K’brin: Chapter 5, Journal 11 – Black Dragon
- Valenth reported that our dragons were growing uneasy, because they smelled dragon fear in the distance. I told them this was Feth, who was scared because she was blind and exiled. We returned to the landing field to comfort them.
- Findmar didn’t really believe Valenth was a Brown (Druvite); he was much too large and muscular. K’brin: “He’s a Druvite (Brown).” Findmar, squinting: “Is he? He doesn’t look tawny.” K’brin: “Our leader calls him a sooty Bronze.” Findmar, gazing thoughtfully at Valenth: “Yeah, I can really see that.”
- Once Findamar got a good look at all of our dragons, he insisted that we get Thydee. Immediately.
- Faranth’s Wing was still suffering the effects of hypothermia, so I sent L’nos and a couple of others to carefully scout the village while the others walked their dragons to help them warm up.
- Findmar led us up a winding road into the woods, until we reached a log cabin with squared sides that had been built against a sheer stone wall. It had only four windows, two at the far sides of the front and one on each side. A tiny dragon weyr had been carved into the stone nearby.
- In the distance, I caught the faint but very distinctive scent of dragon scat. This told me that Feth couldn’t travel between.
- Findmar had us stand back, and went and spoke with Thydee for several minutes before she nervously invited us into her very modest home. We spoke briefly, and then she brought out a nervous Feth to meet us.
- Feth was about average size for a Green dragon, but less muscular – and her neck, back, and tail were protected by ridges of bony plates that Thydee explained are called skiutes. Her claws were longer and thicker than I was accustomed to (and chipped in places), and her fangs were much shorter and rounder than Selenath’s – basically blunt. She also had real wing claws that could undoubtedly be brought to bear in combat. She had extensive scarring on her head and neck, claw scars on her neck and shoulders with skips where her tack had been, a small permanent oval hole in her right mid-wing, and numerous scars on her right distal wing. Her outer eyelids had been permanently sealed shut.
- As soon as Thydee saw our dragons on the landing field, she uttered, “So you ARE Children of the Rebellion.” “How can you tell?” “Your Dragons don’t have any skiutes. They also look very soft and… unblemished.”
- A few dragons don’t have skiutes, but they’re either very young or are nobility. The fighting urge, which usually comes over them when they’re old enough to hunt for themselves, make them grow.
- The more dragons fight, the thicker their skiutes become.
- Dragon eggs are a reward to bloodlines or for service. For nobles, only one Candidate is present for each dragon – to insure that the Candidate receives the dragon they’re supposed to. For everyone else, there is cut-throat, bloody (literally) competition to Impress a dragon. “You need to prove your loyalty and determination to your Liege Lord and to the Princes. If you don’t want it bad enough, you shouldn’t be there.”
- Dragonlings have to fight for food from an early age. When they’re old enough to begin hunting for their own food, they also fight to establish dominance.
- I was horrified that the dragonriders of Carindas didn’t allow their dragons to choose who they were Impressed to, and she was horrified to learn that 40% of our Weyrlings die within the first two Turns after Impression, usually during their first jumps between or first combat flights.
- I then spent some time asking Findmar and Thydee about Carindas, the other Dominions, specters, gods, demons, Phrenium, and Hynavaeth granite (Antiquity Stone).
- At Thydee’s suggestion, we sent Findmar to politely excuse us from dinner with Mayor Izhora and then left to make camp a few miles away in the deep woods. After we had made and secured camp and we had feasted on wild boars culled from the local forest, I played a few songs to help quiet everyone’s nerves. T’grim, annoyed: “It’s about time”. Findmar was enthralled and said our music was fairly similar to their own, while Thydee said nothing but tapped her foot nonetheless.
- I took song requests and, when T’ria suggested the last song I perform be one for myself, I played “A Father’s Lessons.” As the last notes drifted away, she volunteered that I had written the song for my father before he died a few Turns ago. We briefly discussed family, and Findmar fell quiet and introspective when I mentioned that I take the song even more seriously now that I am a father, and that I think a father’s most important goal in life is to make the world a little bit better place – both for his own children, and for others.
- Thydee was concerned that our ability to reach Bygruith Mountain, not realizing that our dragons were accustomed to flying combat for six hours at a time.
- The Shrine at Landarfal lay in the lush foothills of Bygruith Mountain. Strange beige pillars jutted up out of a plain of what looked like white snow.
- Thydee had us land away from the “snow”, which was actually sharp white crystals, and follow the dyed “Golden Path” between the pillars – some of which had been carved with stairs, windows, and doorways.
- We passed below a strange striated stone arch to a pillar with an oval entryway leading to stairs going down.
- When T’ria expanded her perceptions using her Talent, she said it felt like someone was probing her back. Very unnerving. I warned her that her Talent might be reflecting back since the counter-probe had come so quickly, but she tried again with much more force anyway. Everyone felt a disjointed echo of T’ria’s mind (like sensing her through a broken mirror), and she gave herself a splitting headache – mostly from hitting the defensive Phrenium cuff bracelet that M’din wore.
- We went about 30 feet down to a natural cavern lit by moonlight blue-white light emanating from Usara Stones set into purple glass braziers.
- The only exit from this room lay beneath the dyed carving of a fierce black dragon. It was about half the size of Selenath, had exaggerated teeth and claws, and everyone had to pass beneath it to enter the chamber beyond.
- When we tried to pass beneath it, we were filled with powerful dread. Most of the riders were convinced the Carindi dragonriders would know they were trespassing and come quickly to burn them alive. In the Place Where People Glow, the dragon was made of stone that we could vaguely sense. Tendrils of this mentally-active Hynavaeth granite flowed through the entire area. The powerful psychic energy that flowed like a foul, sluggish river through the area followed its own path – not following the veins of stone precisely. It filled areas of the large chamber beyond the dragon carving with intense feelings of pain, nausea, and dread.
- I tried to use Mind Block to protect my companions’ minds like Daena had taught me, but even with my Phrenium Ring of Strength, I quickly realized that I couldn’t protect more than three or four of them from the constant mental onslaught.
- Findmar and Thydee couldn’t be talked into delving deeper into the Shrine. I sent them back to the surface, along with several of my wingriders in various states of embarrassment: L’nos, N’lan, T’grim, and Zana. Only T’ria, Mala, and Gil continued.
- Beyond the Black Dragon lay a series of semi-finished natural tunnels that we quickly realized formed a maze. It was mostly made of native gray stone, but with patches of white stone with flesh and gold-colored patches here and there.
- Gil was concerned about the amount of dust, so he insisted that we keep our jackets and gloves on – and cover our noses and mouths with cloths that we kept dampened with water from a canteen. Since we had heard that people who wandered blindly died horrible deaths, he insisted that we limit our time in the labyrinth and have a solid plan before we delved deeper inside.
- We searched thoroughly for a hidden map or signs, but found none. Eventually, I decided that the emotional impressions left in some parts of the labyrinth must be clues left behind to help a Talent navigate. We moved slowly through the dust-choked corridors, Gil making a map while ‘Mala and I checked for traps. T’ria used her Talent to help us carefully avoiding the areas strongly imprinted with negative emotions.
- We eventually reached a roughly square room, more finished than the barely-worked natural tunnels that we had been moving through. One wall was dominated by a grid of three by three stone blocks, each about one foot on each side and marked with an unfamiliar symbol. The rest of the walls were decorated with nine beautiful, intricate bas relief carvings of unfamiliar mountain peaks. Below each peak was a symbol matching one of the symbols on the grid. It was obviously a puzzle, but based on what: Height of the peaks? Distance from this Shrine? Distance from something else? As a foreign dragonrider from Pern, I lacked the background knowledge to solve it.
- I was finishing up quick sketches of the mountain peaks and grid when T’ria spotted The Dark Key – actually the symbol of the old Sakarian Empire – on a stone over the doorway. We boosted her up, and were shocked when the stone pushed easily inward to reveal a cache with a small carved stone. A familiar peak in a range of mountains had been etched into the stone with painstaking detail. T’ria and I both instantly recognized it as a mountain range on the Southern Continent of Pern, from the map that Garoway had acquired for me Turns before.
- While I made a careful rubbing of the stone, Gil looked thoughtful and then announced that this had to be another message from our ancestors. They knew that we wouldn’t be able to solve this puzzle, so they had provided another way. I pointed out that this meant that the Zamruta stones were on Pern, not Varlada. Which, when I thought about it, we already knew from The Sky Princess.
- We followed Gil’s map back out of the oppressive, still darkness – all of us hoping that we hadn’t been down there too long, that we didn’t have only a few agonizing months to live. Gil had us strip off all of our flight clothes that had been exposed to the dust, carefully bundle them up, and thoroughly clean them as soon as we returned to our hidden camp in the woods. Thydee watched us carefully as we unselfconsciously scrubbed ourselves clean in a small, fast-flowing stream. T’ria joked that she was getting an eyeful, but I think she was counting our many old scars – arrow, knife, ember, and Thread – and calculating strength.
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