WARNING: Other players should not read this until Chapter 1 is complete.
Kebrin remembered the long trip down through Fort Hold from the fireheights. This time, he had to hike all the way back up.
Master Karthen kept a steady but manageable pace, pausing twice to take a breath. Halfway up, he stopped to visit a sitting room with a wide view, stretching from the Cots to the Gather grounds and beyond.
Kebrin could see the courtyards of both Harper and Healer Halls. The people looked tiny from such a height, like a chaotic hive of bugs rushing back and forth. Numerous travel wagons were being loaded along the river road. They wouldn’t arrive at the coast for at least two days.
Once he reached the fireheights, things looked much more organized. A dozen dragons were still circling above the Hold. Eight strong, young greens had lined up on the far side of the heights. The array of verdant color was a beautiful sight. As Kebrin watched, two launched into the air and three more arrived from between.
Master Karthen approached a brown rider sitting beneath a square canopy. He had a small writing desk, a log book, two Runner assistants, and a fresh mug of klah. His reddish umber brown dragon sat twenty yards away, intently watching the arrival and departure of other dragons.
“Dragonrider,” the Harper began in a formal voice, “I am Master Karthen. The Masterharper has instructed me to coordinate with the Lord Holder overseeing rescue operations. My assistant and I would like to travel on the next available dragon.”
The dragonrider stood and shook arms with Master Karthen. “Wingsecond N’vor and Rensith, glad to assist you.” He jotted a note in the log book. “G’ned’s up next. We’re expecting three Healer Masters any moment. You can ride with them.”
A short while later, a tall, studious-looking man and two middle-aged women arrived. All three wore Healer gowns and carried hefty leather satchels. Quick introductions were made. An emerald green dragon and her rider soon joined them.
“G’ned and Meloreth,” the rider introduced himself briskly. “Six of us… it’s going to be a tight fit, so get very friendly,” he warned. Master Karthen and Kebrin helped load everyone’s gear into long, padded saddlebags.
“There aren’t enough riding belts or dee’s to go around, so we’ll put the two women in the middle without,” G’ned explained, foregoing his own safety gear to loan it to Master Karthen. Despite Kebrin’s attempt to volunteer, G’ned insisted that the men were strong enough to keep the women well seated.
Meloreth’s eyes whirled with subtle hints of distress. She shifted her weight slightly as her passengers settled, probably testing the load.
[Attribute check: IQ 13-2, rolled 8.]
MUSIC: The Dead Shore
Kebrin suddenly had a frightening thought. After an earth shake, would there be damage to the fireheights? Would they look the same?
“The fireheights…” he started to ask but stopped when Master Karthen elbowed him.
G’ned turned back to look over his passengers, raising an eyebrow as his gaze settled on Kebrin.
“He’s Weyr-bred,” Master Karthen offered as an explanation.
G’ned’s scrutiny softened with understanding. “Yes, they’ve changed. A scout brought back a fresh image of a rock off the coast,” he explained. “We actually have several new visualization points,” he continued, turning back around. “There’s too much flow in and out of that airspace for a single approach.”
The other passengers looked confused.
Kebrin’s suspicions about Meloreth’s carrying capacity were confirmed when she perched at the edge of the cliff and spread her wings, preparing to launch downward instead of up. The looks of confusion were replaced by fear.
[Attribute check: HT 10+1, rolled 11.]
The beautiful green dragon kicked off and swooped downward, letting gravity fill her wings and give her momentum. Half of her passengers yelped with alarm. Even Kebrin felt flutterbies dart around in his stomach.
As she leveled off, G’ned shouted, “Deep breath, everyone!”
Kebrin closed his eyes and held his breath, counting to himself as the world disappeared. “One, two, three…” He paused, expecting the glow of sunlight through his eyelids. There was only darkness. “Four? Five…?”
[Attribute check: Will 12, rolled 12.]
Suddenly, sensation returned with bright light, the rush of wind, and the sound of churning ocean surf. Kebrin opened his eyes just in time to see Meloreth soar over a ten meter high, rocky promontory that somewhat resembled a school of fish leaping out of the water.
As he looked around to get his bearings, he could see a beach in the distance. It seemed discolored somehow. The water was brown and seemed to crawl over the sand. He leaned forward and squinted against the bright sparkles of sunlight on the water, trying to make out odd shapes.
Suddenly, Meloreth trumpeted and her eyes whirled violently yellow-orange like the sun. “Hold on!” G’ned shouted urgently as Meloreth surged upwards, forcing the passengers to grab each other in panic.
The green dragon beat her wings as hard as she could, bearing her awkward load aloft, opening her mouth to gulp air.
[Attribute check: Per 13, rolled 9.]
Kebrin couldn’t see any cause for alarm, but he could feel the wind shift and hear a thunderous sound overtaking them from behind. He looked over his shoulder. The raging crest of a twenty meter high wave was reaching out for them.
The massive wave passed just beneath them and began to collapse as it neared the coast. It looked and sounded as though thousands of white runnerbeasts were stampeding toward land. As the wave struck, it forced many tons of shattered boats and broken docks across the beach and up into the berm.
The ocean began to swallow everything in its path. The water rolled inland, kilometer after kilometer, as though it would never stop.
“By the black of between…” someone swore, breaking the stunned silence that had overcome Harpers and Healers alike.
Meloreth crossed over the remains of the beach. Directly below, Kebrin saw no signs of life, no hint that any cotholds survived the flood. The ocean breakers were clogged with floating wreckage. Across the sandy dunes, curved ridges of debris looming two meters high created a terrifying landscape. The hills had been stripped of foliage – even the trees had succumbed to the ocean’s fury.
Meloreth turned to parallel the river, flying slowly inland. The devastation reached as far as the eye could see. Several miles ahead, the dark grey towers of Ruatha River Hold were visible against the blue skyline.
The passengers began to talk among themselves, lamenting the ravaged countryside and pointing out disturbing sights – damaged cotholds, drowned herdbeasts, and wounded survivors. Even with a Weyr full of dragons and two Halls assisting, the task of rebuilding the coast seemed insurmountable.
Along the river’s edge, they passed over a deep mudslide that had completely buried a cothold. A pair of dirty, exhausted blue dragons had dug through meters of slick, rock-strewn soil to break through the remains of a roof. Kebrin couldn’t tell if anyone had survived the ordeal.
When they arrived at their destination, everyone was relieved to see that the water hadn’t reached the Hold. It was built at the top of the canyon on both sides of the river. The northern half had the towers and civic structures, while the southern half had workshops, silos, and beast pens. Most of the living space was located far below and numerous windows looked out over the river canyon. Despite the earth tremors, it appeared largely intact.
The magnificent covered bridge that used to span the river rested at the bottom of the gorge, its back broken. Dangerous whitewater rapids had formed upstream. A perilous-looking, temporary rope bridge had been secured across the gap.
[Attribute check: IQ 13, rolled 6.]
A wide cargo lift had been built on both sides of the canyon, but only the north lift was still attached to the cliff face. The lift allowed goods and passengers to make their way quickly from the river to the fireheights, or several useful stops in between. Although the docks were destroyed, several flat boats had lashed themselves to the thick pilings that remained.
Still breathing hard, Meloreth circled around the west side of the Hold and flew upwind to land on the fireheights.
The warning braziers were lit, belching black smoke into the sky. Three colorful flags fluttered in a stiff breeze from atop a watchtower, bearing no heraldry. Kebrin knew that one meant “Curfew” for common folk, but he couldn’t remember the meaning of the other two. Over twenty workers were moving supplies and helping survivors.
Half a dozen dragons rested nearby. Once her passengers were safely back on the ground, Meloreth eagerly joined them. G’ned wished everyone safe travels before excusing himself to find whichever dragonman was in charge.
Master Karthen gathered his things and looked up at the wide tower nearest the cliff. He let out a long, slow breath. “More stairs for me,” he sighed. After allowing himself a moment of deep sorrow, he straightened his shoulders and became the confident Harper the Holders would expect.
Karthen fixed his Journeyman with a steady gaze. “Kebrin, this is going to be very difficult for you. Do the best you can to help but do not push yourself too hard. Don’t stay in one place for long. It’ll be tempting, but everybody needs us today,” he cautioned.
“While the sun’s up, find survivors, lift their spirits, carry any important messages, and move on. Once the sun goes down, meet me in the living cavern. It’ll be up to us to lend our strength to the rescue workers,” he continued, tapping his temple. Kebrin had learned the gesture meant “use your mental discipline“.
“Don’t stay out after dark. There are going to be desperate people out tonight. Frightened, injured, even holdless. Besides, I’m going to need you during dinner for music at the high table. And no, don’t worry about formal clothes. They’ll understand.”
Karthen ran his fingers through his hair, making sure it was the right style of windblown, and then walked confidently toward the main tower.