A Bad 'Fall

East Bowl
Stone slabs slope gently from one to another as the bowl floor extends outwards. The bowl is a mix of bare patches of darkly hued stone and grittier bits of dust and pebbles. The pebbles and dust combine into a rough dirt which has been slowly worn down over time and settled into the lower spots slowly evening out the bowl floor. The rustle of the Weyr's herd can be heard, and often smelt, to the northeast where behind the grounds the closest part of the bowl wall rises majestically toward the sky. From here one also gets a good view of the seven spindles curling about the rim to the north, spreading east and west like fingers safely protecting all within. The chilly lake waters sparkle invitingly behind its pebbly shore to the southeast, while much of the activity about the Weyr can be seen distantly in the northern portion of the bowl.

It would have been better if it were night and snowing - but it's neither of those things on this clear, crisp, winter's afternoon. The end of the Turn and start of the next is already off on a fine foot indeed, with the Weyr's bowl being rapidly filled with wing after wing of fighting dragon. The acrid smell of firestone mingles with the scent of oil and leather and metal; the fighting wings stoke the flames of their lifemates, while the goldriders busy themselves with agenothree tanks. Shailaja is among them, dressed in her leathers and with bare hands quickly working at the device to ensure it works correctly. The youngest weyrlings are on the sidelines, watching and learning - many with pale faces as they realize just what their lives will become. There are Healers and Dragonhealers alike on hand - some ready to tend to the injured here, others prepared to take their arts further afield - and everyone is tense and ready for the inevitable. Ground crews are assembled and paired with a few wings meant to escort them to the 'Fall location.

"It's going to be over High Reaches Hold," bellows one fellow; the information is swiftly relayed through the ranks, with images being shared, refined, and adjusted as necessary.

"Maybe it'll freeze anyway," one hopeful mutters.

"Be a fine day if it does," another grunts. "Been hearin' the 'Falls have been bad everywhere, even Igen."

Someone snorts. Someone else calls for more firestone. The Wingleaders start barking out formations. And so it goes.

Ariah and Vintroth are here amongst their fellow Wingriders, also preparing to meet the menace. The female bluerider is ignoring any funny looks she may get as she works on lugging on Vinnie's straps. The blue, eager to be off to face his foe, is dancing in place which is making the process take longer than needed. "Vinnie!" mutters Ariah with a hint of annoyance to her tone.

S'eos was probably among those muttering a few oaths and grumbled complaints as he works on triple checking Nuaeth's straps while the green patiently chewed firestone. Her wings flutter restlessly, however and her eyes whirl with flickers of red and yellow. "No sense grousing about it," he grumbles sourly. "Fall is 'Fall and it's never easy. Some of us won't be coming out of it." How… uplifting? Ignoring any looks he may receive, he'll mount up and start demanding to have firestone sacks brought to him. Chop chop?

Meanwhile, Eodarin is hovering not far from where Shailaja is — or rather, she's mounted up and ready on Orayth. The large gold swivels her head one way, then the other, as if to observe all the preparations under a heavily critical eye. She rumbles, but it's Eodarin who speaks up, lifting her voice up loud enough to be heard. "Of all the days! Orayth seems to think morale is a little shaky."

There are a couple of riders side-eyeing Vintroth and Ariah, though they're called to task by their own Wingleaders. Most are already mounted or getting there; some others are still rushing about, getting sacks of firestone to hand off. Some of the sturdier weyrling riders are finally allowed to help hand out firestone sacks while their dragons remain behind at the sidelines; it's one of the blueriders-to-be that bring a pair of sacks to S'eos before retreating.

The call to mount up is officially given some moments later; most are already ready, but those last few now have a narrow window in which to get ready.

"Maybe it'll be a better 'Fall for us," a brownrider dares to hope.

"You obviously weren't listening to the reports out of Fort or Ista," his bluerider wingmate replies sourly.

Shailaja isn't yet mounted - but she will be by the time the call is given. She's deftly seated and strapped in, tank in place, and helmet ready to be pulled on. She glances at Eodarin and nods, worrying her lower lip just a little. "Ruebalith's saying the same. It's an ill wind that's blowing, she says." Whatever that might mean. Her gold is anxious, as she always is, in those moments before a 'Fall. "I hope it's uneventful," but even she sounds like she's trying to convince herself of that hope.

Ariah's head is held high with nary a glance around her.Vintroth's crunching seems unusually loud in her ears causing her to wince a bit. Once the straps are settled, sacks of firestone acquired and she mounts up then she looks around herself. Drawing in a deep breath she continues to murmur quiet words to her life mate. "Be strong. Be fast and be steady. We got this." Whatever nerves this teen has she's doing a good job, for now, keeping them unseen. Her inside worries aren't reflected in her expression or movements.

Orayth's head lifts high as if to scent those very winds and she rumbles uneasily again. Eodarin leans forwards to rub a gloved hand over the gold's hide, her grimace all but hidden behind her face mask. "We've got good riders here, Shailaja! At least the weather is holding?" Famous last words? When the call is given, she'll let out one last uneasy sigh and then start preparing herself mentally for what's to come. Helmet is bucked on, goggles fixed into place and her tank and nozzle checked yet again.

S'eos will likely be a total prickly burr to that poor Weyrling, all while Nuaeth tries to calm him (and apologize in her own way). "Hoping for a better 'Fall is like hoping winter will be warm!" he fires back to that brownrider, giving a scoffing snort and even glancing to Ariah. She'll be given a roll of his eyes. Honestly, the comments, right? Ugh. Then it's on to preparations for him and his focus, thankfully, shifts to himself and his green.

It's only when all the riders and passengers are mounted that the leaders raise their fists in the air. To the skies, then, in a calculated sequence that will put each wing on its proper tier. "Steady!" is barked aloud by one Wingleader, the sentiment echoed by his dragon and carried ever outward, a ripple of wordless reassurance and strength sent across all the dragons of the Weyr.

The brownrider shoots a look at S'eos - but is quickly reined in by another wingmate. "We fly. Focus on the 'Fall, yeah?" And they will, when it's their turn to go aloft.

"We do have some good riders. The best!" And, yet, there's something to her tone that's troubled and she's quick to busy herself with last minute checks to avoid it. Shailaja pulls her helmet and goggles on and forces herself to breathe slowly. Ruebalith's thoughts are distant - but she is there, her mental voice a faint melody carried on desert winds. And then it's time to rise into the sky and she'll go with the rest of her wing - even if that thread of a melody in her mind has taken a discordant edge.

Ariah shifts nervously up atop Vintroth, constantly adjusting her helmet and goggles. Vintroth continues to shift in place, rustling his wings open and close repeatedly. Once the fists rise then a calm settles fully on her as Vintroth leaps up with perfect timing with the rest of his wing to settle into place in the sky.

Orayth's voice lifts in a bugle of challenge but it's meant to inspire others as well. To battle! They're Reachian dragons! If they can handle blizzards and freezing cold, what's a bit of Thread? Her mind joins the others, linked firmly and ready to share those ripples of commands back and forth. Eodarin just huddles grimly in her seat, clutching tight to both flamethrower and straps as the gold takes wing and soars into place among the Queen's Wing.

S'eos will remain silent for once when the call goes out to fly. Leaning forwards as Nuaeth springs aloft, the green moves swiftly to take up her position in their Wing. No time now for snark and sass. There's work to be done! And if they wish to live to see another day, they need to focus.

And then: *between*

Black. Blacker. Blackest.

Three heartbeats - and there it is, the leading edge of the 'Fall. It's enough to elicit a few quick orders among the wings, shifting things around in the air.

« Too early! » relays one of the bronzes.

« Join the upper flight! » one of the browns commands of his wing.

« Ready yourselves! » a blue cries, his voice sparking with electricity and ozone.

It's a frantic scramble, with the roiling edge of Threadfall making not only an early appearance - but a heavy one. The Hold below is battened down, ground crews geared and at the ready, with Healers scattered where they need to be. The Queen's wing remains low and lean; there's a smattering of other riders, but the wing is flying lighter than it usually does - a good sign, most of the time. Shailaja, for her part, seems steady and ready. Ruebalith, too, appears to have calmed in the face of their lifelong foe - her song, faint as it is, settles into something closer to a battle hymn, a steady and wordless drumming that's both primal and urges steadiness. To battle! Her rider grips the nozzle and turns her head skyward, eyes wide behind the goggles.

And the first curls of fire can be spottest in the highest flights, with a faint fall of ash eventually making its way down.

It's begun.

Ariah can feel the rumble of Vintroth's growling once they emerge from the cold of Between with the roiling edge of Threadfall so close. Blue wings pound the air as he maintains his position within his wing easily enough. He and Ariah wait to engage with the airborne enemy. They are ready!

Orayth likewise shows a rare display of teeth as lips draw back in a snarl to the age-old nemesis. Could be too that the gold wishes to do more than stay so low but she knows better than to defy orders. For now. Eodarin prepares her flamethrower, silently grateful that no one can see her expression or the way her hands tremble despite their firm grip beneath thick gloves. No turning back now! They have to see this through… no matter what happens.

S'eos and Nuaeth reappear from Between, the green shifting to adjust herself into position among the formation. She's not far off from Vintroth's side and the normally passive green voices a growl of her own.

The Thread falls in thick clumps and clusters, followed by sheets of the same. The upper flights must content with the heavier knots of the stuff, while heavy curtains of Thread fall toward the middle flights. Isolated bursts of fire quickly turns into a rapidfire eruption from all the wings, as they engage their age old menace in a timeless battle. Smoke and ash fill the air and it's not long before a few pairs are forced to crunch down some firestone to restoke the flames. It's not yet time for resupply - but, gauging from this early need to refuel, it might not be long.

In the Queen's wing, there's not yet much to do, save to wipe the falling ash from goggles or ensure the tanks are ready and working. The silvery threads haven't yet filtered past the ranks, but it won't be much longer before they do. It isn't too much to handle yet - but the leading edge is coming fast and it's coming harder than it's ever come in 'Falls past.

A sheet of Thread, knotted along one side, drifts menacingly toward Ariah and S'eos.

As their wing gets deep into the thick of fall, Vintroth and Ariah move together as a well oiled machine. Relying on their ingrained training to twist and turn they stay within position fairly well. Seeing the sheet of thread headed towards them Vinny below a challenge and leaps up while flaming to get it. Arian ducks in tight to his neck with her fists clenching tightly on the straps.

The thread is consumed by fire, reduced to ash and char that falls harmlessly away. Another boiling mass of the stuff is half-burned, but still manages to fall past the brownrider that started the job - and it'll fall to someone else to finish it.

The keening of dragons has already begun - two are injured, then a third. A fourth goes *between* and narrowly misses a patch of thread that would have taken off a wing; but it ends up engulfing the green's wingmate, who wasn't paying enough attention.

There is no time to mourn.

The thread finally starts breaking past the upper defenses, spurring the Queen's wing into action. Shailaja misses the first bit of thread she aims at, but she hits it the second time. The other riders in the wing are doing likewise, but something inevitably gets past the gaps in even those defenses.

Ariah gets a face full of ash as Vinnie veers left after his flame consumes the thread. Spluttering a bit the pair return to ranks. Darting here and there Vintroth catches small twists of thread that are in his path. His flame starts to stutter finally despite his best efforts to conserve it. Refuel time for this blue!

« Stay in position! » is the warning from an older, thoroughly scarred bronze.

A younger greenrider pair doesn't heed the advice and ends up both Threadscored and singed for their troubles; crossing into friendly fire is a rarity, but it appears the young lad's nerves were utterly shot. They join the growing number of dragons on the ground; the Weyr, too, is slowly gathering more and more of the lesser injured, those that can hop back in at a moment's notice once they're patched.

Another coil of Thread drifts down and manages to catch S'eos and Nuaeth unawares; it's unclear just how it happened or how badly injured the pair are, but they seem to make it back to the Weyr - alive, if not wholly intact.

Ariah and Vintroth will find themselves in a tricky position - they had better refuel quickly, or figure out some other way to get around the sheet of Thread that's floating quickly their way!

Far below, the Queen's wing continues to fight what they can, but it's clear that what's getting through is too much for them - and for the ground crews, for that matter. While both Shailaja and Eodarin do their duties and do them well - trembling hands aside - there's only so much they can do. The only light at the end of the tunnel is that the trailing edge of 'Fall is finally visible - but it's just not coming fast enough.

Vintroth rumbles again in challenge to this menace. Tiring a bit but stubbornly staying in the fight he crows defiance towards the thread! As pairs disappear around them, Ariah gets more and more worried. "Watch it…" she mutters unheard way up here. Burping flame upwards suddenly Vinnie and Ariah realize that they need to refuel quick than thought. Turning his head to get stone they are drifting right into a sheet of thread falling straight for them. Ariah shrieks a warning, the firestone slipping from her fingers to fall to the ground somewhere below. Vintroth twists quickly but is unable to fully avoid the tangle of thread. A shriek of pain escapes both blue and rider!

A young rider running resupply is lost when he misjudges where he's supposed to be; another smattering of injuries follows in a cluster after Ariah and Vintroth are struck. The bit of firestone - fortunately - doesn't hit anyone on the way down, though it does land near enough to someone on the groundcrew that they cry out.

The end comes - but it feels like an eternity has passed. Below, the wailing of dragons and riders alike can be heard, mixed in with orders barked by Healers. The ground crews continue their duties, but something isn't right. More than just the sheer number of injured and dead, there's something utterly amiss.

Shailaja, for her part, tries to calm her shaking hands, but it's hard to do when all of her is shaking. Ruebalith is straining every fiber of her being to try to keep the injured calm - even Vintroth will feel the dry brush of her mental breeze and feel the sobering effect of the young queen's influence. The melody is soft and thin, but meant to cajole and defend against panic.

The Queen's wing will be the last to return to the Weyr when the time has come - but it will not be with a sense of triumph.

Vintroth by instinct pops between to loosen the clinging thread. Going back to the weyr he lands roughly down on the bowl, loudly keening his pain which lessens somewhat with Ruebalith's dry mental touch. His panic is kept at bay, for now. Ariah fumbles with her straps.

The bowl is a barely controlled madhouse. The most injured are tended to where they land - or fall, in some cases. The lesser injured are quickly shuffled off to other areas where the Healers can do their work without risking others.

Ruebalith lands heavily in the bowl and Shailaja's quick to strip off her helmet and goggles; quick to hand off her tank. She's been trained enough in Dragonhealing to be of some use - and that's fully what she intends to do. She's calm all the while, her nerves having gone beyond frayed to completely fried. She's numb, but that's just what happens, sometimes. Ariah just happens to be the first she sees and calls to. "How is he? How are you? Do you need-" anything, at this point. Her tongue is tied. Ruebalith, meanwhile, keeps reaching and pressing, tamping down panic and fear and pain with her own exertions. She's shaking a little with the effort by now, but there are too many that need the help - and not enough golds to go around.

Another dragon is lost. Then, no more.

Vintroth is whimpering steadily now. Ariah manages to dislodge herself from her straps to slide down. Later an inspection of said straps will reveal a spot thread sliced nearly all the way through. For now though her main concern is Vintroth. Clamping a hand to her bleeding cheek she waves a hand towards his side where he's been scored just under the wingsail. "Is it bad? Oh faranth I think it's bad!" panic in her voice.

One thing at a time. Shailaja flags down one of the many assistants scurrying around with supplies and quickly strips her gloves off to jam them into her belt. "Are you okay?" She tries again, fixing her attention briefly on Ariah's bleeding cheek. "We'll- here, I'll get him and you talk to that nice Healer there to get your cheek patched up. He'll be okay, I promise. It's not that bad. Just breathe for me, okay? Just breathe." Shailaja's tone remains even and calm, even if, when she isn't speaking, she's worrying at her lower lip. She ducks under to look at the injury, then goes through the process of washing her hands in redwort - and then washing the wound, while Ruebalith shifts her focus mostly to Vintroth. She rarely uses words, this queen, but she finally issues a melodic and breathless, « Stay calm and all will be well. »

Ariah's eyes shift and move constantly, never veering too far from Vintroth. She's showing definite signs of shock here though her only visible injury is hidden under her hand. "Fine. I'm fine…take care of Vinnie." some of Shailaja's words sink in eventually because her eyes focus on the woman in front of her and she takes two deep breaths. Then Shailja ducks away to wash her hands and Ariah half twists again to look to Vinnie once more.

"It's okay," is a litany that Shailaja says only partially for Ariah and Vintroth's benefit. It's practically a mantra at this point. After the washing is done, she oils her hands and gets into the numbweed. She applies it with a deft touch, her eyes narrowed a bit against the sudden beading of sweat at her brow. "I can't really- it's in an odd place," she finally says. "I can't bandage it. You'll have to be very careful not to get the numbweed all over, you know?" The layer of numbweed is thin, but effective; it'll kill the pain almost immediately. "Just have the Dragonhealers check him every day for a few days, yeah?" Shai glances over at Ariah and tries on a smile that doesn't fit right; but she tries and that's all she can do. "He's fine. We'll all be fine." Ruebalith leans in after a moment, aiming to press her nose to Vintroth's, if he'll allow it.

With the application of the numbweed to his injury, Vintroth's whimpers falter then stop. Crooning softly he presses his nose wearily against the golden queens. It's been a long night for the pair of them and he offers his mental touch briefly to his queen. Still barely minding her own injured cheek she nods at the instructions given to her. "Careful. Numbweed. Every few days. Got it." she peaks around at the chaos the bowl is still in. "Thank you Shai." she murmurs. "Go help others. We'll be fine."

Instruction given and dragon tended to, Shailaja's able to take a breath. "Good," is all she can think to say to Ariah and Vintroth. "Good." And she has time only for that breath before she's on the move again, with Ruebalith reaching out to the next soul in need.

The final tally won't be known until the next day, but the numbers already look grim. Too many losses. Too many injured. And, worse: there were burrows.

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