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Fire on the Mountain

Chapter Text

Lalanith and Deissa want us. L'dar groaned at Santh's voice waking him from his sleep.

What is it now? he asked.

V'mir and Derth saw smoke rising from one of the volcanoes while they were riding sweep, she answered. Derth did not understand what it meant.

Well, I guess we'll have to go to Lalanith and Deissa, then, he said. Is T'lan coming?

Tarnoth says yes.

Good, L'dar said, smiling to himself. He felt Santh's pleasure as well. He and Santh had Impressed at the same hatching as T'lan and Tarnoth, four Turns previously, and both had taken their Oaths of Wizardry shortly thereafter. Their Ordeal had occurred jointly, though both of them preferred not to dwell overmuch on its events, and since then they had been fast friends, and occasionally bedmates. Santh was due to rise soon, and L'dar was confident Tarnoth would be the one to fly her again.

He struggled to sit up, shivering slightly in the late autumn chill: there had been a frost the previous Sevenday, and Saltam, one of the older women who worked in the lower caverns, claimed she could feel a snowfall coming in her bones. He disentangled himself from his sleeping furs and cast about for his underthings. A few minutes later, fully dressed, he asked Santh, Should we fly up to her weyr or are we meeting elsewhere?

Lalanith says it would be indiscreet for the four of us to visit all at once, Santh said after a moment. You and T'lan are to meet her in the record hall; it is empty currently. Tarnoth and I will listen.

"To the record hall I go, then," he said to himself, and began his descent to the main area of High Reaches Weyr, where the record hall and other such facilities — including the kitchens — were located. He met T'lan in the corridor outside the hall.

"Dai, cousin," the tall, lanky blue rider greeted him, flashing him an infectious grin that never failed to bring out L'dar's own smile. There was something about T'lan's eyes, a shade of light brown that occasionally looked slightly red, depending on the light, that did it. It was possible the memories of that mouth during their nights sharing a bed contributed something as well, but L'dar had observed other people's reactions to T'lan's smile and knew he was not alone in his response.

"Dai stihó," L'dar answered him, smiling back. "Cousin."

They turned then to the door of the record hall. It was closed, but Deissa's voice answered T'lan's knock almost immediately.

"Come in!"

T'lan pushed the door open and he and L'dar slipped inside. The record hall was filled with old parchment, dating back to the earliest days of the weyr, although the oldest records were by now nearly illegible. The weyrwoman, whose responsibility it was to maintain the records, did her best to keep the room clean, but really the only shelves without a thin layer of dust over them were the shelves with the records of the last few Turns, since the exile of the Oldtimers to Southern. Their departure had left the weyr almost unstaffed save for a few young green riders, including two others of the High Reaches Weyr's complement of wizards, M'dun and his dragon Lenrath.

There were eighteen wizards in the weyr, including several members of the headwoman's staff and one journeyman tanner, Vanader, originally from Bitra, as well as seven dragon and rider pairs. Deissa and Lalanith were currently acting as Seniors for all of High Reaches Weyr's territory. The dragon and rider wizards conducted regular sweeps of the length of the High Reaches range, watching for untoward geological activity: the wizards of the High Reaches were widely acknowledged as the planets' foremost experts on geomancy.

"Ah, T'lan and L'dar," Deissa said as they entered the room. She was a pleasant-looking woman nearly thirty Turns old, and at the moment she was several months pregnant. "I assume you've heard the news."

"Santh said V'mir and Derth saw smoke in the range." L'dar said.

"But where?" T'lan asked. "And how? We just finished our last sweep before this Fall, and there was no new activity."

"I know. I don't like it," Deissa said. "It's far west, near a smallhold under the authority of High Reaches Hold. Based on V'mir's report, the activity seems relatively minor, but I'm arranging for the two of you to go to investigate, check the fault, and make sure it won't cause any immediate harm to the smallholders. I've already spoken to the weyrleaders and they have agreed that the two of you be sent. You are to identify possible redirection venues for the excess energy being released and if possible put a barrier in place to at least slow the effects of the activity."

"Understood," T'lan said, and L'dar nodded.

"Good," Deissa said. "The sooner you can get back and report, the better."

"We'll leave right away," L'dar said.

"And we'll send word as soon as we find anything," T'lan said.

"Good," Deissa said, sounding relieved. "I know I can count on you. You can get the location from Derth."

T'lan gestured for L'dar to lead the way out of the hall. When they had closed the door behind them, the blue rider frowned deeply.

"We just finished surveying the areas around the hold, and I know we didn't miss anything — Tarnoth wouldn't let us." He smiled ruefully. "And T'vid's not the type to do a less than thorough job on something like this."

"P'tel...?" L'dar began, but rejected the possibility before even articulating it. "Impossible." P'tel and his dragon, bronze Fidweth, were the High Reaches Weyr wizards' rising stars. New rumors circulated practically every week guessing at what fantastic Ordeal the two had had and speculating about when they would be elevated to Advisory status (perhaps, the most recent round suggested, P'tel would be chosen to lead a new weyr on the Southern Continent). Fidweth was one of the fastest bronzes at the weyr; it was only a matter of time before his persistence and speed paid off in a mating flight; he had only missed Lalanith in her last flight by a matter of moments.

"Maybe M'dun?" T'lan suggested. "He's seemed a little distracted lately."

"Maybe..." L'dar said, but he was not sure he believed it.

"Well, it'll be Deissa's problem to figure out," T'lan said. "In the meantime, we need to get going. I'll meet you aloft in fifteen minutes?"

"Make it ten," L'dar said, knowing T'lan liked a challenge.

"Last up has to clean up the other's riding gear tonight," T'lan said, winking.

"Deal," L'dar said. "Hope you're ready for maintenance duty."

"So confident!" T'lan said, laughing as their paths diverged — their weyrs were located down different passages. "See you in the air."

Santh, get ready to fly, L'dar said silently to his dragon as he hurried to his weyr.

I already got the location from Derth, Santh said smugly, and passed him an image of a smoking mountaintop. Tarnoth won't beat us to the wing, in any case. Lenrath says she and M'dun didn't go near the area on during their sweeps — it was only Fidweth and Desith. Desith was T'vid's brown.

I don't like this, L'dar said as he arrived at the door to their weyr. Too many unknowns.

Do you think this could be the work of the Cold One? Santh asked, her mental voice dropping to a whisper.

"Anything is possible," L'dar said aloud as he entered the weyr. The thought had crossed his mind. "The sooner we get going, the sooner we can fix whatever's wrong."

He had taken care after the Fall to neatly fold and store his riding things. He slipped on the thick fur-lined jacket and grabbed Santh's harness. A few minutes (certainly less than ten) later, Santh launched herself out of the weyr, pumping her wings for altitude and then circling lazily over the long-dead volcano out of which the weyr had been carved. There was no sign of Tarnoth and T'lan yet; L'dar smiled at that.

The weyr itself had long intrigued him: how had the Ancients carved the main caverns and the early weyrs out of solid rock apparently with the ease of a knife through soft cheese? He had consulted the Knowledge several times, but received only vague and unhelpful answers. He supposed the Source had Its reasons for concealing the information, though he could not imagine what they were.

They are coming up now, Santh said, and L'dar looked down and saw Tarnoth spread his blue wings and begin his ascent to join them.

I win, L'dar thought at T'lan.

This time, T'lan answered. I guess I'll see you after dinner, then. L'dar could hear him winking.

If I let you in. See you in the mountains, L'dar said, and then, to Santh, Let's go. He took a deep breath and focused on the image of the smoking mountain. Blackness surrounded them, the biting cold and utter emptiness of between. He counted the seconds: one, two, three — then the world suddenly erupted into existence around them again, revealing the rugged crags of the western part of the High Reaches range. Thick, dark smoke was rising from one particularly rocky area, and Santh angled towards it. Far below them, in a small valley nestled between several peaks, L'dar saw the smallhold Deissa had mentioned.

Behind them, Tarnoth and T'lan burst out of between as well. L'dar indicated the smoke and felt T'lan's acknowledgment in his mind. They spiraled down towards the rocks, and as they got closer the acrid smell filled L'dar's nostrils, choking him.

There are spells for this, Santh gently reminded.

Let us land away from the smoke and prepare, came Tarnoth's suggestion a moment later.

Agreed, L'dar said, and the two dragons angled away from the smoke towards a flat, rocky area some distance away. They landed gracefully and their riders dismounted.

"We need to be able to get close enough to figure out what's going on," T'lan said.

"And to see how deep into the fault this goes," L'dar reminded him. "The standard set of spells should be enough."

T'lan and the two dragons nodded, an oddly human gesture from the dragons. The four of them arranged themselves in a loose circle, alternating human and dragon. They had long ago learned that the shield spell was easiest when worked in concert, rather than setting up four individual instances of it. T'lan poked at the rocky ground. "Not much good for drawing circles."

It does not need to be, Tarnoth said cheerily, and suddenly the spell diagram was spreading out before them on the stone. Tarnoth had a gift for spellcrafting and enjoyed showing it off when he had a chance. Lalanith, herself a talented speller, had tutored him extensively, and according to T'lan he spent most of their downtime between Falls studying the Speech and drawing all over the floor of their weyr, a practice L'dar had observed on several occasions. A glance at the structure of the spell told L'dar it was as elegant as Tarnoth's spelling always was. Everyone fill in your names.

L'dar bent down to examine the part of the circle he found himself standing in that contained his own name in the Speech. It looked much as it always did, although he noted some changes in the part of it dealing with interpersonal relationships that he did not have time to examine in detail just then. Everything else was in order.

"I'm ready," he said, and T'lan and Santh confirmed their readiness as well.

Then let's begin, Tarnoth said. I've demarcated each person's component of the spelling, as you can see. I'll begin, and we will proceed turnwise from there. L'dar nodded: he would be the second to speak.

Tarnoth began to speak, then: his voice sounded mostly like rumbling several octaves too low for L'dar to hear a recognizable pitch, but if he listened with a wizard's ear, he could make out the sound of the Speech, spoken as fluently as Tarnoth wrote it: This is a samril-class abjuration with two primary functionalities and four principal arguments, as follows...

Tarnoth's component outlined the parameters of the spell, and then he passed the speaking to L'dar. The background noises of the world around them had gone still, as they tended to when a spell was in progress, as if everything was waiting with bated breath for the spell to be completed. L'dar's component described how the spell was to be powered, with the energy load split among the four of them.

"The energy debt incurred by the primary agents of this spell, that is..." here Tarnoth spoke his name, then L'dar his, then Santh, then, finally, T'lan, before L'dar picked up the speaking again. A few minutes later, the spell was done, and Tarnoth deftly sealed it with a wizard's knot.

Shall we approach, then? Santh prompted.

"Yes, let's," said T'lan. He swung himself up onto Tarnoth's back again, and L'dar mounted Santh. The dragons launched themselves into the air, then banked towards the smoke.

You forgot to account for visibility, Tarnoth, Santh said, slightly reproachfully.

We can beat the smoke away with our wings, Tarnoth suggested, earning a snort from Santh.

We shall see, she said, but obediently, once they had landed near the site of the activity, opened her left wing and beat several times, dispersing some of the smoke, although more quickly replaced it. At the heart of it, L'dar could see the tell-tale red-orange glow of molten rock.

"This shouldn't be here," T'lan said. "I looked at people's reports, even if you didn't. P'tel and T'vid were both very clear that there was no sign of a problem in his area."

The Cold One, Santh said again, privately, to L'dar.

It might just be so, dear heart, he answered her, but I would want Deissa and Lalanith to see it first.

You know Deissa cannot travel between at the moment, Santh reminded him, though he hadn't forgotten.

I know! he said. Then, to Tarnoth and T'lan as well: "You're right that I rarely read reports, but I do know this shouldn't be here. There hasn't been any activity in this area since our Impression."

"We should set up a perimeter barrier in case the activity at the site increases — something for the smallholders."

"True," L'dar agreed. "Santh and I will do it."

Once we ascertain what, precisely, is going on at this moment, Santh added.

Obviously, Tarnoth said, sounding amused. So let us ascertain.