Thread: DragonDays
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Old Dec 10 2006, 03:59 PM   #14
Kath
Starsmith


Weyrwoman
 
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Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: Oop North

Fan of: Moreta
Default Re: DragonDays

It's been a long time, and I'm very sorry about that! So, here's the long-awaited Chapter 14.


The night before

The morning hadn't started well at all. At first, Pete had put the atmosphere down to a mass hangover. It wasn't often that the entire population had the chance to gather together, and last night's party seemed to have got a little rowdy. But although the early morning shifts wouldn't have had much of a chance to sleep off any overindulgence from the night before, this was getting ridiculous!

It had begun almost as soon as he'd walked into the main hall; no matter where he looked, Pete found himself on the receiving end of one sour look after another. Even when he'd joined the short queue at the food counter, his usual greeting to the serving staff had been totally ignored. Okay, so he hadn't felt like eating much anyway, but he did want something, even if it was only a bowl of Ethan's oatmeal. The man's unintelligible muttering had been bad enough, but it was Yashma's scowl as she brusquely shoved a mug of Klah into his hands that had threatened to ruin Pete's appetite entirely. Unwilling to annoy the usually cheerful woman any further, Pete had made a hasty retreat to a quiet table in the corner.

Having sat down, Pete attempted to enjoy his breakfast. A few spoonfuls into the bowl of watery, over-salted porridge, he spotted a familiar face bearing a heavily laden tray across the room. Morag was a good friend of his sisters, and had always been more than willing to give him the time of day in the past. Pete lifted himself halfway off the bench and raised a hand to beckon her over to join him, but as soon as she spotted him, her eyes glazed and darted away. Pete found himself glaring at her back as she shifted course to sit alone at an empty table on the far side of the room.

What the hell? Being invisible would be better than this, Pete thought. Running out of better options, he dropped his gaze to his mug, and watched the last thin swirls of bubbles slowly rotate to a halt on the surface of the dark liquid. Wondering if it was cool enough to drink, he took a sip, and burned his tongue on the bitter liquid. Damnit, he'd forgotten to add any sweetener as well. Oh, he could wander back over to the counter and add a spoon or two easily enough, but that would mean facing Yashma's accusing stare for a second time. Yes, everything was going wrong today, and he'd barely just got up.

As if it had been waiting for the right moment, a wave of pain stretched across Pete's head. Great. Just great. He hadn't slept off his own hangover either, but the way things were going, he could hardly be surprised by that today. Why wasn't Jerry the one sitting here scarcely past the crack of dawn? Pete wondered. It ought to be him, by rights... but Manooth had come through the flight unscathed, while it had been Gilgath who'd suffered from the brown's ill-thought-out aerobatics. Gilgath had been so intent upon Porth that the sudden appearance of the brown, flailing into the midst of the pack, had given them practically no time to react at all. Pete supposed that they'd been lucky to avoid any collisions, and he didn't want to think about what kind of injuries would have resulted at those speeds. As it was, he was pretty sure that Gilgath had struck out at some point, that another dragon bore the marks of his talons. But Gilgath's near-impossible aerial twists had somehow brought them through the tangle of dragons... although not entirely without cost. Oh, they'd emerged in the lead, convinced Porth would be theirs, but her later manoeuvres had taxed badly-stressed muscles too far. Ignorable discomfort steadily turned to pain, and once more Pete had found himself separated from Gilgath, the mating urges fading as the injured dragon spiralled down towards the hold.

While the adrenaline rush subsided, Pete had silently rejoined the other unsuccessful riders. Unwilling to look back, he'd kept his eyes firmly fixed on the southern rim of the weyr, where the first returning dragons would reappear. He couldn't remember who it was who'd given him a lift back to the Hold, to Gilgath. At least the infirmary hadn't still been occupied, but even that was another reminder that Porth was flying again. Porth, who he could still feel. At that point, Pete had decided that he'd spend the rest of the evening getting himself very, very drunk.

In the end, once Gilgath's needs had been tended to, the urge to drown his sorrows in alcohol had lessened somewhat. Gilgath was surprisingly blase about Shoth's success - Shoth! Once he'd dropped out himself, the identity of the victor seemed to be a moot point as far as the dragon was concerned. Pete had briefly tried seeing things that way, and failed. Tarrie wouldn't have wanted that, surely? If they didn't, they wouldn't had been Gilgath's unhelpful reply. And so Pete had decided that getting drunk was still a good idea after all.

Of course, he wasn't the only person who'd had that idea, not on a gather night. The main palisade beneath the Hold entrance had been crowded with intoxicated revellers; not exactly the company Pete had wanted to keep. Pete had grabbed a jug of spirits and walked slowly for a short way down the valley, just as far as the last baskets of glows marking the fork in the road. In daylight, it commanded a good view of the road towards the harbour, weaving its way across the countryside, skirted by the few green fields that kept the colony alive. At night, its only redeeming feature was that it was quiet... but even that solitude was soon broken, by the sound of a stumbling figure following Pete's path towards the road.

In the dim light of the glows, Pete had almost not recognised Samuel, Alianne's husband. The man had seemed almost totally unaware of his surroundings as he stumbled haphazardly towards Pete, most likely due to too much to drink. As he approached, Pete had caught sight of the bitter expression on his face, and too much moisture around his eyes to blame on the light drizzle. Briefly, Pete had considered leaving the man to his misery - but by then, Sam was too close to slip away from easily.

"I can't escape,'' Sam had muttered, squinting his eyes in recognition, or perhaps just in an attempt to focus. It hadn't made much sense to Pete last night, and even this morning, he still wasn't quite what Sam had meant. He'd offered up his jug to the other man; well, it was one sure way of easing distress, though with hindsight, perhaps not the best choice he could have made.

Before he could ask Sam what he'd meant, the man had started muttering again. "I thought it was her,'' he'd said, slumping down on the ground beside Pete. "All of you. But it was them, all the time.'' He'd paused long enough to take a deep swig directly from the jug, giving Pete barely enough time to ask if he was okay. If he'd heard Pete, he gave no sign of it. Instead, he'd passed the jug back again and carried on with his drunken rambling, interrupting himself every now and then with bursts of increasingly hysterical laughter, while Pete had tried in vain to understand what the hell he was going on about.

"And now we're all to blame as well... Everyone... Especially me. I should have listened... Should have understood! Never... she'll never forgive me.''

By the time Pete had reached the bottom of the jug, he was only a little the wiser, and both men had reached their limits. Sam had slept with someone he regretted, and was convinced his marriage was over, but beyond that, Pete was lost. Somehow, he'd made his way back to Gilgath before passing out, but he didn't have a clue where Sam had got to in the end. What had the man meant by the rest of it? There seemed to be more to it than infidelity - and under the circumstances, that in itself was hardly surprising. But who had he meant by 'all of us'? Pete groaned, and clenched his fists in his hair. Damn hangover didn't help him think straight at all.

"Bad night?''

Pete looked up, surprised that someone was actually willing to speak to him at last. It was Dave. He carefully placed his full tray on the table, and eased himself onto the bench opposite Pete, an understanding smile on his face..

"Like you wouldn't believe,'' Pete replied.

"Try me.''

Wondering what was the best place to begin, Pete twisted his spoon around in his oatmeal and watched Dave liberally coat his breakfast with salt and one of Catrina's new experimental sauces. How could the man face fried meat and beans at this time in the morning?

"Too much to drink, and the wrong company,'' he began with a sigh. As Dave shovelled food into his mouth, Pete quickly related his confusing encounter with Sam. "Doesn't look too good for Alianne, as far as I can make out,'' he concluded.

"Perhaps not as bad as you think,'' Dave said, tapping his chin thoughtfully. "He threw her out earlier--''

"He what?!'' Pete gasped. Now that was unpleasant news... and it sounded worse, not better!

"Oh yes. After we left the Weyr, Polenth had wanted to go straight back to Chereth, so we landed by her ledge, and all Ali's stuff was there, scattered about in bags and crates. She came along a few minutes later, and didn't need more than a few seconds to figure it all out. I was up half the night comforting her, before she let me try and find the man, to talk some sense into him...''

"So how does that make things any better for her?'' Pete asked. Was everyone trying to confuse him?

"Ah, but he understands how little choice she had now, first-hand. He never really had any moral high ground in the first place, but he's lost it now for sure, and knows it too. If he's having regrets about his company last night, then there might still be a chance for them. If Alianne decides that that's what she wants, of course.''

Pete blinked, uncertain. Not many women would be that forgiving. "Well, he wasn't the kind of company I was expecting last night, that's for sure.''

Dave let out a loud guffaw, and shook his head. "Well, we know you're not alone in that sentiment, mate.'' His eyes suddenly narrowed, and Pete realised that there was something he'd been missing, something about last night...

"You don't know, do you?''

"Why we're being treated like the latest outbreak of Centauran Sand Roaches? I'm not in the mood for guessing games today, so just cut it out and set me straight,'' he snapped.

Dave grimaced. "Drink your Klah, it'll clear your head a bit. And be glad it's me telling you this, and not someone's husband, or brother.''

Something had caught Dave's eye, and Pete turned to see what it was. Nothing unusual was happening, just a steady trickle of people collecting their breakfast... including Tarrie's two brothers, Peter and Jake. Neither would be someone he wanted to speak to today, not after Porth's flight. Pete shook his head, and gulped down a mouthful of Klah.

"Well?'' he asked.

"Okay. We know how the flights have affected us, and had some forewarning at least, but no-one thought to think about the people living here, or the people with fire lizards in particular. You know what they're like as far as strong emotions are concerned.''

Pete groaned, as the pieces finally fell into place. Hundreds of the little empathic creatures scattered throughout the hold, and everyone they looked to must have felt some echoes of what the riders and dragons had experienced. He'd learned that well enough from his own small fair. But fire-lizard induced emotions, as fun or as inconvenient as they were, well, they could usually be ignored if a human chose. And if not ignored, it wasn't always necessary to act on them, not unless you wanted to. But add the party atmosphere as well...

"So, they felt the flight,'' he said, gesturing with a nod at the growing crowd in the dining room. "But not like us, surely.''

"At first, just those with mentas, and just enough to loosen inhibitions a little,'' Dave explained. "But Porth was loud, and not all that far away.''

"Ah.''

"A lot of people did things they might regret, I think. Or they wanted to. Anyway, guess who they're holding responsible?''

Well, that did explain things. "Huh. And Wind Blossom expected us to control ourselves. Still, she can't hold us responsible for everyone else as well. No-one can!'

Dave leaned across the table with a conspiratorial gleam in his eyes. "Oh, I really don't think we'll be hearing her harp on about that issue any more.''

"Wind Blossom? Don't tell me! Her too?''

Dave nodded, and gave a wicked chuckle.

"The ice queen actually melted?'' Pete was stunned. So, the woman did have normal human emotions in there somewhere.

"I ran into Jake last night, while I was trying to track down Sam to give him a piece of my mind,'' Dave explained.

"Him?''

"Oh, no. He had Tarrie's Sira with him, and had been picking up strange emotions off the lizard. What with the filial bond and all, he was probably one of the least affected people around. Anyway, he'd gone to get some advice from Wind Blossom. Only he wasn't the first. Someone with a common interest...''

"She has them?''

"Ask her about her uglies, and she's even been known to smile.''

Pete thought for a moment. There weren't many people willing to accommodate the beasts, except the miners. "Not Telgar, surely?'' he asked.

Dave looked round to check that no-one was close enough to hear. "Ozzie Munson,'' he whispered.

"Ah,'' Pete gasped. "And they were...?''

"What's the old phrase? In flagrante something-or-other... ah, you know what I mean. Jake was pretty shocked, but by then it was Tarrie he was more worried about. I managed to set him straight about her and Porth at least, not that he was too happy about it - I think he'd figured out the details. But I think I convinced him that she'd be fine, and was okay with it all, not that it's really any of his business at all.''

Trying hard not to picture what Jake must have seen, a niggling worry appeared in Pete's mind. "Did you tell him it was Shoth that caught Porth?''

"No. Why?'' He clenched his jaws into a fixed smile, and hissed through his teeth. "Best tell me quickly, 'cos they're coming over here now.''

"There's some kind of history between Otto and Jake,'' Pete said with a grimace. "I don't know exactly how it began, but knowing Otto, I can probably make a good guess.''

Dave groaned, and hid his face in his hands. "Damn. Even if he hasn't picked it up from the lizards, he'll know which dragons are missing from the fire heights.'' He opened his fingers, and rubbed his brows. "You ready for them?''

Pete shook his head, and turned round to see what Tarrie's brothers wanted. Answers he didn't have, most likely.

"Jake, Peter, how are you both this morning?'' he asked, still hoping that this was a simple social visit. The cold expression on Jake's face suggested otherwise.

"Where's Tarrie?'' Peter asked.

At least that was one question Pete could answer, thanks to Gilgath. "I think she's still wi...''

"With Otto?'' Jake hissed, pushing his brother aside to stand looming over Pete.

"No, with Porth,'' Pete insisted, hoping that the man's anger was only directed at the absent Otto. "Let me just ask Gilgath where they are.''

He reached out mentally towards his dragon, and was surprised by the bronze's immediate response. Polenth says to keep them distracted, Gilgath said. Porth returned not long ago, with Shoth, and their riders are on their way inside. Polenth's rider will try to meet them first.

"Well?'' Jake asked impatiently.

"Um...'' Typical of Gilgath to put him on the spot like this! Dave had already slipped away, and Pete couldn't help glancing quickly around the room looking for him. "Gilgath says they're...''

"Never mind, I can see them well enough myself,'' Jake said, glaring at the entrance to the dining room.

What? Sure enough, there was Tarrie, standing frozen in the doorway. And Otto too, greeting some of his friends enthusiastically. But where was Dave? Pete couldn't waste time looking, because Jake and Peter were already striding across the room towards them. "Jake, wait a minute,'' he tried, but neither brother even paused. Pete sighed, hauled himself to his feet again, and quickly hurried after them. He had a horrible feeling that he was wrong about this morning not getting any worse.

Across the room, all conversations seemed to stop, bar one. The exception was the small group surrounding Otto, which had just erupted into hearty laughter. Damn the man! Pete himself was starting to get the urge to thump that smug expression off his face, and he was pretty certain that Jake had the same idea. Making a scene like this wasn't fair on Tarrie at all! He caught up with Jake just a few metres short of the group and, grabbing his arm, pulled him to a halt.

Jake scowled, shook Pete's grip aside, and took another step forwards. "I thought I warned you to stay away from my family, Otto!''

"Don't make a scene,'' Pete pleaded quietly. "I know he's an arsehole, but Tarrie didn't have a helluva lot of choice.'' He raised his voice, and turned to Otto with a glare. "Did she, Otto?''

As the words left his mouth, he realised that they might not be taken in quite the way he'd meant, and he'd probably just enraged Jake even more.

Tarrie was shaking her head, teeth gritted. "Leave it, all of you,'' she hissed.

Otto shrugged. "Look, I gave my word. If you three want all the sordid details, you'll have to ask her.''

Feeling Jake surge forwards, Pete tried to keep himself between the two antagonists. This wasn't getting any better at all, and he wondered if it was even worth trying to stop things coming to blows. From somewhere behind him, he heard Tarrie's exasperated voice.

"Bloody men!''

Pete twisted his head round, just in time to see her turn on her heel and storm off. And there was Dave, at last, going after her. Where the hell had he been? But Pete couldn't stay distracted very long, because Otto was talking again.

"Now look what you've done,'' he said to Jake, making a feeble pretence at innocence.

With a growl, Jake lunged at the rider. Pete ducked, and looked up to see Tarrie's other brother Peter trying to separate the pair before too much damage was done to either men or furniture. Oh well, Pete thought, and decided to see if the pair of them could manage any better than he had on his own. He reached out to grab Otto, and suddenly found his feet sliding out from beneath him, leaving him toppling forwards towards the nearest table. Damned Klah! he had time to think, just before his elbow made contact with the bench and his head with the side of the table. Not hard enough to any damage, thankfully, but more than enough on top of a hangover.

Dazed, Pete shook his head and blinked, desperately hoping that his eyes were playing tricks on him.

Admiral Benden did not look amused.

Sean Connell looked far, far worse.

Last edited by Cheryl; Mar 4 2007 at 12:43 PM.
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