The smooth edges of Elora's nails trace circles on her skin as she stared out that the Weyr bowl, contemplating her life and how she had gotten there.
This wasn't a normal mind track for her, and it was quite disconcerting. How had she gotten on this train of thought?
Oh. Yes. My nails.
She glances back down at her nails, looking down at them with a small smile on her face. At least they were still perfectly round and kept; that was as much as she could do nowadays with the work as a Candidate. Cleaning and all the things she was required to do? Not exactly the best for keeping long nails and soft skin.
The soft skin was easy, though. Nobody missed a bottle of oil being slipped from the Weyrling's stock, and it was excellent for keeping her skin soft after her baths. When she could take them.
Not that it mattered; who did she have to touch anyway?
And there she was, back at thinking about her life and her choices. Perhaps she should have stayed at the Hold. She hadn't Impressed at the last Hatching, after all. And those dragonets had been so... adorable. Nice. Good.
No wonder they weren't interested in her.
Nobody's interested in me nowadays. Elora lifted her hand from her skin and ran it through her hair, frowning as they encountered a snaggle. Went from being desired to being nearly ignored by everybody. How did this happen?
He never liked coming to the Weyr. He found it too dry, too flat, and simply not as attractive as Cliffside Sea Hold. Still, orders were orders, and he played the part of ambassador well enough. He adjusted his position in the saddle, uncomfortably warm in the riding suit he donned. Metanath, just land there, he said, pointing out a spot on the Weyr bowl. Normally, he was quite at home in the sky, but not today.
Where was that again?
Windward, Metanath, by that lone figure. Do keep up.
Wouldn’t it be more prudent to find someone who actually knows where the Weyrwoman is? Replied the droll voice.
Ah, but we don’t know if this person doesn’t know where she is. Besides, I need to walk for a bit.
Make it quick, said Metanath, angling his wings so he dropped right beside the young girl. This is official business we must attend to, and I do not desire to be here any longer than you. He looked down at the girl, snorted, and turned his head to eye his Rider, who was removing a sealed scroll from the saddlebag. Try not to get distracted. I’m off to find some shade.
N’kio disembarked and waved away the Black, smirking at the memory of the last time his dragon had spent too long in the sun. He took the opportunity to stretch, ruffle his hair, and adjust to the feeling of being on the ground. “Excuse me,” he announced, walking toward the girl with a distinct saunter. “Where might I find the Weyrwoman Rilora at this time of day?” He scratched at his beard and noticed she did not have a dragon, among other things. Her figure, for one. “My name is N’kio Raesvan, I’m the WatchRider at Cliffside. What may I call you, Miss…?”
The black haired girl yanked the snaggle out of her hair, eyes following the dragon and Rider pair as they appeared. She carefully tucked all of her hair back behind her as they landed and made their way over to her.
And then the Rider asked her name.
"Elora." She practically purred out her name, glancing over at the Black dragon nearby before giving his Rider the once over.
He was attractive. There was no denying that. He could use a haircut, though. Her eyes slowly worked their way down from his hair to the rest of his body - the charming smile, the red mustache and beard, the lean muscles across his shoulders, his long legs, the weathered skin.
She could practically feel the rough texture on her own, and forced herself to concentrate. Her eyes slipped back up to his face.
Elora gave her most charming smile - which, on a good day, had sent more than one man begging to whisk her away. "Elora. No need for the Miss; I see no reason to be formal. You're a Watchrider? Sounds... dull. No offense."
A second smile - quirky, not as charming as the first, but full of personality - slipped across her face. Back when she had had friends, they had always told her distractions were never the way to deal with problems; that if she was feeling down or thinking about her life, she ought to seize the problem head on.
But the problem would still be there later, and the red-haired N'kio was there right now.
N’kio laughed loudly and shook his head. “None taken, Miss Elora.” He made a slight bow to her, a smirk turning the corners of his lips. “Courtesy forbids me from calling you otherwise,” he said, and straightened once more, smoothing out his riding suit. “Oh aye, it can be very dull work. My first and only love is the sea – not sky – but somehow I found my way to a Hatching. And now,” he said, shrugging his shoulders, “I am both landsman and sea folk. It’s a living, though. But that, I can guess,” he stepped closer, “does not interest you much. Doesn’t interest many, but that’s neither here nor there.” He paused and considered her age, as well as the fact that she did not have a dragon at her side. She seemed more like the flying type to him, but then again, most everyone did. “What business brings you to this Weyr?”
She did not dress like a farmer, that much he could tell. Not that he minded in the slightest. More than likely she was still a candidate, albeit one of the older ones. It was not uncommon now. His eyes moved down her body, curious to see what her hands and feet looked like, only then realizing what his action might appear as. He looked up quickly.
“Forgive me, Miss Elora. I was just…” He grasped for something to say, a compliment, anything…and then he saw it, that second, striking smile. For a moment, her face lit up. He realized there was nothing else he could say. “I apologize for my forwardness, I was just…looking at you, and…Well, I think you have a lovely…smile.” It could have been worse.
That was a wonderful. Truly.
Oh, and I suppose you could come up with something better?
I would not have gotten distracted. I know what you think of her.
Hang a man for thinking, now, are we?
We have business to attend to.
You are no fun at all.
He then decided, a bit recklessly, that if he was already digging his grave, he might as well dig a little bit deeper. “If you don’t mind my asking, Miss Elora…How old are you?”
By the time he had spit out the compliment on her smile, there was a nearly catlike contentment on her face; the smile was smug, spreading ear to ear, and her eyes were glittering with amusement.
"I'm old enough that you wouldn't have to worry, if that's what you're wondering. Because I'm quite certain you've noticed that the rest of me is as lovely as my smile." She tilted her head to the side, raising an eyebrow at him. "And I don't apologize for my forwardness."
Oh, yes, being too forward was always a risk, but she was bored.
That was it. It's not that nobody was interested in her; it's that she wasn't interested in anybody. She was surrounded constantly by Candidates - boring, dull, useless young Candidates who couldn't understand her if her life depended on it. She had been bossed around by Weyrlings younger than her. She had been told that she should focus on chores instead of browsing the Weyr's small library (though, to be fair, she had been supposed to be working on chores at the time). There were no challenges anymore. Everything was complacent and still.
N'kio didn't seem complacent and still, despite having a seemingly boring job. At least he wasn't trapped in the Weyr. He could travel back and forth, even if he did have an obligation to stay at one place.
"As for what business brings me here? I was bored with what I was doing before." Bored wasn't quite the right word, but it would do. "And then I ended up here. You know how it works. I'm much more interested in what you're doing so far away from your Hold. Not that I mind."
She absently reached up and twirled a strand of hair around her finger. Whoops. Oh well. So stereotypical, but often effective. Not that he needs to be pulled in anymore, I think. No fun in a catch if he jumps willingly on the hook. A smile twitched at her face. It's funny, because it's a fish analogy, and he's from the sea.
He stood there speechless, eyes gleaming with surprise, and then he grinned. “Aren’t you a brazen one,” N’kio remarked, the sudden shift in conversation as clear as the direction of the winds. “Aye, I might have noticed something of the sort,” he sniffed, seeming nonchalant as he turned his attention to the Weyr Bowl. The slightest of smiles then lifted the corners of his lips, and he glanced back to her. He gave her an appraising look and crossed his arms, eyes narrowing as he considered her replies, and watched her twirl her hair. He bit his lip to keep from chuckling – she was clever, too. He uncrossed his arms and absently tapped at his thigh with the sealed scroll, and then thought to himself, I’ve got it.
“Oh!” he said suddenly, and made a grand gesture of moving and looking up at the sun. “However enjoyable your company is, Miss Elora, I am bound to the sun, and she is not as patient as you may be. Ne’er will this,” he held the scroll up at eye level, “deliver itself to the Weyrwoman.” He did not see any reason to mention that he had more than a few hours left to deliver the scroll.
Metanath, who had been listening in from his spot in the shade, had already arrived at N’kio’s side. He nudged his Rider in the shoulder, wings flared and at the ready. It is about time you saw sense, Mine.
At least it’s worked on one of you.
“I fear I must leave you now, Miss Elora,” he said, and made a slight bow in her direction, trying hard to keep a straight face. “Your company has been…most stimulating. I only wish this time together was longer.” He mounted Metanath and settled into the saddle, though bade the Black wait a moment. “Perhaps we shall meet again. I would enjoy getting to know you more,” he said, and gave her a quick wink. He knew he was being blatantly obvious, and that was exactly what he wanted. No sense in being serious all the time, he figured.
We are going now, yes?
Possibly. I just want to see something.
And what, tell, is that?
What she will do now.
Why is that of any concern to us?
Have a little patience. You might actually enjoy yourself once this is over.
Metanath flicked his tail and looked out over the Bowl. If it is over as fast as it normally is with you, then no, I do not think I shall.
If he had not been holding onto the saddle, N’kio would have fallen off, so caught off-guard was he by that comment. Well then, he sniffed, cleared his throat, and said nothing more.
He was being quite dramatic about his exit. Too dramatic. He had jumped from humorous but content seaman to dramatic ringmaster in a moment, and Elora couldn't help but smile.
Especially at the comment about getting to know her more.
"Oh dear. If this is what you call stimulating, I'd love to see what you refer to other things as." She finally got off the ground and stood, stretching her arms up over her head. Her shirt lifted slightly, the flash of pale skin appearing for just amount before she lowered them. "But you do have your responsibilities."
She took a step back, mimicking his slight bow with a small flourished bow of her own. "Go on. Do your duty. I suppose you should return to the Hold afterwards, too. Alas. Such... fun," she paused letting the word hang in the air. "...could have been had."
A smile - quick, alluring, daring - flashed over her face for a moment before she turned and began to walk towards the nearest door. He wants to play games? Let's see what he'll do. Because I do love games.
Oh. Yes, I think I may grow fond of this one. She tells you to work. Might as well listen to her.
N’kio refused to speak to him, and sat stubbornly in the saddle.
Sulking will not help you, you know. Now, let us be off. The winds are favorable for our return.
She does not mean that, and…I am not leaving yet, he finally answered, his attention fixed more toward Elora.
“Ah yes, what could have been,” he said, looking down at her from the Black. She played her game very well, and her slight stretch did not slip past him. “Yet, that is the way it must be sometimes.” And yet, he was not certain of what he would do next. He did not mind pursuing her, if it came to it, but that was not what he wanted now. N’kio absently rubbed at the muscles in Metanath’s neck, considering his next move, when he noticed the dragon’s hide was looking patchy…again. It was also quite warm to the touch. “A shame, really,” he nodded to Elora, a plan already forming in his mind.
A shame, indeed, and I am well aware of your opinion on the matter, Metanath replied after listening, eyes yellow as he turned his head and looked at his Rider. He had an idea of what he was scheming. He shifted on his haunches, ready to fly off, wings poised to snap open and grab the air.
Wait a moment, he said suddenly.
Why should I?
If not, you will be a right pain to deal with on the flight back…and the next few days. Best take care of this now.
Oh, Metanath said simply, his eyes narrowing. How convenient.
Isn’t it just? N’kio thought back, smiling.
“Miss Elora,” he called out, leaning back over the saddle to see her. “Before we disembark, I have a question to ask of you, if you will hear it.” He appeared the epitome of innocence, and put on a straight face once more. “Where might I find a spare cask of oil around here? As ready as I am to leave, Metanath, as he is,” he said, a devious glimmer now in his eyes, “now seems to show signs of sunburn. Often afflicts him, the poor creature. It’s the color of his hide, I’d reckon,” N’kio remarked, a bit sympathetically.
“As I was saying, if you happen to know where I might find one, it would save him a lot of discomfort, as I would have to tend to him once I had delivered these messages to the Weyrwoman. He turns nasty as a Queen in Flight if I do not.”
Metanath grumbled indignantly at the comparison, eyes whirling a fast orange.
“Ah,” N’kio said, gesturing to the Black. “It starts.”
Elora's lips twitched with amusement as she watched N'kio procrastinate and then - finally - come up wit his ingenious plan to take care of his Black's hide.
His scheming was cute.
"You know, flying will only make it worse, and the Weyrwoman is only a short walk away. Perhaps if you got your lazy arse-" she mimicked his speech patterns, pausing to smile, "-and walked, I could take care of oiling your beautiful Black. Or at least getting him situated."
She pursed her lips, tilting her head to the side and looking at N'kio. She hadn't played games with a Rider before (or, at least, not one whose dragon was standing right there). She hoped the Black didn't mind.
"Besides, he looks like he could be spoiled. I'd say you don't do it enough, just based on your own - well." She gestured to his clothes, trying to keep a straight face.
Metanath turned to face the girl. He leaned in close and examined her face, eyes shifting in color from orange to yellow to the palest green. When she mimicked his Mine, he rumbled loudly and moved back. I have decided. I like her. She makes sense.
What! And you were the one who wanted to leave. She’s not even –
You seem to forget I have –
No, no, no, I don’t want to hear –
She says that flying –
Oh, is that how it is? Suddenly she’s the expert at –
He was only half-paying attention to Elora, so caught up in his argument until Metanath became quiet and he heard the end of what was said. N’kio arched an eyebrow at her last comment, and automatically looked down at what he was wearing. What’s wrong with it? he wondered, incredulous. He felt Metanath shake beneath him, no doubt highly amused by this turn of events. He rolled his eyes; he had half a mind to dig his heel in the dragon’s side. N’kio slid off the saddle, though not because of what she had said, and began to saunter toward Elora.
“Mmhmm,” he said at last, arms crossed as he turned and faced her. “Clever girl. I've little doubt you could take care of that for me. After all, you are very observant. Call a man lazy, all right," he admitted, "there’s a chance of rain. Lazy arse, on the other hand, well…the way I see it, no need to bring that up unless it was on your mind already.” N’kio matched her coy smile with one of his own, but now he was conscious of her guile. Every little movement she made was now a trap, and he was not going to fall for it. He eyed her with suspicion, though in truth, he was impressed with how she shifted the game so easily to her advantage. She was...amusing. “Metanath,” he then changed the subject, “gets sunburned easily. There isn’t enough oil in all of the world to cover his hide well enough. No, I fear the task would be too much for you. Better if I do it.”
Metanath looked from him to her. She says I look like I could be spoiled.
Aye, ‘could’ be. Not ‘should’ be.
I want to be spoiled.
Oh, I’ll show you spoiled.
Either you do…or she does.
You wouldn’t even think it.
I would. And I am not moving until I am.
Fine, let your hide crack. I care not.
“Like I have said," N'kio shrugged, "your offer is most kind, but I believe I asked a simple question. If you cannot help me, then we have no other option but to move along and finish what we came here to do.” He nodded once, and figured that was the end of it.
Elora blinked in surprise as the Black moved closer to her, his head hovering just inches in front of her. She resisted the urge to place a hand on his nose, instead taking the moment to notice his eyes, his scales, anything she could; just because she was in the middle of a game didn't mean she couldn't indulge the side of her that liked to, well, know. And seeing as the dragons didn't often let her get this close, it was a fantastic opportunity.
While it lasted, of course; the Black pulled his head back a moment later, and she managed to shift her attention back to N'kio as he opened his mouth. Surprise flickered in her eyes as he brought the game to an abrupt change, calling her out on her own actions - subtly, but doing it - and denying her an opportunity to keep playing.
Metanath. Pretty name.
Then he ended the game, and a frown flashed over her face for a moment. She had stepped too far, too quickly. Maybe she was out of practice.
Or maybe, whispered the voice in the back of her head, he just doesn't like you.
No, no, she was merely out of practice; she had forgotten how fickle men (yes, men) could be. Ready to play the game but not ready to take the jabs that could be thrown in; too willing to get offended and not ready to see the thought behind it. What to do, though?
If he didn't want to play the game anymore, than fine. She looked him up and down quickly, letting the smile return to her face. Then she wouldn't play the game. Then she'd just, perhaps, be herself. (Part of her was screaming out vehemently against this; her mask! That's what kept her protected! And the part of her that enjoyed playing games thought this might be a way to inadvertently win. Most of her was just irritated and wanted to show off.)
"Actually, I believe I did offer to help you - just now, with Metanath." She crossed her arms, taking a stronger stance with her legs, standing up straighter. "Seeing as there are only two things I can help you with - Metanath and the Weyrwoman, and seeing as I can't exactly take your message to the Weyrwoman, I offered what I could."
Her mind flashed to her visits to the library, the thing she tried most to keep secret, and the smile grew wider. "For the record, if you don't get his hide taken care of before you leave for the day, it's only going to get worse. Dragon hides react the same way to Between as they do to sunburn; that's why they have to be oiled. Their skin dries out. If his skin is already dry you'll have a harder time getting it to get back to it's normal status."
She paused, and the game part of her pushed the final piece into play. "But considering you're not the one I'd be oiling, I think it's up to your beautiful Black as to whether or not he would like me to care for him for the moment. If he says no, I'd be happy to leave; however, I don't think I should have to listen to you simply because you don't think I could handle it.
Checkmate. Game over. I'm not playing for you anymore. Besides, she'd never oiled a dragon. It could be fun, if Metanath said yes. (And even if he didn't - well - this had been worth it, hadn't it?)
N’kio watched as she took on a number of expressions, from upset to uncertainty to confident and strong. If she didn’t care, he figured, then she would not have put so much into this game – unless that was part of the plan. But he didn’t think so. He took the opportunity to look at her again while Metanath had her distracted, only this time, to really look at her, beyond her physicality. She was still very young, and already knew how to turn situations to her advantage. She was bright, competitive, and confident in her abilities…and he had noticed those. He felt there was much more to her than she let on, but whether or not he would learn of that side was entirely up to her.
And now, she was chastising him. He grinned and listened quietly. He knew he couldn’t argue with her on the grounds of that logic. All Riders knew about Between by heart, and he was no exception, yet here was this young woman schooling him on details only made known to a Weyrling pair once they begun their training. She had no dragon of her own; he had marked her fascination with Metanath as proof of it. She is still a Candidate, then, he concluded, and not yet of rank to know such information. That left only two choices, and he doubted a Rider had enough time to spare to give lessons to a girl without a dragon. He adopted a sort of smugness when he then realized, with only one option left, how she had obtained that knowledge.
Then his jaw dropped when he heard what she had said next, and he turned the slightest shade of pink. Of all the things she could have said, he had not been expecting that at all – anything but that! Which meant, in his mind, she had been thinking about it. He regarded her with curious eyes, and felt torn between approval and incredulity. Oh, she was brilliant. He chuckled, and, remembering his manners, closed his mouth. She had caught him at last. If he refused, she would think that he had thought about her oiling him up, which he hadn’t, but would not deny that he wasn’t thinking about it now. If he accepted anyway, she would have won. Either way, it appeared he had lost.
“W-Well, I…” he stuttered, cleared his throat, and tried again. “You…You make some fair points,” he said at last, tilting his chin up. “It's all left up to him, now,” he tilted his head toward Metanath, who had been sitting on his haunches, watching the conversation.
The dragon turned to face his Rider. Why did she think that?
N’kio looked up to the Black. Think what?
That you needed oiling?
He laughed, and they both looked at Elora, before turning back to their conversation. Never you mind, N’kio replied. She meant nothing by it.
I figured as much. He bumped his Rider on the chest with his nose. Your hide is not as dry as mine. You do not need it.
A smile lifted the corners of his lips. So what's it going to be?
Only too well.
N'kio faced Elora, arms crossed once more, still unwilling to give in. Yet, he knew there was nowhere left for him to go. He inhaled deep and sighed. "Metanath has...consented," he said begrudgingly, at last admitting, in his own way, that she had won. This round, anyway. "Now, if you could, please direct me to where I might find the Weyrwoman at this time of day. People to see, scrolls to deliver..."
Elora's eyes glittered with amusement as N'kio's mouth dropped open, a blush quickly heating up his face. Serves him right.
She could only presume what happened next was a conversation between Metanath and N'kio; the looks exchanged between the two of them said as much. The closest of relationships; being inside each other's heads nearly all the time, knowing how the other feels. I want it and - and I don't.
Because as much as she wanted to be a dragonrider, she couldn't help but think she'd be constantly letting down her dragon, whoever he or she might be. She was careful not to let that train of thought reflect in her eyes, keeping the small smile on her face and quickly diverting her thoughts to a more positive train of thought.
As N'kio admitted Metanath consented, Elora let the smile spread to a beaming grin across her face. "You don't know the way? I thought seafarers always knew where they were going." She gestured in the proper direction, unable to stop the grin that was dancing across her face.
But if N'kio had made a face at her or even said something in response to that, she hadn't heard it; she was already bounding up to Metanath, carefully peering over at each side of him and marking the spots that needed the most oiling. She had seen enough Riders oil; she had used oil enough herself; this, this she could do.
“Ah, I am of little use on land! All I ask is a tall ship, and a star to sail her by,” he replied, and waited another moment as he watched her move to Metanath’s side. Her excitement made him smile. Her face was glowing. He felt, in the strangest sort of way, like he was watching in on something intimate, not meant for him to see. Silly, he thought to himself, since that is not what it is at all. The weight of the scroll in his hand reminded him of what he had come here to do, so with a slight amount of reluctance, he turned away from the sight and began to walk in the direction he had been given.
Metanath, on the other hand, remained where he was. He cocked his head and watched Elora in silence, sitting up politely. Another person had never oiled him before; he wondered what it would feel like, if it were any different. He regarded the girl with patient, blue eyes, his neck twisting as he observed her moving around him.
You are very kind to do this, he offered, reaching out toward Elora’s mind with his own. Mine Rider agrees as well, though would never admit it. He sniffed at the air absently. He is much too proud. Metanath was not sure why he was speaking to her, as he rarely spoke to anyone – save his Rider – but felt it was due, in part, to the fact that she was doing him a favor.
I am Metanath, he introduced himself properly, and you are called Elora, yes? He had not paid enough attention in the beginning of their conversation to catch her name, but that was the word on his Rider’s mind. It must belong to her, he figured.
Elora jumped a little as Metanath's mind glided against her own. She bit her lip, trying to surpress the smile that was growing over her face.
Yes, my name is Elora. She directed the thoughts at Metanath, not certain how to mindspeak. There was an intimacy about it that she loved (and feared), something strange about having a voice in your head that wasn't your own. It was fascinating. I haven't done this before, so if I should, er, that is, if you should want something done specifically, just speak up.
With that, she turned and set off towards where they kept the oil, the smile dancing over her face.