WARNING: Other players should not read this until Chapter 1 is complete.
As Toria waited in the courtyard for Master Zemel, a deep shadow passed over her. Shielding her eyes, she looked up and saw a wing of twelve dragons slowly circling above Fort Hold. In small groups, green dragons appeared suddenly from between and landed quickly along the fireheights.
Shersha was probably wrong. Judging by the Weyr’s response, the disaster was every bit as bad as the Masters made it sound.
Master Zemel strode quickly out of his building and joined Toria, huffing and puffing slightly at the exertion. He carried a large, leather rucksack with numerous small pockets and heavy wool lining on his back.
“We’re ready. Help me with the flag,” Zemel instructed. The purple and white flag was almost five foot square, so it took both of them to hold it aloft in the light breeze.
A few minutes later, a viridian green dragon spread its wings and dropped off the edge of the cliff, gliding directly down into the courtyard. Toria was forced to cover her eyes as it swooped in, kicking up a whirlwind of dirt and landing with an enormous thump.
The rider leaned over and asked, “Is that cargo coming, too?” Toria was surprised by a woman’s voice, as it was difficult to tell gender beneath the riding gear and goggles.
“Yes, it’s all quite fragile,” Master Zemel warned her.
“‘Jory and Avelith,” she introduced herself and her dragon while unpacking a huge, woven net from a bulky saddle bag. “We can get you and your goods there, unbroken. Are they prep’d for between?”
Following ‘Jory’s instructions, the three of them carefully arranged boxes in the nets along Avelith’s sides, making sure the load was properly balanced. Their personal packs were also secured for travel.
“Alright, that’s done,” ‘Jory said with satisfaction. “We need to leave now, others are waiting to land here. That’s why they’ve called the greens,” ‘Jory bragged, patting her dragon’s neck affectionately. “We’re small enough to land in a tight spot.”
At over fifteen meters long, Toria found it hard to think of Avelith as “small”.
‘Jory helped Master Zemel cinch up a riding belt, climb aboard Avelith, and attach himself to the saddle directly behind her. It was Toria’s turn next. Once she was satisfied her passengers were safe, she shouted, “Lean forward into me, hard as you can.”
Avelith leapt into the air with more force than Toria had expected, forcing her to grab at Master Zemel as he let out a startled yelp. The green dragon’s wings beat fiercely and the ground spun away at an alarming rate.
[Attribute check: HT 11, rolled 10.]
MUSIC: The Dead Shore
Toria felt a bit dizzy and had to look out toward the cliffs to regain her composure.
“Shells and stars,” muttered Master Zemel, holding onto the saddle with all the strength he could muster.
Avelith soared swiftly up above the fireheights, her powerful wings driving them onward with the tremendous, deep sound of rushing wind.
Without warning, the world disappeared. Toria fell into absolute darkness, alone and unfeeling except for the brutal cold gnawing at her fingers and face. Two heartbeats, four, six, eight…
[Attribute check: Will 11, rolled 11.]
The bright, shimmering sunlight was a shock and Toria was forced to close her eyes until they could adjust. Strange smells assaulted her. The churning sound of ocean waves convinced her to look around.
They were flying over the ocean, close enough to the water that a light misting of spray made Toria’s face damp. The coastline was up ahead. Avelith soared faster than the waves could reach it. Toria could see the silhouette of an impressive Hold in the distance, straddling a massive river. The beaches were covered in strange brown seaweed and Toria could make out an odd churning noise.
“Great Faranth,” Master Zemel swore, squinting against the uncomfortable glare of sunlight on the water. He surveyed the coast, his expression grim.
[Attribute check: PER 12, rolled 7.]
Toria looked again and her mind finally comprehended the level of devastation all around her.
The coastal waters were clogged with floating debris, everything from smashed, half-sunken boats to gigantic, uprooted trees. Curved ridges had formed along the beach, some more than thrice as tall as a man, made of sand mixed with collapsed homes and the remains of a destroyed marina.
As they flew over the beach and higher ground, the landscape appeared unnaturally empty. Violent waves had torn at the hills, leaving nothing but muddy ground in their wake. The ocean had swallowed everything. The desolation stretched up and down the coast as far as the eye could see.
Avelith turned to follow the river toward the Hold. Toria could see herdbeasts wandering aimlessly, floating in newly formed ponds, and lying dead in their pens. At least a few were trapped under the remains of a collapsed barn, lowing and bleating in the darkness.
People were wandering the mangled landscape, as well. Two men carried a limp body on a makeshift stretcher. A woman stumbled down a weedy path wearing a dark red skirt that might not have been dyed that color. A child stood alone at the edge of a rise, waving desperately at the dragon with both arms.
Farther upriver, Toria spotted a large group desperately digging at a landslide with whatever tools they could fashion, but there was no hint of what might be buried beneath. They shouted something as Avelith flew over but Toria couldn’t make it out.
“Marked and reported!” ‘Jory shouted back while making a gesture with her arm, but the survivors probably couldn’t hear her.
They were nearly at Ruatha River Hold before Toria spotted an intact cothold. All the ones along the river had been flooded. If there were any near the coast, no trace of them remained.
Avelith circled around Ruatha River Hold, banking hard to the right and giving her passengers a spectacular, unobstructed view. The sturdy stone Hold appeared largely intact. The northern half had several high, wide towers and ornate structures. 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 from both sides.
The magnificent covered bridge that spanned the river rested at the bottom of the gorge, its back broken. Dangerous whitewater rapids had formed upstream. A perilous-looking rope bridge had been secured across the gap. Toria sincerely hoped that she would never have to cross it.
Half a dozen dragons were already arrayed on the fireheights, along with twenty or more workers. The warning braziers were lit, belching black smoke into the sky. Several colorful flags fluttered in a stiff breeze from atop a watchtower, bearing no heraldry. Their meaning was a mystery to Toria.
Avelith landed gently upwind and then walked south toward the river. Toria could see some sort of wooden platform with a wide lift that could haul cargo down the cliff to the river. Although the docks were destroyed, several flat boats had lashed themselves to the thick pilings that remained.
Avelith slowly lay down next to the platform. Once ‘Jory gestured that it was safe, workers began unloading the boxes of medicine.
“Careful now, gently, it’s fragile!” Master Zemel shouted, wrestling with his riding belt.
“Yes, sir!” one of the workers answered dutifully, “Where’s it headed?”
‘Jory released Zemel from the riding gear and helped him down to the ground. Zemel rushed over to the platform and began making arrangements with the foreman.
Once the Healer Master was seen to, ‘Jory helped Toria down and handed her both her own pack and Master Zemel’s heavy rucksack. She offered quick salute before climbing back up to Avelith’s neck. “Good luck out there, fare well!” she said as Avelith gently moved away.
Master Zemel did a quick inventory of boxes and then turned about, looking for Toria. “It looks like I have plenty of help here. I need to meet with the local Master and get these medicines out of the elements. Grab what you need, check in at the living cavern, and find a way to be useful,” he instructed.
Once the boxes had all been loaded, Master Zemel accompanied the workers on the cargo lift, which slowly began to sink out of sight.