“You scare children? And often get into trouble?” N’kio repeated, unable to keep from laughing at the thought of her terrorizing Weyrbrats. “You are quite the find, Elora. You just keep getting more and more interesting.” His brow furrowed when she mentioned her infamous reputation, but before he could say anything in response, she had stopped and jumped in front of him.
He tried to remain serious as he listened to her spiel, but once he recognized the situation she was in, his smile grew until it matched her own. “So this woman…she’s someone we should avoid. All right, that shouldn’t be too difficult. It’s only been, what, twenty-some turns since I last avoided a Candidate Master?” N’kio frowned slightly. “Didn’t seem that long ago. Hmm.” He shrugged and returned his attention back to Elora, her grin disarming.
“But yes, of course we’ll do that. I remember how it works. Wouldn’t want you getting into more trouble. After all, the day is still young – there’s plenty of time to chase children around and get into trouble later.” He wasn’t sure if he should move now, or where would be safe from this Candidate Master, so he decided he would wait until Elora dragged him off somewhere.
“And if it helps at all,” he said, almost as an afterthought, “Despite what people here may think of you, Elora, I like you. Clearly, they have no idea of fun, so there. Their opinions don’t count.”
Despite what people here may think of you, Elora, I like you. Clearly, they have no idea of fun, so there. Their opinions don't count.
She took a second to let that sink in, to commit the line to memory. Compliments like that weren't gotten often.
And then she flashed him a smile and twirled herself back around, grabbing his wrist and pulling it up, relinking their arms. "That, N'kio, is because you don't know me. Now, where do you think a leatherworker would be hiding, hmm?"
N’kio snorted. "You'll just have to tell me more about yourself, then. I do love a good story. And...now we’re back to that same question: where would we find one? I would assume there would be some sort of market set up; a stall or vendor somewhere nearby. At least, that’s how it is at Cliffside. But we are primarily a trading port, and I don't remember what this Weyr produces. I’ve never haggled here, either, so I wouldn’t know if there’s even a market or a stall around. Your Weyr must have something here, though. You have more dragons than we do.”
He bit his lip, lost in thought as he considered the possibilities, and then glanced over to Elora, a sly smirk toying at his mouth. “But let me guess: you wouldn’t know if there's a market here, either?”
“Think we could avoid your Candidate Master running around the Weyr? Odds are, we’ll have to go someplace where there are other people. If there’s not a market, we will at least have to talk to someone. Maybe you should tell me what this woman looks like before we head off. Wouldn’t want to walk up to her, that’s for certain. Also, it's your turn to pick the direction we go,” he grinned.
Elora would have much preferred to avoid everybody.
"Then we might as well head to Rider quarters. Perhaps somebody there will know. There's always one wandering around, and they might know if we have one. As far as I know, we don't, but I don't know everything."
She didn't bother to describe her Candidate Master; if she was going to start describing the list of people she'd like to avoid, she'd have put the Rider who Searched her on the list, all of the other Candidates she met, anybody who worked in the kitchens and a handful of older Riders, just to start.
The list was long.
"And I've never seen a market. We're kind of dragon-centric, from what I know. But like I said, I don't know everything."
N’kio nodded in agreement. “That sounds like a fair plan. It would probably be best to ask someone who’s been here a few turns longer than y—Whoa, wait a minute.” He paused, as if to repeat to himself what he had just heard, then shook his head in disbelief. “Do you mean to say you’ve never seen a market here, or did you mean you’ve never seen one…at all?”
The thought had never occurred to him that someone might have grown up without a market nearby. Isn’t that strange?
You just take Cliffside for granted, I suppose. Are you done yet?
No. And I don’t, thanks very much.
Hurry it up, or I’m going to fall asleep on you and you will have to walk back on your own.
Fine, I don’t need you.
He smiled to himself, but shrugged off the question. “I suppose it doesn’t matter now. Are there any Riders here that you are friends with, Elora? That could be a good start. Or do you like to scare them as well?” N’kio grinned. “And whenever you’re ready, lead the way.”
Elora laughed as he shrugged off the question. "I've seen markets. I'm not exactly sheltered."
Her mind flashbacked - a market, filled with vendors and the smell of bubbly pies. The rain beginning to fall from the sky. A client wrapping his arm around her, smiling. Leading her back through the market to his house.
She shoved it away with a violent mental push. No reason to think of the past. Not now. Not here.
"Are there Riders I am friends with? Um..." She tilted her head to the side, pretending to think. Her hair drifted with her, and she lifted her hand to reach up and curl a tendril. "If I said no, would you believe me? You're the closest thing I have to a friend."
Her hand twitched and stopped midtwirl as she pulled her head back up to normal. She kept her head turned away from him. "But we can find somebody willing to help you, I'm sure."
N’kio tilted his head to keep his eyes on her face, but she seemed oddly determined to keep him from looking. Brows slightly furrowed, he replied to her question in a quiet voice. “I do believe you, Elora, and I’m sorry to hear that. I'm just going to assume it has something to do with ranking.” He brightened up a little bit as he considered that second thought. “However, I am glad that you consider me to be somewhat of a friend. You’re the closest thing to a friend I have here, as well. Otherwise they’re all business relations, and that’s not fun for anyone.”
Clearly she did not want him to look at her, so he gave up trying. Inhaling deeply, he glanced up at the Heights to see if he could spy Metanath. “Find somebody willing to help. You’re not trying to get rid of me, now, are you?” He chuckled and glanced back at her. “If I’m too much of a distraction for you, you just let me know.”
He could have sworn he heard Metanath groan at that.
This bothered Elora. The whole nobody-liked-her-except-N'kio-who-didn't-know-her thing. And she hadn't realized it until right now, right this second, when she had admitted out loud that she didn't have anybody.
When it was in her head, she could joke her way out of it. Say it didn't matter, or that everybody else was just silly. But when she said it out loud, it hurt.
"I really should get back to chores before the Candidate Master skins me alive." She turned her head towards N'kio, giving him her best smile, hiding the thoughts behind her eyes. "I'm fairly certain you can handle this yourself. Big strong man like you doesn't need me to show him around."
N’kio’s was stunned. Well, I wasn’t expecting that at all. He wasn’t quite sure how to respond. It certainly didn’t sound like good news. Was it something I did? And despite that perfect smile of hers, he could hear the sting in her words – and he reminded himself to thank his father for teaching him how to listen while haggling. Reading people, he realized, was just as beneficial outside of the docks as it was inside the markets. But it seemed Elora knew how to play the game as well, and she hid anything he could read from her with a bright smile. Perhaps a little too bright, considering her next words.
“Elora…” he began, eyes flickering over her face. “If anything I said upset you, I deeply apologize. It wasn’t my intention at all – I hope you know that. If you have to go, feel free. I wouldn’t want to get you in trouble.” He cleared his throat. “Though…you are right, you know,” he added, hesitating slightly. Sink or swim.
“I don’t need you to show me around. I’m sure, given some time, I could figure out this Weyr, or at least find someone who could direct me to where I need to be. But I didn’t do that. I didn’t need your help, Elora. I wanted your help. I enjoyed your company last time and, I have to admit, it’s a small part of why I’m here today. Don’t get me wrong, I am here on business, but I was hoping to run into you again while I was wandering around the Weyr. It seems luck was on my side.”
He shook his head, as if he couldn’t believe what he had just said, and then took a couple steps away from her. If anyone was going to move, he would be the first. “If that’s too much to admit, well…I suppose I’m sorry for that as well. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, I just felt…If it was something I did, I should at least tell you that much.” N’kio shrugged. Nothing more he could do now.
Things are getting interesting now. I had not expected this.
Elora could play games. Games were easy. It was all about figuring out which moves to make to get the end result desired. She had been playing to have a good time, but not get attached. She had made her moves based on his moves. She had been expecting him to be playing the same game.
But he wasn't playing a game.
As he stepped away from her, she tilted her head to the side, watching him, studying him, trying to figure out exactly what was going on. This was new.
She could keep playing her game and pretend like it didn't bother her - no, not bother, confuse her that he was interested in her, not just for fun or for physical recreational activities, but as a person. Or she could stop playing games and just jump in with both feet. That had been what she came to the Weyr to do, hadn't she? To stop playing games with people and to focus on herself and what she wanted to learn and know and do.
Sink or swim. She crossed her arms, straightened her back, and let her head stay tilted to the side, watching him. She was good at watching, observing. That was one thing she had always been good at.
"You don't make me uncomfortable. You just confuse me. And I can't stand being confused."
Up until then, he hadn’t realized that he had been holding his breath.
“I’m glad it’s not the former,” he admitted with a sigh. “Though I’m not quite sure I understand your meaning…I confuse you?” His forehead wrinkled in thought and he straightened where he stood, absently stroking at his beard. “How? What have I done that’s confused you?”
She was defensive, that much was plain. He had seen enough crossed arms to know the meaning. Yet she continued to observe him, as if there was something to figure out. She was unsure of him. I didn’t think I was such a mystery. That’s a new feeling.
N’kio ran a hand through his hair and met her gaze with ease. “I don’t know how I’ve managed to be confusing, but I’m sure it won’t be the last time." He gave a small smile, but made no attempt to hide his own confusion. "Let me know what it is I've done, Elora, and I’ll do my best to explain," he offered.
She tilted her head the other direction, watching him.
Part of her -- the part that played games, that knew how to act to illicit the response she wanted -- wanted her to drop her arms, tuck her hands behind her back, swing back and forth and laugh it off. Say she had been joking, but she really did have work to do, and shouldn't he be finding his leatherworker?
But the other part, the part that had dominated the need to come here -- even if she had gotten here through playing those games -- refused to give in.
So her arms stayed crossed, and she answered as honestly as she could while staying in her comfort zone.
"That. You're strangely honest and nonmanipulative. You seem interested in me rather than certain other recreational activities I could name involving me, and that's... unusual. You're different than the others here. But-" Elora flashed him a quick smile, mildly strained, "- you don't know me. You really should find your leatherworker."
The quick topic switch wasn't one she had planned on, but the need to escape the conversation was twitching at her. She needed to figure out her own thoughts before she could discuss them with N'kio.
If she wanted to discuss them with N'kio.
"If you still want to talk afterwords, I'll be around. Metanath can find me, I'm sure."
But…isn’t that how people act normally? This was the oddest response of all. Out of every possible idea he could have conceived to explain her confusion, this would have never crossed his mind. She changed the topic just as quickly as she gave her explanation, and the sudden shift in conversation left him unable to edge forward. I suppose, for her, it isn’t normal after all. He waited a few moments before speaking, gathering his thoughts, but never dropping his eyes from her.
“Your reasoning is strange to me, but I won’t bother you with more questions right now. And I would like to talk later, if you’ll have me…so to speak,” he said, clearing his throat. “But you’re right – it’s time to look into finding this leatherworker, if such a person exists here.”
N’kio took another couple steps back, though he found he couldn’t move his eyes away just yet. He wanted to give her as wide a berth as she needed; despite the fact that she admitted she wasn’t uncomfortable. Better to be safe than sorry, he reasoned.
I shall find you if you wish, Elora, Metanath’s voice joined in the conversation.
“Thank you for your help this morning. I appreciate it. Oh!” he added, “and if you get stopped by that Candidate Master of yours on the way back, just let her know it was my fault that you were gone. I’m sure I’ll be wandering around here for a bit longer, so if she needs any proof, come find me.”
Or me. I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble for something he encouraged.
"Oh, don't worry about her." Elora flashed a smile, and for just a moment, the Elora she knew N'kio had met -- confident, sassy, sexy -- slipped through. She tilted her head to the other side and laughed slightly. "I'm quite good at avoiding things I don't want to deal with."
Funny. The Elora he had met was the same Elora now. Except with less indecision.
Indecision was an annoying thing.
"Just have Metanath shoot me a message once you're done if you're up for it. I can try to fit room in my obviously hectic schedule for you."
She couldn't tell if she had slipped back into playing a game or if she was just in a flirty mood. She had spent so long doing the first that it was hard find the line. But she needed a few minutes to think, a few minutes to herself.
More than a few minutes. But at least a few minutes.
“I-I’ll do that,” N’kio answered, feeling more perplexed than before – if such a thing were possible – at her change of mood. Good at avoiding things she doesn’t want to deal with…I think a talk would be good for the both of us. I have some questions of my own that need answering.
Just at that moment, Metanath touched down beside the pair in a small flurry of wind. With a brief nod to Elora, he refolded his wings neatly against his back and nudged his Rider’s shoulder. Come along. Lots to buy…and remember, you put the bag with the Marks on me. If you want anything, you’ll just have to stay on task.
He turned his head to Elora. Knowing him, we will speak soon, he said, the colors in his eyes rolling. Have a good time working.
With a slight smile, N’kio bowed his head to her, turned on his heels, and began to walk off toward the Rider weyrs with Metanath.
You are troubled, he said, once they were further away from the spot they had left. He had been unusually quiet since they had left her.
You could say that. I'm just thinking. But then, you know what happened.
Yes, I do.
So what does it mean?
I’m not sure… pondered Metanath. You shall just have to ask her. I would like to know as well. One thing is certain, though.
I never saw that coming.
N'kio chuckled softly. "Nor I." That makes quite a few times already. He patted Metanath on the shoulder. "Now, whose door should we knock on first?"