privacy but not against the idea.  He stood from where he had been half leaning, half sitting against the arm of an overstuffed chair and followed her out.

Toria found an out of the way spot in the courtyard, where there were few people milling about or sitting at other tables. She sat down, made herself comfortable, and waited as Kebrin did the same.

“I well… I figured you might be the one person I know who might appreciate this. Like I said, a wild firelizard saved my life and it was uh, a really good thing. It actually went between after,” she paused, trying to find the right word, “sensing I was bad off. A friend later told me it actually got a Master’s brown firelizard involved.  They caused such a fuss that they got the Watch-wher and its handler to sort out what was going on.”

Kebrin slid into a seat opposite Toria.  He listened intently, although surprise was obviously written on his face.  “That’s really amazing, Toria.  I wouldn’t believe it, if I hadn’t seen how that firelizard – which I still think was wild – acted around you at our first Gather.  I’d never seen anything like that before and haven’t since.  You…”

He paused for a heartbeat, choosing his words carefully. “You obviously have some sort of gift, with both firelizards and dragons.  If you’ve ever thought you might want to live in a Weyr – or be considered to stand the sands – I bet you could.  I could even introduce you to some riders from Fort Weyr, if you want?”

Toria looked surprised and a touch excited at Kebrin’s words, “Really!? I mean, I visited Tilton, the Watch-wher’s handler, the other day. He told me I have the ability to make a connection with dragonkind, to… know what they’re feeling,” she said, sounding like she was quoting something.

“He had me imagine the most delicious meat I’ve ever had when I was standing in front of Foltisk, the Watch-wher, and he um… he drooled on my feet,” she explained.  “He said some people once in a great while can actually hear them, all of them. It sounded like a curse, the way he talked about it.”

Kebrin nodded, “Maybe they’re cursed, but you’re not.  I mean… I don’t think anybody entirely knows what dragons look for when they and their riders go out on Search, but it seems like you’re more than halfway there already.  I think you should tell somebody from Fort Weyr.  It would be a real shame to let a rare gift like yours go to waste.”

He leaned back and made a not-so-subtle attempt to compose himself.  “It’s your decision.  You could stay here in Healer Hall, but lots of smart people could become Healers.  Not everyone can do what you do.”

Toria looked less excited as Kebrin finished talking.  A pained look crossed her face as she took in what would happen if she told someone what she could do. She wouldn’t be a Healer, something she had worked Turns for. “I couldn’t be a Healer then, if….” she stopped, clearly conflicted.

“Not everyone can just be a Healer, it takes the right connections, it takes some luck and a whole lot of skill. I mean, how useful could doing what I can do even be?”  The Healer-in-training sounded like she knew full well the answer, but was saying it anyway.

Kebrin leaned back, uncharacteristically quiet and thoughtful for several heartbeats.  He then answered carefully, “Well, first of all, Weyrs need Healers, just like everywhere else.  There are even ones who specialize in people and others who specialize in dragons.  Second, it’s true that you have to be smart and lucky – or have some kind of privilege – to join one of the Halls.  But how many students, out of all the Halls, can do what you do?  Not a single one, I bet.  You could use your ability to help a lot of dragons, since their riders can’t always communicate with them – like when they’re really sick, or unconscious.  And that’s something I bet nobody else could do.”

Toria thought about it, tapping her fingers on the stone table. “I can’t really… communicate with them though, not with words. I made enough of a connection with the wild firelizard to get across that I needed help, which, I mean, I guess is communicating.” She sighed, clearly at war with herself. “You do make a good point. You’re saying that, even if I don’t become a dragonrider, I could still be a Healer in a Weyr?”

Kebrin nodded enthusiastically, “Yeah, of course.  And they might even ask you to stand the sands.  Like I said, it seems like you’re more than halfway to being able to talk to dragons already.  How cool would that be?  Wouldn’t you like to have your own dragon?  Be able to fly, to visit anywhere in a little more than a blink of an eye?”

He paused dramatically and then made a show of trying to act disinterested, “I mean… if you’re really not interested, I won’t press.   But I’d really like your help talking some firelizards into giving me at least a couple of eggs.  I bet that wouldn’t be hard for you at all, not if you can convince a wild one to carry a message all the way back to Healer Hall.”

 [Attribute check: Will 10, rolled 12.]

Toria found herself suddenly grinning in excitement at the idea and nodded, “It does sound pretty great! Can you introduce me to one of the riders you know from Fort Weyr? It can’t hurt to try, at least.”

Kebrin nodded, “You already know K’len and it sounds like you’ve met Tilton, too – but I would be happy to mention your gift to K’len and see what he says?  Or tell him you’d like to talk to him about something?  Maybe after you’re healed up and caught up on your studies?”

“K’len, I remember him! Whatever you think best. I mean… if you want to come with me that would be errr, helpful. It might take me a few days to get to it. I’m a whole sevenday behind on my classwork,” Toria replied.

Kebrin stood as he nodded, “Alright.   Let me know when you’re ready and I’ll tell him that you’ll be joining me on a visit in the near future.”

He stretched briefly and then added, “Think very carefully about what you want to say to him before we climb all the way up there.  He’s been around a long time and seen a lot – he’s got loads of good stories – but that also means he doesn’t have much patience left.  Keep it brief, and include only the pertinent details.”

Toria nodded, still caught up in the feelings of anticipation and wonder at the possibilities in front of her. “Of course, maybe by the next time we train, say, another sevenday? I probably won’t be able to take hits with this arm for another month at least, but I can learn some off-hand things.”

She stood up and muttered “Blasted Krites…”

Kebrin clapped Toria encouragingly on her good shoulder and made a point of meeting her gaze, “The people here might not understand, but I do.  Be proud.  You killed a monster.  Not many people can claim that.  I’ll tell K’len that you’d like to speak with him in a few days and we’ll climb up there together.”

He gestured casually around the courtyard, “I assume your dorm mates and friends are getting you everything you need, but if not – just let me know?”

Toria nodded at Kebrin, “Thanks, I will.”  She pointed at her right arm and smirked, “Y’know, this right here is one of the reasons I wanted to learn how to use a knife.”

Running soon became a part of Toria’s routine. It not only gave her some regular physical activity, she found it helped relieve whatever stresses she might be carrying around and even improved her mood when she was down. One of her current stresses was the latest letter Master Valora had sent her. While her first Master hadn’t outright said it, she implied that Toria would be welcome back at Katz Field once she made Senior Journeyman. The population of the hold was increasing and Master Valora needed an assistant.

While part of Toria would have been happy going back home, being able to see her family regularly, working beside and eventually replacing Master Valora, the bigger part of her knew that it wouldn’t quite satisfy her. She wanted to see more of Pern and was starting to think that she wanted to specialize in Medicine. Surely there were better solutions for handling some ailments than merely treating the symptoms. If  there were medicines that could be found that got ahead of an ailment, all the better. She also found Biology and Surgery fascinating. Her Emergency Care class was challenging in all the best ways.

She spent more and more time with Belan. She liked how he made her feel and he was a great listener. He loved spending time outdoors when he wasn’t at his family’s shop in the Hold and she often spent her free time playing ball games with him and his friends. As someone a little over a Turn older than her, he had experiences she hadn’t, and he spent time showing her. More than once, she missed curfew because they would get caught up in each others arms and not realize it had gotten so late. Madi caught her sneaking in one night and advised her not to get too lost in her feelings for Belan. Since her own relationship with Riley was still going strong, Toria tried to listen to her advice.

Around the same time, Toria started inquiring if any of the Masters who specialized in Medicine had need of assistance, perhaps sterilizing bandages and linens or grinding up herbs and other medicinal ingredients, anything to get her foot in the door. She’d even heard that some Journeyman worked in a dispensary, dealing with simple ailments and issuing medicines to people. It could give her just the practical experience she was looking for.

Through a classmate, she heard about Master Zemel. He had a reputation for being eccentric and sometimes going against the traditional way of doing things, which appealed to her. Toria found him one day after classes had ended and mentioned her goals in furthering her education at the Hall. Zemel told her that he could use some help in his workshop, sterilizing equipment and sorting and measuring ingredients. He had a Junior Journeyman doing more advanced tasks, such as working in the dispensary or assisting him with his work. She wouldn’t be earning as much as a Senior Apprentice, but if she did a good job and made Junior Journeyman, she could eventually earn more coin.

Toria hadn’t been working for Master Zemel long when she finalized her plan to more permanently help the people of Spearstone. Sooner or later, she would be leaving Fort Hold and unable to do anything for Dezzie and the others. Over multiple sevendays, she had been buying basic supplies that could be used for a number of different ailments and injuries. Many of the items were easy enough to get, if one wasn’t holdless. She had also written down simple instructions for common issues and medicines, mostly from her first semester at Healer Hall, that she thought they could make with the herbs found in the area.

One weekend day, with Spring finally starting to assert its presence, Toria set out on an ‘herb picking’ trip, leaving before the sun had fully come up. Toria knew what she was doing was against both Hall and Hold rules, but people didn’t deserve to suffer because of things outside their control. When she reached Spearstone, she was greeted with suspicion until Tarrik appeared and vouched for her. Dezzie was then summoned, and after catching up, she found two people who could read.

The young Healer spent as long as she could explaining what the supplies could be used for, showing freshly picked samples of herbs found in the area and demonstrating how to make the medicines. She promised to come back when she thought she could get away for long enough. With a hug to Dezzie and thanks to Tarrik for the agate egg, she was on her way back to Healer Hall.

Madi’s invitation to go with her on a coastal Spring break trip sounded like just the fun – and distracting – experience that Toria was craving. Her dalliance with Belan had ended on a sour note after he became annoyed she wasn’t spending enough time with him and revealed his parents disapproved of her. Madi, Sersha and Cassiya, a classmate Toria had befriended from her Mental Illness class, comforted her by sneaking in some ale and and getting her drunk enough that she didn’t care how hurt she was.

A few days later, a different kind of hurt affected Toria. At first, she was excited to see a package arrive from her family. What news would there be about her brothers and the farm? Was there any news from Katz Field? As she read her mothers’ letter, a realization struck her so suddenly that she had to sit down. The poor spelling, the simplistic turns of phrase, even the fancy dress that clearly much time and love had gone into making – this was where she was from, but if she was being honest, it wasn’t her home any more. She had grown up a lot since leaving the cothold and received an education that not everyone has access to, changing so much that the people and places she grew up with felt foreign to her.

The temptation to attempt a journey home to see her family, friends and Master Valora over the Spring Break was strong. She left Katz Field three Turns ago, and it had been even longer since she had seen her parents and brothers.  It would have taken so much time and money to get there, she would almost have to turn right back around to get back to the Hall in time for the start of classes. She decided that she would go with Madi to spend some time on the coast during the upcoming break, and would visit her family when she could spend more time with them.

Toria blinked tears back as she processed all of these thoughts. She held the handmade dress in her hands, idly rubbing the rough fabric of the skirt between her fingers. Her mother must have spent many hours making this gift for her. After a moment, she re-read the letter and realized she had completely missed the part where it said she was being promoted to Junior Journeyman. A small smile broke on Toria’s face, and after trying on the dress, she decided that she would wear it with pride the next day. Let some mock her for it, and she knew some of the more image conscious girls would, she would represent Katz Field and her family with pride when she walked the tables.

Despite the unusual location of the Commencement ceremony, Toria was too caught up in the excitement of her imminent promotion to ponder it too much. It was a beautiful evening and she was wearing her Katz Field finery. Toria looked around the Senior Apprentice table at the nervous faces of her friends and dorm-mates. She wondered how her own friendships, with Madi, Sersha and others, would end up changing either to marriage, rivalry, or life in general. She smiled encouragingly at her friends as Masterhealer Sarantis began his speech.

Spotting the Master Folant’s brown made Toria on alert for any other firelizards, but all too soon, Sarantis was starting the important part of his speech – promotions. Knowing how much effort went into becoming Masters, Toria applauded heartily when the two Journeyman’s names were called, and every promotion after. When her name was called out, Toria stood, feeling of pride and purpose flowing through her, and walked towards the Junior Journeyman table. When Master Tambria pinned her with a Healer Hall broach, it was a physical symbol of everything she had learned and been through to get to this point. She was now headed to the next chapter in her life.

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