WARNING: Other players should not read this until Chapter 1 is complete.
Autumn break was a welcome reprieve from a difficult semester, but it wasn’t entirely without worry. Toria had one more semester to earn the sponsorship of a Master if she wished to become one, herself.
Her best hope rested with Master Zemel, not a teaching Master but the man in charge of bulk manufacture of medicines. He was a hefty man, surprisingly healthy for his weight and age thanks to the Hall’s many flights of stairs. His mop of white hair, streaked with silver, blended into a large, fluffy beard. Dark grey eyes over plump cheeks, a big nob of a nose, and round reading glasses made him look like an adorable grandfather. He was an exceptionally patient and quiet man, unless someone broke a safety rule, causing him to erupt like a violent thunderstorm.
When Master Zemel offered her a full-time job during the break, Toria jumped at the opportunity. As a Junior Journeyman, he trusted her with breakable glassware and expensive tools. She made a respectable income and could lay Marks aside for the future, not just for Autumn Gather. He was also a wealth of practical advice and medical lore. If Master Zemel became her patron, Toria would have a real advantage trying to investigate potential anti-poisons.
Toria’s free time was limited but Madi insisted on socializing, even if she had to meet during a lunch break. Although she had already reached puberty, Madi’s appearance had changed rapidly since early Spring. Long, naturally curly hair reached just past her shoulders in coppery brown spirals. Unfortunately, it was her best feature. She had grown a bit gawky, and her large brown eyes and broad nose sat awkwardly on her almond-shaped face. The changes frustrated her.
“If I still look like this when I’m posted, how am I going to meet the right man? It’s like I have fish eyes. There’s not enough make-up for this,” she confided in Toria.
“What about Riley? Aren’t you two an item?”
“I love Riley, don’t get me wrong, but he’ll be training at Harper Hall for three more semesters, and I’m leaving when I graduate in the Spring. They say long-distance relationships never last.”
Eventually, Winter settled into the mountains, chilling the Hold and Halls by the middle of Autumn break. Late one night, a howling windstorm tore away the colorful leaves, turning the landscape into a skeletal forest of bare branches.
The next day, the Hold courtyard and lower wards were filled with drudges, children, and even a few Apprentices. The leaves and sticks were gathered into piles and burned. A rich pine smell filled the air. As she helped sweep the dorm’s wide porch, Toria could see smoke rising from the outskirts of Harper Hall, as well.
Madi arrived promptly on time to meet Toria for lunch during her work break. She brought a stiff-sided picnic satchel with two cold meals of vegetable and poultry pasta. The spiral noodles were a special treat. She also brought a container of citrus juice and a pair of wood cups.
“I got this up at the Hold. Headwoman Gwenara made the pasta herself. Isn’t it fancy?” Madi said conversationally, unpacking the meals onto a round patio table. “I wonder how they get it to fold into turns like that.”
Suddenly, the wood cups tipped over, rolled off the table, and bounced onto the cobblestone ground.
“Careful, there,” Madi chided, assuming that Toria had knocked them over while she wasn’t looking. She picked them up and dusted them off with a sleeve.
As Madi began to pour juice into the first cup, Toria could feel the entire table vibrating slightly beneath her forearms. A strange, subtle feeling of fear crept over her and she had an irrational urge to flee.
“Well would you look at that,” Madi said in wonder, pointing toward Harper Hall with her free hand. Several firelizards, who typically napped on dormitory roofs during the warmest part of the day, had taken to the air. A moment later, they disappeared between.
MUSIC: Primal Forge (Extended)
All at once, the ground began to tremble. The bowls clattered as they danced atop the table. Exterior buildings creaked and groaned. Rocks began falling from the cliff, smashing into buildings, wagons, beast pens, and anything else too near the cliff face. Shouts of panic and fear echoed across the courtyard from every direction.
Madi stumbled to her knees, staring about in wonder. Gravel began raining down into the courtyard, showering both girls with dirt and granite dust.
“By the Void that spawned us… what’s going on?” she shouted over the clamor, racing into the dormitory with Toria. The panic in her voice was building. “Is the cliff coming down?”
The idea of being crushed under a cliff over seventy-meters high was terrifying.
A minute later, the ground quaking stopped as suddenly as it had begun. Toria and Madi could still hear rocks bouncing off the roof tiles and chaos in the courtyard.
Feeling safer than she had a moment ago, Madi grabbed a towel, poured water in a basin, and began cleaning her face. “Wipe off, hurry, we’ve got to go,” she said, her voice carefully neutral, exactly as she had been trained. Healer Hall would need them both.
[Attribute check: Will 10, rolled 9.]
Toria took a moment to rally, wiped her face, and followed Madi to the Hall.
The Masters quickly went to work, preparing the medical center for new patients. The first injuries were not severe, mostly cuts and scrapes, a few minor burns, and a twisted ankle. As time passed, over a dozen people were brought in on stretchers needing expert care. Once the Hold road was pronounced safe for travel, Healers were dispatched to the surrounding areas to deal with more serious wounds.
After an hour, things seemed to calm down. The wounded were being cared for, crews began cleaning up the fallen debris, and order was restored.
Toria began to feel another tremor.
“No, it’s the drum heights,” Madi said, noticing Toria’s alarm and placing a hand on her arm. “They’re sending messages.”
The trumpeting call of a massive horn echoed in through windows and doorways. “Shells, that’s the Sounding Horn,” an attending Healer commented nearby.
“The what?” asked Madi, saving Toria the trouble.
“The Hold has a huge horn up near the fireheights. They blow it when watch fires are seen in the distance. Other Holds are reporting some kind of danger,” he explained, “I guess we weren’t the only ones that got shaken.”
Just then, the deep tones of the massive Argentine Bell could be heard throughout the Hall and far into the distance. The ornate bell was located in Healer Hall’s highest oriel. This was a warning Toria was familiar with. All student Healers were being told to report to their Masters or delegates at the first opportunity. Senior Healers and staff would rush to the medical center, even if it wasn’t their day to work.
Madi hugged Toria and wished her luck before hurrying off to find her delegate.
It didn’t take long for Toria to reach Master Zemel’s workshop. A note has been hastily written and nailed to the door.
“REPORT TO THE ASSEMBLY HALL”
It was a massive cavern in the Commons where hundreds of people could sit and listen to someone speak. The floor sloped downward toward a podium and sound carried all the way back to the farthest seats.
By the time Toria arrived, it was half full and filling quickly. She scanned the crowd and noticed that no one below Journeyman rank had arrived. Masters were sitting in the front rows. She’d never seen so many Healer Masters at once.
The cavern fell silent as Masterhealer Sarantis strode into the assembly hall. His confident and authoritative demeanor seemed to calm the nerves of the more restless Journeymen. Everyone stood briefly out of respect as he stepped up to the podium.
“Fellow Healers, I have learned that a terrible disaster has struck our eastern coast, from as far north as Ruatha River Hold, to as far south as Fort Sea Hold, and possibly beyond. The ground tremor that we felt a short while ago was considerably stronger along the coast. Further, there are several reports of flooding. Fort Hold, Fort Weyr, and Healer Hall must respond.”
He paused to let the news sink in, looking slowly across the assembly of Healers, making everyone feel included.
“The Weyr is offering immediate transportation to our Masters, and any staff and equipment they deem critical. The Hold is organizing a large number of travel wagons. We will be disbursed along the coast to practice our craft wherever we are needed. The minimum number of Healers and staff required to operate the medical center and see to the younger students will remain. All others will leave for temporary assignments.”
A small murmur went through the crowd. “All of us? How bad is it out there?” Toria heard someone whisper.
“The head of each team will be given a large purple and white flag,” the Masterhealer continued. “Use it to alert passing dragonriders if you require their aid, whether it be for transportation, to request supplies, or to deliver a time-sensitive message. Use the flag at your discretion but remember that there are fewer dragonriders than Healers.”
Masterhealer Sarantis spent another ten minutes advising his staff before dismissing the assembly. It took equally long for Toria to find Master Zemel.
“Well, girl,” he said sorrowfully, “I hear you have some field experience, unlike my other Journeymen. You wanted a sponsor, today you have one. Keep your wits, work hard, do as I say, and you’ll have one tomorrow, as well.”
Master Zemel led Toria back to his workshop, along with his students and staff. He taught everyone a new skill, how to pack medicines and supplies to survive the merciless cold of between. When they were done, the thickly padded medicine boxes were taken out to the courtyard and stacked neatly.
“We’ll meet here, you and me,” Master Zemel instructed, sending his other students back to the Hall. “Pack your gear and a change of clothes. Be quick, we must be ready when the dragonrider comes for us.”