The Woe Of Ghula - Part Two

Xanadu Weyr - Docks
The main dock of Xanadu Weyr has a T shape, the central pier extending out and then splitting into two branches. That central dock extends slightly past the branching, making a square often used as a staging area for supplies or simply as a spot to sit and relax.

Pointed away from the main beach, there's the dock where ships moor. The fishing vessels who make their home here are joined by trading ships and the occasional personal craft, bobbing on the waves.

In the other direction, there's an area used by the dolphineers. There's a shack with supplies, extra fins and breathing gear hung against the outside, and a large raft moored to the dock near a ladder. It floats low in the water, easy to clamber on or off, and on it is a Dolphin Bell, the rope dangling into the water to let the dolphins summon their crafters.

It's dusk, and the sun has just sunk below the horizon, staining the sky and lake a rich orange-red. As fire shades towards violet overhead, the first of the stars have begun to open their eyes. At the far end of Xanadu's docks, at the edge of the left branch, Nikolan stands not with his camera in his hands (although the look on his face as he watches the sunset suggests he regrets not capturing this brilliant display of solar sleepiness), but rather a fishing pole. He and one of the Weyr's resident seacrafters - a grizzled old veteran of too many ships before his joints grew too stiff to sail - are chatting amiably as they lightly play their lines through the water, more interested in chewing the fat than in actually hooking anything. There are, however, several large fish strung up nearby in preparation of cleaning.

Somewhere where the water meets the land, there is a tree, a fairly impressive and unassuming tree. Nothing about it would normally capture one's imagination, other than the colors of its autumnal leaves. Brilliant shades of the deepest red to the palest of yellow marks once green growth, one or two loosed by the slight chill of a passing breeze, leaving them to flutter down soundlessly to the ground and come to rest at last. The beauty of the seasons, of that sunset, and Nikolan is without his camera. The stillness presented in this tranquil scene, if there was any justice in the world, would go on forever even as the stars begin to wink into existence above. But there are rapidly approaching footsteps in the distance, the sound of someone propelling themselves quickly forward to cover as much ground as possible, avians resting in the calm reflective water startle as something suddenly appears over the crest of the slightness of the hill that leads back to the shores of Lake Caspian and just like that all that stillness becomes activity. The avians take to the sky, the fish dart away from their nibbled lines and with panted breathes something relatively the size and shape of a person takes to the air. It's taken a branch and swung itself up, just to disappear into the bloom of color with the sound of rustled leaves and snapping of small dry twigs. By the time all the commotion clears, only a few bits of evidence remain to casually float from side to side to find their place at the base of the tree and all is once again, silence.

"Naow," drawls the seacrafter, his quiet voice barely pinging against the tranquility near the shore, from that distant perch out in the water, "there be packtail an' whitefin in these waters, and some stripers if they've migrated in a'edy. We've got a good mess of redfin 'ere," and he gestures with his thumb over his shoulder, indicating the fish dangling, ready to be skinned and gutted, "but I would na expect any of th' others. Too close to shore, an' the fleet outta be makin' in, so the fish'll be riling." Nikolan simply nods sagely along, as though he has any clue at all as to what the man is saying, much less what he means. He might - his lean, nimble fingers play reel and line as if he's done this before, easily keeping the bait where he wants it and not the lake's capricious currents. As the avians burst by overhead, calling their startlment to the world, he glances over his shoulder, seeking the cause. Tree - with fluttering leaves and trembling branches - is eyed thoughtfully - right before a smack on top of his head draws his attention back to his chore. "Ow," he says mildly, earning a delighted cackle from his teacher.

Fishing tips and bonks over the head later, when stillness and calm returned, a woman more round than she was tall huffs and puffs over the crest next. She wore simple garb, but the knot of a starcraft master pinned to her modest fall jacket. "AGAIN! AGAIN!" Wheezing and Red cheeked, that poor woman barely makes it to that very same tree, placing a palm against the trunk for support as she attempts to reclaim enough oxygen to sate the burning of her lungs. She's muttering despite this, her eyes avidly seeking and not finding which appears to only increase her already impressive amount of displeasure. "…VALERIAN!…you little…" HUFF. PUFF. "Where…wh…" PUFF. PUFF. But she can't continue, not without sagging against the trunk and growling. Upon spotting the pair on the dock, she seems to be measuring the worth of walking all that way against how winded she already was. Thick fingers smooth tendrils of her hair from where it was stuck to the perspiration on her forehead and it seems that she's decided against it. More growls, sounding even more exasperated, before he shoves herself off her leaning place and starts back the way she had come. Ever watching, ever dilligent, waiting for that moment her spry and elusive prey lets his guard down. "I'll get you someday you…" Oh, that wasn't a very nice thing. Ouch, neither was that. The cursing worthy of the grizzled old sailor turned teacher continues to fall from her mouth until it fades into nothing. Maybe, maybe this time, the peace would return and remain.

"I think I learned a new word," Nikolan remarks after a long moment of humming silence, his storm-blue eyes following the Starcrafter's exit from the scene. "Maybe two." The seacrafter, startled admiration in his faded brown eyes, nods his agreement. "I never quite knew tha' was possible," he agrees with the techcrafter, his fingers absently plucking at his fishing line as it begins to drift awry. "I'd say I'd try it someday, but honestly, ain't even sure someaught as youngin' you would be able t' bend quite that nimbly." Flashing the candidate a dirty, gap-toothed smile, the seacrafter gives a few last tugs of his line, then begins to reel it in, motioning for his student to do the same. "Gettin' on dark. Ain't gonna wanna be out here on th' docks when th' fleet - such as it may be - comes in." Implied, if unsaid: They'd put him to work. Nikolan, being the indolent sort, isn't like to argue, and is as quick as his companion to sort away his fishing gear. Leaving it in the seacrafter's hands, he lets his long legs carry him swiftly along the dock, angling towards the tree. Upon approach, he tilts his head upwards. "Think she's gone," he calls lightly.

It would seem that it was true of the silence, it stretches on and on seemingly into infinity, leaving techcrafter and seafarer to muse on the improbability of what can or can not be managed by those possessed of vertebrae. With fishing tack returned and packed, its not the swiftness of long legs on worn wooden planks that yields an answer but the lightness of voice that reveals the coast was clear. Soon enough, the branches creak and the leaves rustle, a few grunts of effort and soon a teenage boy drops out of the tree and into a crouch upon the ground. "You sure about that?" he asks, craning his neck back and peering over the way that the heavy-set woman had gone as soon as he stands. Brushing his hands together, his next step is to idly begin plucking tree parts out of his mane of dark hair. It was somewhere between blond and brown, but with the rapidly encroaching darkness it was difficult to tell which or if it was some shade between. A wide grin, wolfish in distinction, is flashed at Nikolan once he had been assured that the techie's words had rung true. "She's getting faster." A chuckle for that, grey eyes cast upwards even as he steps around the tree and out into the open to where he could see the increasing numbers of stars revealing themselves in the dying of the light.

"You can only be certain when you're cheating," Nikolan replies calmly, tucking his hands in his pockets and watching Valerian as he swings down from the tree. "And I find cheating involves too many other things, like not getting caught. So I don't really bother." His own grin flashes white in the dimming light, neither wolfish nor sheepish, but rather decidedly vulpine, full of mockery and just a hint of slyness. "What'd you do?" he asks curiously, craning his neck to peer off in the master's wake. "Last time my master said anything like that about me was the time he caught me - ah, well, it doesn't matter." It probably does, but from the smirking curve of his lips, he has no intention of sharing. "I was probably closer to your age than not, so you can probably figure it out." Young teenage man? Photographer? Yeah. It's probably exactly what it sounds like.

Valerian glances back at Nikolan, head tilted, but all he does is grin in the end. Well, his shoulders do bounce as he quietly chuckles to himself, but then his whole world becomes that sky. The teen takes in a deep breath and lets it out, and only then does he turn his attention back to the the casually standing young man beneath the tree. "Yeah, not much of a cheater…" Yet, he does peek towards that crest (y'know, just in case) briefly and then it's all about that there techcrafter. "Stole her bubbly stash." No shame, giving the broadness of his ever present grin that was now more teeth than anything else. Deviant and predatory and then smooths out to something far less unsettling. Brows lift at the implication of the sorts of things that made Nikolan's craftmasters curse in a way that even a weathered sailor sat up and noticed, and then he promptly shakes his head in the negative, "Nope. Not interested in that kind of stuff personally, but more power to you…uh…" Grey eyes dart to the man's knots and of course candidate would be one of them, same as his own. Only, the recently seventeen turn old starcrafter was still an apprentice. For very obvious age related and troublemaking reasons.

"What kind of stuff?" Niko's question is relatively mild, his grey-blue eyes sparkling with amusement - although, whether at the memory or at Valerian's jumping to conclusions is anyone's guess. Then, "I wanted to play with double exposure, and I used what I assumed were some old negatives he had lying around. Turns out they were photographs he'd taken of the wedding of some Lord Holder's youngest daughter. He'd already done most of the prints, but he likes to keep the negatives just in case. I couldn't sit down for a week after he caught me." The Candidate's expression hovers between a smile and a wince as the memory drifts across his face, before his gaze sharpens on his fellow dragon-bait's face and his grin sharpens, sly and canny. "Of course, that's not to say I'm not interested in other things, but as my master likes to remind me, he was young once too. Did you keep any?" That's a sharp veer off-topic - or maybe right back on. "It would suck to lose a good hiding place." Innocence. He oozes it.

Nope, not taking the bait, even if Valerian does clear his throat and glance off elsewhere. Oops, stepped in it now didn't he? Well, as delicious as his foot tasted, his gaze returns to the techcrafter as he explains in relative detail the incident that left bottoms unable to be used as they had been meant to. Blink. Blink. Not what he expected, clearly, but other than this initial reaction Vale decides to take himself a seat there on the ground rather than rescale the tree so that he can get in a bit of stargazing. It's kinda what he does, just go with it. "I get punished a lot, but no one's ever beaten me into being unable to sit for a sevenday, or…at all…" Maybe he's looking Nikolan up and down a bit as he says it, perhaps to try and envision the tale for himself with a visual aid. From the sounds of it, there's a distinct lack of corporal punishment in the starcraft. At mention of 'other things' well, the teen lets his eyes drift upwards back to the sky and it was dark enough now that he is not disappointed. It's not for long, not when things that might be kept comes so soon afterwards and a curious lift of brows brings grey eyes back to the techcrafter. He might just have gotten himself some whiplash there and it takes a second for his brain to catch up, confusion transforms into understanding and he reaches inside of his jacket to produce a small burlap sack. Perfectly sized to carry several of the sticky sweet confections, "Help yourself." Valerian certainly had, tossing the whole deal over at Nikolan gently enough to easily be caught if he was playing attention, "You often threaten people to get what you want?" This is genuinely and innocently asked out of a place of pure curiosity.

"Who said anything about threatening?" Niko replies around a mouthful of bubbly as he catches the sack deftly and fishes one out, taking a bite in the same motion. Wandering over to his fellow Candidate, he sinks bonelessly to sit cross-legged at his side. "I simply stated a fact. I didn't say that I would tell her. That would be snitching, and I don't snitch." Prim and proper, he sniffs at the implied insult and shoves the last of the pie into his mouth before offering the sack - now a pie short - back to the starcrafter. "You seem to assume a lot," he teases gently, glancing sidelong at his companion and offering a grin with too many teeth. "Maybe that's why you're always in trouble. I'm Niko, and I'm pretty sure I've seen you around the barracks." He jerks a thumb in the general direction of the Hatching Grounds and their attendant barracks. "Which leads me to assume," and his baratone voice is rich with laughter, "that you are also a Candidate. For future reference, I'll only bite if you ask me to, so don't fret that I'll go running to tell tales or corner you in some dark - uh, well… corner." He laughs again, a soft chortle half-amused, half-mocking.

Normally one would be confused by all the obscurity and obfuscation that Nikolan's way of speaking dodged any sort of accountability, but Valerian was fascinated. Teach me your ways, Master. He doesn't of course, say this aloud, but it's implied by the quickness with which his lids flicker and the brilliance of all those teeth that suddenly appear. Leaning towards shark-like but remains for the most part in the wolfish territory. "Tricky," is his reply, not bothered or ruffled in the least about the ding he may or may not have actually made in the techcrafter's pride. However, he might very well be paying a lot more attention to what is being said and his reply. He remains where he'd seated himself, despite the addition of the company alongside, taking back the sack as it is offered and removing one of the treats from within for himself before tucking the rest away where he had pulled from from, "You seem to imply a lot…" he teases back, not deterred by too many teeth because he had those in spades. "Ah, well, that explains it." This is said after the introduction, suggesting that he'd heard of him enough to jump to his next conclusion. One, he doesn't share. Lips wrap around the bubbly and he breaks off a piece, chewing it into a swallowable consistency. "I'm Valerian…" A drumbeat, "…Vale…" It didn't seem to matter which the techcrafter settled on calling him, if anything at all, soon busy with making his pilfered delicacy disappear in record time. He's busy eating so, he nods at the implication that he had been seen around the barracks. Always during the day though, and always sleeping. At night, he was missing, but his craft knot indicated that this was a necessity if not expected. Although, he does look the way that is pointed if only because he's following the motion of it, grey eyes to Nikolan and then back up at the sky as he sucks a bit of filling from his fingertip. All that remained, sadly for poor Ghula. Again, it's not for long, as it was his turn to side-glance at his companion. "Why would you want to bite anyone?" What a strange thing to say! And once again, his eyebrows slowly drift upwards for the rest of that. Give him a second. Blink and there he goes: My those stars were lovely weren't they? Abrupt change of topic time, "There's supposed to be a meteor shower right at the start of winter, y'know."

His grin widens, shifts from vulpine to lupine for one brief moment as Niko tilts his head just so, gaze flickering out and over, blue-grey eyes seeking grey for a momentary glance. Then, low and predatory and filled with sly laughter, "Many reasons." He'll leave them to Vale's imagination, however, and instead answers an earlier accusation with his next words. "I imply much, and leave the terms of translation to the listener. If they choose to interpret what I have to say in such a way as to benefit me, it's not my fault." Another soft laugh, breathy and self-mocking. "It's bitten me on the ass more than once, to be fair - it's amazing how many people are happy to take an innocent statement," because he's ever uttered any such thing, "and twist it in self-serving fashion to suit themselves." Still grinning - amused at himself; at the world - the journeyman tilts his head back, gazing at the tiny pinpricks of light - most white, some not - spread in all of their sparkling glory above them. "I didn't know. I wouldn't wonder that my Master does. He has some way of hooking a camera up to the telescope at Landing and getting pictures. Will we be able to see it here?" Genuine curiosity shades his voice, and he glances once more to the side, eyeing his companion thoughtfully.

"I see." Valerian says in reply only, having yanked his gaze right away from where Nikolan could have any part of it, not trying to be rude but seeming mildly uncomfortable for whatever reason. It's not for longer than the single beating of a heart, there and gone, but it existed all the same. In the next, he's all loose comfort, taking in the scattered spread of stars hung above their heads. The starcrafter chooses when there is explanation as to why language loops and twists when it falls from the techcrafter's mouth to lean back with palms against the browning grass and stretch out the length of his legs to be crossed comfortably at the ankle. Ah, that was much better, keeping the grey of his eyes restricted to the heavens and decidedly off of laughing blue-gray, "I prefer to be straight forward, myself." Input and output, thoughts and ideas exchanged, and the conversation progresses towards a much more beloved topic. "Master Corin seems to think so, but he keeps getting into arguments with some of the other Masters over it." This appears to be a good thing, if Vale's eager expression now had anything to say about it, "A few seem to think it's slated for mid-winter and a couple others don't think its going to happen anywhere near here at all." This sees the return of many teeth, too many, and the light bobble of still broadening shoulders. Clearly, the starcrafter is siding with the underdog. "You should see him at his desk, furiously scritch-scratching away and grumbling at his correspondence." Master Corin has mood, yes. His amusement with all of this, was probably why he was so supportive. Then, Valerian almost… almost…looks towards Nikolan, but he stops himself at a very quick eye dart his direction. Mistake, and corrected. "It'd be nice to have pictures of the stars, but…" Not a techcrafter, not of high rank, and not made of marks.

"I'll see if my Master has any," Niko replies lazily, his own gaze fixed heavenward, enjoying a sight that he too often ignores in favor of more earthly vistas. "I know I have a few shots from the 'Reaches of that… whatever they call that light-show. And, I mean, I can take a few of just…" He lifts one hand, gesturing vaguely up at that great splash of diamonds on velvet stretching above them. "Never really thought of doing night shots," he muses, a hint of the frown gracing his lips in his soft voice. He glances towards Vale, considering, then back up. "I mean, I personally favor candid portraits, but there's nothing wrong with a nice nature shot or two. Xanadu certainly has some nice ones." For someone paying the Weyr a complement, his voice is oddly bland, almost carefully so. "Why didn't I look up?" The mutter is almost soundless, a whisper of self-chastisement on an exhaled breath. "This is your fault," he complains to Vale - although - ah, there's the laughter, ever so light, always mocking - himself, his companion. "I never would have looked up but for you."

Vale shakes his head, "You don't need to do that." He hadn't been trying to suggest he wanted a hand out or anything, and pilfering expensive and undoubtedly treasured photos was not what he had desired to inspire. Faranth, it was difficult not to get revved up and excited though, his brow almost furrowed in full with the effort of keeping is eyes upwards. This, was not usually an issue, however now it becoming something he had to actively maintain and an uncharacteristic look of effort-achieved concentration interplays across his features. "Aurora Borealis…" is helpfully supplied and if there was one way to get to a starcrafter it was through passing mention of spectacular aerial phenomena. Shoulders tighten and a measured breath taken in order to calm the rapid beating of his own pulse, and then the exhale. Slow and steady. No, not today…Satan, as Fioreyla would meta. At the wide gesture towards the sky above seen out of his periphery, Valerian slides his gaze from one end of the sky to the other at the widest point. "Can you do that?" he asks, curiosity getting the better of him and the excitement within him building to such a degree that it was now detectable in his voice. But a wince to follow, kicking himself for being so easily trapped and caught. "Eh, of course you can. Just…" How clear and close to human eyes could it be? He'd seen some pretty disturbing images trying to pass themselves off as the night sky, seeming to be taken out of the back end of a telescope rather than properly. He waves a hand brief and dismissive, then drops it back to the ground. All very nevermind me and forget I said a thing. There is a nod though, agreement that the sky at Xanadu qualified as stunning, though at the accusation brows lift and he slides the grey of his eyes towards the corners closest to Nikolan, "I doubt that…" Was he even the only starcrafter candidate? He hadn't thought to look, but surely he wasn't unique. Back to the sky and its glorious wonder and Valerian exhales a long and heavy sigh, "I know Rukbat is necessary for life and all to exist, but sometimes its not so easy to remember the only reason the sky isn't always like this is because of it…"

Perhaps not the only, but the only one to draw Niko's attention to the heavens, and that's enough to warrant that rueful regard. "Need is such a strong word. I don't need to talk, or sit here staring at the stars. I don't need to Stand for the clutch, or take pictures of my little sister's fashion shows, but I do those things anyway. No, I don't need to ask my Master if he has any pictures to spare from his experiments with the telescope," Pilfer, indeed! "nor need I perform my own experiments to take pictures of yon," and again, that sweeping gesture of lean fingers towards the bespeckled night sky. "But I'm willing to, because I think it's something you'd enjoy, and something I'd enjoy, and sometimes the greatest pleasure in life is gleaned not from doing what is needful, but rather what is wantful." Is that even a word? Still, it trips from Niko's tongue easily enough - like a million other words, because Niko, thy name is loquacious. "I'm a huge proponent of finding pleasure where one may, however it is attained," he adds, once more with that self-mocking laughter coating every word. "I don't promise that he has any to spare, or that I can figure out how to take a picture that's not blurry, or under- or over-exposed. But I'm happy to ask, and to try, because if it works, I'll have a new technique to play with. And you'll have something you might be able to use as a bargaining chip the next time you piss off your own master," he adds, with a toothy grin and a sidelong wink at the younger man.

Wasn't it natural for a starcrafter to be so enraptured by the night sky? Valerian gives up trying to understand Nikolan, letting him explain to him yet again why everything out of his mouth seemed to be an assumption on his part as he caresses swaths of stars with his gaze. It was usually so easy to talk to people, giving them the barest of attention and distracting him with teeth and boundless energy, but there was something about this man seated beside him that set him on edge. Not unfriendly, not unkind, nothing in particular that he could put his finger on. Rather than ponder it further, he lets it go. Entirely. Whatever it was, wasn't worth the seed of feeling gnawing away at the pit of his stomach and so he accepts what's presented to him with nods and soft hmmhmms and nothing more. Though as mention of his enjoyment and pleasure there is a measure of tension that finds its way to his shoulders, as much as he tries to ignore it. His mouth opens at several points, but he seems to have learned that perhaps it was best not to speak so hastily least what is said be turned back around on him in some way. This means, that Valerian has very little to offer in return, lips pressed together and keeping his eyes skywards until, "It's fine, really. I don't need anything…" Mention of his pursuit focused Master? "Ghula had a heart attack shortly after I arrived in Xanadu, and the healers warned her about eating things that weren't healthy for her…" The fact that he could run faster and inspire the exercise that she desperately needed but avoided otherwise? Bonus. It wasn't wholly so innocent and selfless as it sounded, because he did so enjoy his self-appointed task. Hmm, yes. The very memory of their merry chase over the last three turns or so transforms the lower half of the starcrafter's face into a proud display of his entire dentition, as well as a low dark chuckle. One can do a kind thing and still get a kick out of the ruffled feathers.

Ever notice that silence has a sound? A pressure - a feeling? If so, than Nikolan's quietude in the face of Vale's second rejection of his thoughtful - if thoughtless - gift sounds-feels like hurt. Grey-blue eyes train on the starcrafter's profile, the techcrafter's expression outwardly calm - almost deadpan - but the tension of his lean frame speaking heavily how he feels about the dismissal of his offer. Finally - "Very well." Two words, dropped into the silent well of his sulking silence, and then the photographer is pushing himself to his feet, dusting his hands against his pants. "Far be it for me to force anything on anyone. The offer remains if you change your mind." Inhaling sharply through his nose, he tosses back his head, casting one last, scathing glance at the capricious stars, then tucks his hands in his pockets. "I'd best be heading back." Wherever back is. "See you in the barracks." A half-beat, a stutter of hesitation, "Vale." Storm-fed eyes flicker once more over the starcrafter, then the journeyman turns on heals, long legs carrying lean frame swiftly into the night.

Oh yes, of this, Valerian was quite aware. Although, as thick as the air seemed to become, no matter how deafening the silence, he wasn't budging an inch. Lines were being drawn between friendly and too familiar and he was actively patrolling the border armed to the teeth. The two words that come in response to his refusal of that second offer, brings grey eyes back down to Pern to witness the results including the slow turn of his head and a reflection of expression only. Valerian's own body language was back to absolute relaxation if only because it seems the message had been successfully sent and delivered. There is no apology for this, in action or words, just the way his gaze follows Niko as he climbs to his feet and prepares for departure. A simple nod, "Thank you anyway." How much of that was true, is unknown. Perhaps said more out of politeness than actual gratitude. Then as the techie's scornful cast towards the stars, Valerian's returns as well, admittedly much more affectionately. "It's almost curfew for you seems like…" Casual agreement and acknowledgement, an understanding. "Hmmhmm eventually…" Like, at dawn when he goes to bed. Grey eyes descend at that stuttered pause, his expression masked by the lack of illumination, "…bye Nikolan…" It sounded mild to the starcrafter, friendly and inoffensive. But whatever reaction being appraised before dismissal and return is lost to the night. He watches him go, only folding his arms beneath his head and relaxing entirely once Nikolan was completely out of sight.

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