==== December 18, 2013
==== V'dean, Ekerth
==== A Southern wingrider's Thread aftermath.

Who V'dean, Ekerth
What A Southern wingrider's Thread aftermath.
When The Last Day of the Interval.
Where The Keroon Summer Gather — Fort Hold — Southern Weyr


They’d planned for this. But as is so often the case, it was more difficult than expected.

There were permissions to get Cabel free of the Hall, of course, but perhaps the true hurdle was V’dean’s sister Hallie, reluctant to see her eldest son off with her youngest brother. And then there were the costumes: the tedium of coordinating and the ordeal those damn ties proved to be.

But they had arrived at the pavillion in Keroon and the Harpers had been bribed and his nephew had been easily goaded into sweeping that curvy girl in the effusion of feathers out onto the dance floor. V’dean even had a drink in hand.

There was absolutely no reason, therefore, to feel that horrible creep of dread jangling down his spine and settling heavily into his stomach.

He’s better off than some, but at altitude within Southern’s first flight even the summer winds slice frigidly through the light linen of his suit. His shivers soon lock into hard knots within muscle. It’s just one more source of the tension that winds him taut and aching and makes every motion feel like a jolt. His bare hands are claws, numb with cold, the thick of his knuckles dinged and his cuticles torn from the rough of firestone — not that he even remembers catching the sacks, feeding the chunks over to Ekerth.

Ekerth — stoic and steady and silent. A flickering shadow amongst his larger wingmates, the blue flies on without complaint. Not a thought is given to departing as the composition of other wings makes winking changeover beneath them. They fly with Ocelot, and they flame on. And on. And on…

…and there’s no time for death and screams in the dark. There’s just the sickly ripple of silver that comes in reach of their flame. That, and the craning desperation to always know where — there — to go, to escape the burning reach of those falling tendrils.

In the end, they don’t really realize what a fine edge they balance upon until the order comes to go home.


It’s not exactly a mistake, the impulse that finds them high above the neat drum heights and stately edifices where flags of brown and purple and blue flap in the evening winds. Streaks of light are still fading in the east, warm and peaceful. It is stunning, the familiar sameness, juxtaposed with the still roiling echoes of stench and soot and keening horrors.

Of course, it won’t be the same. It’s already not the same — the low reverberations of the drums echo down the valley as swarms of agitated activity spill from Harper Hall and the First Hold, streams of humanity collecting about the more concerted order forming in Healer’s courtyard.

They shouldn’t be here. They should be at Southern, with their wing and under the eye of their Weyrleader, but before they can gather themselves for the jump Kelgerath’s sharp demand draws them downward. It floods back, as Ekerth drops in a loose spiral towards the Fortian bronze: what they should be is masked and at the gather. They should be…

V’dean doesn’t know how he’s standing.

For one, he doesn’t know how he got down from Ekerth’s neck, but somehow he’s staring at his stained and scuffed toes upon the clean pavestones of Healer Hall’s plaza. He doesn’t know how he’s standing, either, with one shoe mysteriously gone and exhaustion starting to scream along every overworked and overtense muscle. It all might have something to do with Bernal’s hands on his shoulders and how the wide set of his brother in law’s frame is planted before him.

How could you?

It doesn’t even make him blink. It’s a look he’s seen before. It’s hardly the worst thing…

There is arguing, and time is sliding past, and V’dean must be thawing from the cold of the wind and between because the sensation of burning is starting to crawl across his skin. It stings raw in his eyes, too, and he barely catches himself before rubbing at them with torn and ash-smudged knuckles. Instead, the stalled spread of his fingers invites the start of an inspection — his cuff links are gone and the sleeves above them are flecked by holes with singed edges. The pale of his breeches and stockings has been cast over with char and firestone soot, the fine material shredded in patches by friction with rock and leather.

No wonder, when their eyes turn towards him, they look like that.

Maybe it’s that. Maybe it’s the mention that makes real the prospect of his mother, of being haplessly bundled home and fussed over.

Maybe it’s just that he needs to do something, and something needs to be done.

His fists close away the trembling of his fingers. His brother in law is fitted onto Ekerth’s ridges in the same place, with the same straps, where Cabel rode before the stains of Threadfall were streaked dark across the drab blue’s neck. There’s a rare whine that whispers through the dragon’s throat as he shoves back into the air, an escaped hitch of voice on the huff of his exhale as he spreads his wings and works the thick muscles of his haunches. But then they’re aloft and recalling what they had left behind in Keroon, the conjured images making all else pale while they spiral above Fort. The last light of the Interval slips beyond the horizon.

The fires are still crackling.

Burning pits of dug-out burrows mark the path of ground crews, forming snakes that crawl away from the Hold with bright heads and smouldering ember tails. Acrid plumes of smoke coil into the night sky where they are chased thin by sweet summer breezes that let the mockingly benign silver of starlight wink through.

The belly of the gather has been torn open, the ball’s pavilion rent in the panicked flight to rising wings and sheltering stone. The colored canvas of many booths shares similar fate. Fear is still tense in the air, carried by the high calls of milling people and the low voices of resting dragons who remain scattered outside the Hold. To them, Ekerth makes a stoic march of inquiry, his leather a frayed drag over pavement as he narrows in on a corner of courtyard near The Hitching Post that’s come to smell of burnt flesh and redwort.

Bernal is gone as soon as they’ve landed.

V’dean would follow him. Was following him… but he’s stopped up short by a gloved hand that hooks hard around his bicep.

Bluerider!” It has the sound of repetition, but he can’t recall what all the man may have been saying. V’dean squints through the itching water of his eyes, but in the dark and the jump of firelight he can’t tell if the twists in the elder rider’s knot are yellow or orange, brown or bronze.

It doesn’t really matter. “Get your beast home!” V’dean is being shoved back the way he came.

There’s an ashen dragon before him, the odd light adding an inconstant leap of shadow to drab hide dappled with a grim assortment of scuffs and blisters and burns. The slick green of raw flesh flecks within smears of powdery ash and rims bright along the undulating patterns of bubbling acid etch. Here and there the cold of between has cracked small fissures which weep a sluggish blend of ichor and lymph.

He can feel it, the inflamed discomfort that had nothing to do with warm circulation returning to his limbs. It seeps in as adrenaline ebbs, his second skin that throbs with hurt. It laces nausea tight about his stomach, a hard knot forming in his throat tied thickly against it.

The snatches of voice are his, dismayed words bloomed in shapeless breath against the roof of his mouth, when he loosens the punished leather from Ekerth’s neck. The process is caught between careful and quick, both a challenge as the leaden weight of the evening crashes atop them, turning routine to something thick and clumsy and alien. The harness falls in a heavy, stinking tangle at their feet at the threshold of their weyr.

V’dean should think of cleaning it. This should also be habit, deeply ingrained by all those long turns since their weyrlinghood, but right now it’s too difficult just to think of sending worn wings back into the air so Ekerth can rinse in the balmy warm of Azov’s salted waters. The blue glides on Southern’s soft winds above the wails of the haunted Weyr.

It’s the wind. And the ash. That’s why his eyes are hot and watering. It takes two basins full of water before the rivulets run clear through his fingers and V’dean can splash a wobbling puddle across his face. It seems half of it ends up soaked into the once white and cream finery, the tatters of which he’s peeled off into a discarded pile at his feet.

He leaves that, too. Naked, raw, dripping, V’dean drifts back towards the front of the weyr with his stinging fingers forming and reforming damp channels through the wetted length of his hair. The pass of a towel — that’s habit, incomplete in its job of taking water’s drops from his skin before he knots it at his waist. Water is streaming along Ekerth’s tortured muscles as the blue stumbles, once again, up into the support of chapped wings.

He has to.

He has to find the vials, the jars, the gauze. He has to remember, what they were all taught, when it was nothing but theory and tedium.

Now there’s nothing else. Ragged hands, ragged hide. It’s everything, and it’s nothing. It’s all ended; they have survived.

The numbness spreads.

It envelops them. The whisper of warm stone and grit is a distant reassurance under their feet. It seems too light to bear the crushing totality of failing muscle, of unfading memory. But it’s there, constant, under the weaving scuff of his step as V’dean finds the mantle.

The reluctant flicker of flame seems an ominous portent. But then it catches. The dull ignition of twisted leaves stays safely confined within the little bowl of the pipe. The smoke is sweeter, cleaner, and settles with a comforting warmth within the deep pull of his lungs.

V’dean, returned to Ekerth, settles with a barely controlled fold of knees to the comforting warmth tucked along the great blue barrel. The fallen rest of his head can hear the steady beat of their hearts, the deep gust of lungs as they breathe. In, and out.

And on. And on.

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