They knew it was a longshot to get selected, but Apex approached the Weyr with their head held high. Hazel eyes shone with confidence — they hoped — beneath an unusually tidy mop of rainbow streaked tresses (and wasn’t hair dye the coolest invention of the Interval?). The way into Benden Weyr stood open and unguarded; no guards were necessary when you had hundreds of dragons ready to leap to the defense should anyone be foolish enough to try something.
When they emerged from the entrance tunnel, Apex lifted a hand to shade eyes squinted to narrow slits in response to the bright sunlight. It wasn’t long before someone approached. Apex pegged her for a queen rider from her shoulder knots and was a bit shell shocked (get it? shells? in a Weyr?) to be greeted by someone so important.
“Hello.” It seemed the rumors about Benden were true, that they didn’t hold much on ceremony and protocol, at least not outside of drills. The woman’s voice was warm and friendly, matching the smile lighting up her large gray eyes. “Can I help you with something?”
Here was the hard part: communicating their wishes while unable to speak. Typically Apex traveled with a pad of paper for such an event, but had been so worried about sneaking out sight unseen that they’d forgotten.
Lifting their chin, they pointed at the scarring over their throat, then met the Weyrwoman’s eyes again and pointed at their lips with a shrug.
“Oh!” She nodded in understanding. “Quinn! Bring paper and pencil!”
A young boy hurried over with the required objects, face held in serious lines of gravitas while he passed his burden to the woman. Once done, though, he shot a mischievous grin at Apex and waved before running off to… do whatever kids did in a dragonweyr.
She passed them over to them, and smiled again. “Sorry, where are my manners? I’m Morgan, rider of gold Rialth.”
They quickly scrawled on the paper, ‘Apex. From the Hold.’ Yeah, they knew the implication was a bit dishonest — that they came from Benden Hold, rather than one much farther away — but they weren’t ready to share their whole life story with a stranger, even if that stranger was a dragonrider.
“Nice to meet you. And how can the Weyr help you, Apex?”
‘I heard there’s eggs on the sand. I came to volunteer as a candidate.’ Bold words, maybe, but meekness had never been their way.
Morgan’s eyes widened as she read the page. She tapped a finger against her lips, small furrows marring the skin between her eyebrows. “Well, you understand it’s up to the dragons, really. And the Search has already been concluded.” As Apex watched, she seemed to have an internal argument, her eyes going hazy and unfocused. They realized she must be talking to her dragon when they heard a commanding bugle ring out, answered by a strident trumpet of sound.
A thunderclap and whoosh of colder air than Apex knew could exist, and a deep blue dragon was landing nearby. He crooned in welcome as the Weyrwoman approached and scratched his eye ridges.
“Falcoth here is one of our finest Search dragons,” Morgan said. “I’ve asked him to take a look at you.”
Apex felt an odd sensation, as if someone — something — was rooting around inside their head. They focused on staying calm, on projecting feelings of confidence and how sincerely they wished to be a dragonrider. After several long moments, the blue dragon trilled, bobbed his head in what looked like a nod (did dragons nod? did they mimic any other human gestures?) and took off.
Smoothing their hair from the buffet of air in the dragon’s wake, Apex looked at the Weyrwoman hopefully. Any attempt at playing it cool was gone, and why bother? Who wouldn’t be excited at the prospect of being allowed to stand for a Hatching?
“Falcoth likes you,” Morgan said cheerfully, her grin broadening. “Come along, I’ll see you settled in the candidates’ barracks. You’re just in time for lunch, and then you can join the afternoon classes.”
Barely feeling the stones beneath their feet, Apex followed the Weyrwoman, lost in daydreams of the dragon they would bond with. They’d love a clever blue like Falcoth, one of their favorite colors (and since there were no violet dragons, blue would do nicely). But honestly, any color would be fine with them from gold to green — any dragon that chose Apex, they were prepared to give their entire heart away in an instant, if only they were chosen.
An insistent hum woke Apex in the dead of night. Sitting up on their cot, they rubbed the sleep from their eyes and looked around curiously. They saw their fellow candidates in various states of waking up and dressing in the billowing, white candidate robes, and realized what was happening: the hum was the draconic welcome to the newborn, the eggs were going to hatch soon!
Apex leaped up and stripped off their pajamas in a hurry, pulling the white robe overhead so quickly they nearly stumbled over the hem. Beggars couldn’t be choosers, and as the last candidate to join the class, they hadn’t had much choice on the ritual garb — too long had seemed wiser than too short.
They filed outside with the others, grateful they had paused to step into their thick-soled leather boots. Even through the heavy material, the sands were scorching! But their attention was quickly drawn away from such a banal detail as that by noticing about a third of the eggs were already rocking.
Some candidates circled eggs that they’d decided held a bronze, or a brown, or whatever dragon they dreamed of. Apex simply chose a spot somewhat near the center of the Hatching Grounds. If a dragon chose them, proximity didn’t matter. In one of the classes, the Weyrlingmaster had regaled them all with the tale of Mirrim and her green Path, who had practically climbed into the stands to find her. Plus this way they were out of the way of clusters and crowds; since there weren’t any eggs in this part of the sandy expanse, Apex had the spot to themself.
They heard a crack, and whipped their head around to look. A tiny blue head poked out from a shattered eggshell and Apex felt their heart pound. Could this be their blue? But no, it went for a woman standing nearby. Maybe proximity did matter? Shards, it was too late now. Eggs were hatching everywhere! Apex watched as dragons of all colors but gold hatched and found their fated life partners, saw the beatific smiles wreathing the faces of the new riders as they led the dragonets off for their first meal.
There were still eggs left. One of them just had to be for them!
Bouncing on the balls of their feet anxiously, Apex darted hazel eyes around to try and see every egg that was hatching at the same time. So caught up were they in this attempt that they were taken aback by the piteous creel behind them and they almost tripped over their own feet when they turned around.
A mere pace behind Apex, stretching its small wedge shaped head on its long neck entreatingly towards them, was the most perfect newborn bronze dragon Apex imagined had ever existed. They knelt down and reached out to help steady him, thinking welcoming thoughts.
I am Falleth, a voice intruded on Apex’s thoughts, and they realized it was their dragon. And you are my rider and I love you.
I am Apex and you are perfect, Apex thought back, realizing that there was now one being on Pern that they could ‘speak’ to. Tears shone in their eyes as they stood up. Let’s get you something to eat.
The little bronze warbled approval of that plan, so Apex led him off to the area the Weyrlingmaster had told their class was for the hatchlings’ first meal. Buckets of herdbeast meat cut into bite sized morsels lined one stone wall, and Apex led Falleth over to one such bucket, watching intently as he began to eat.
Not too fast, they cautioned. You’ll choke.
All around them, people were talking excitedly. The new riders’ families and friends were congratulating them, and some of Benden Weyr’s senior riders were welcoming them. Apex felt a pang of sadness that there was no one here to offer them a similar sentiment. They looked around for Morgan or the Weyrlingmaster, but didn’t see either. Of course they’d both be busy today. Several Benden riders did stop and wish them and Falleth well, but when Apex didn’t respond verbally, they seemed too impatient to wait as they wrote their half of the conversation.
You don’t have to say anything, Falleth insisted. I will speak for you.
Apex felt a rush of warmth and wrapped their arms around the small bronze. They felt a rush of freedom realizing all over again that while they didn’t respond to Falleth’s words with words of their own, that they could. Tears threatened to escape from tightly closed hazel eyes, so they stayed that way, wrapped around their draconic partner, the clamor of the crowd fading away until their entire world was Falleth.
“Congratulations!” A cheerful voice that Apex recognized broke in on their reverie. Unwinding themself from Falleth (who immediately went back to eating, the glutton), Apex straightened and nodded respectfully at the Weyrleader. Taking pad and pen from their pocket, Apex scrawled out a hasty ‘Thanks!’
“Falleth looks well,” Nicholas continued, circling the ravenous dragonet to get a better look. “Good proportions. Nice even coloring of the hide, no blemishes — and oiling will see that he develops none as he grows.”
Apex nodded enthusiastically, already daydreaming about caring for their dragon, the way even those casually intimate moments like bathing and oiling could deepen their bond.
Morgan walked up and shared a smile of greeting with Nicholas before turning her beaming countenance on Apex and Falleth. “I had a feeling about you from the day we met,” she admitted. “I knew you’d Impress, though I’d pegged you for a blue.” Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully, though her smile didn’t diminish in brilliance. “I wonder how else you’ll surprise us?”
Apex chuckled silently and grinned at the Weyrwoman and Weyrleader. They wondered how they would surprise themself. Never in a thousand Turns had they expected their plan of ‘I’ll just go to the Weyr and they’ll let me stay’ to result in Impressing a bronze dragon. Apex didn’t know what else the future would hold, but they knew one thing: they were excited to find out.
And now… they wouldn’t face it alone.
Falleth crooned encouragingly, butting his wedge-shaped head against Apex’s hip until Apex reached down to scratch at his eye ridges. Apex knelt on the sand, not caring how uncomfortable the heat was on their knees. They hugged Falleth tightly, their smile brilliant as hazel eyes met that scintillating rainbow regard.
Such happiness filled them, that they felt like they were already flying.