Once Upon a Time

Xanadu Weyr - Meadow
A large, slightly rolling meadow is set high enough above the riverbank on both sides to avoid suffering from flooding, healthy ground cover and grass spreading out from either side of the dividing river. Scattered amongst the meadow are a variety of weyrs, each with a narrow path leading up to it from a main, winding road. Some are set under a few trees, while others sit by themselves. The meadow continues with gentle rolls and dips, grass tall and short waving in the slightest of breezes, and eventually those hills grow higher and steeper, ending in a large ridge that provides a fine view of that meadow and the rest of the Weyr, gazing out over the multicolored roofs of the houses and the cliff that holds the caverns.

Runner stables with the paddock beyond are to the south beyond the meadow weyrs, and a smithy and a woodcraft shop are settled closer in towards the path to the clearing. Trees border the northern side of the meadow, and more of those low, rolling hills can be seen to the northwest. A road passes through the meadow, coming from the east and used by traders and crafters alike. Wagons laden with felled trees from the forests or ore from the mountains are hauled by burden beast up the road through the meadow, over the bridge spanning the river to be processed in the appropriate workshops.

It's hardly unusual to find Andalise studying or in the kitchens when she isn't fumbling through working on other chores as assigned; today, while the weather is adequate enough for being comfortably out of doors, she's seated as lady-like as one can be when perched upon a grassy knoll in a layered sweater and long skirt, hair partially pinned up with the remainder left to blow where the breeze wills. " … and so she followed him and his flock of goats, " the brunette reads aloud, glancing up from the page with doe-bright eyes for her behemoth of a bronze audience, clearly pleased to be able to share what must be a tale of derring-dos and happily-ever-afters. "This is my favorite part!" she stage-whispers to Xermiltoth, beaming up at him. "She doesn't know who he is to her yet, of course." Of course, for they've only just begun with chapter one and she won't discover that it's him 'til chapter three~

It's a tale as old as time: beauty matched with beast, kindness tampering the brash, and this meeting is no exception. Xermiltoth might not be as haggard as his ledgemate, but he's just as deep and dark, features strong and harsh in juxtaposition to Andalise's femininity. It makes his softer touches all the more surprising, perhaps, that only-too-willful breeze sent cascading around the stained glass wing he's extended to provide the candidate some shelter as she reads aloud. Her upwards glance is met with a bird-like tilting of Xermiltoth's head, contented-slow spinning of his eyes speeding up in response to her excitement. « She is brave, to follow him thus, » blossoms hotly into Andy's thoughts, firefly-sparks whizzing beneath his words. « Mine is always telling his younglings to avoid strangers… though I suppose if one obeyed that rule always, they would never make friends. » His confusion self-soothed, the dragon shifts his weight to something more comfortable, tail flicking near her person before drifting away again. Diamond-dazzle focuses in-in-in for that stage-whisper, his own mind shrinking into the utmost quiet he can manage (which is still probably a lot), agreement in a conspiratorial, « Of course. » But, « Tell me why it is your favorite, though. Why this, of all moments yet and to come? » The weight of his curiosity might be rather like a bug beheld beneath a sunny magnifying glass, but he truly wants to know.

It's undoubtedly an unpredicted sort of friendship, but here they are with Andy looking animated in a way that doesn't always surface through her customary cheer around other humans. "I got that warning, too, when I was much smaller, " she considers, "but it's harder to know when you're young if someone really wants to be your friend or if they're just — pretending to like you. Some people aren't very nice to each other." It's a little quieter, that last bit, chin ducking briefly while she smooths down a page that's threatening to try to turn before its time (really, with only the tiniest of motions thanks to that chivalrous wing). It's her turn to shift a little under the weight of all that curious scrutiny, expression brightening again into a thoughtful, half-curved smile. "Oh. I've never really sat down to think about why, before. I guess because it's the moment before all of the good parts come along. Neither of them know what's going to happen or that they have all of that adventure ahead of them." Her eyes narrow just a little. Cheekily, "I'm not going to ruin the story for you by telling you why that's exciting." She did promise to read him a proverbial tale of fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes true love and miracles, but all great adventures have to begin somewhere, even in the most unlikely of places such as on a farm.

'Some people aren't very nice to each other.' Despite their quiet, Andalise's words clang through every fiber of Xermiltoth's being, a sentiment he knows too well, a cut that has carved too deeply for even the foibles of draconic memory to touch. It's the very basis for his impression, the very core of his life's struggles, and so it is with a slow approach that the great beast lowers his head, gently (so gently) pressing his muzzle against her side if Andy will allow such contact. He doesn't offer words, understanding perhaps that pretty prose cannot soothe whatever has made her duck her head low, but there is music: warm, fortifying, a promise that, as in her story, there are so many other, potentially better things yet to come. There he stays, if she'll let him, crouched close through her explanation before— LAUGHTER. The force of Xermiltoth's amusement hurtles away from their epicenter in a golden sonic boom, no doubt startling a few passersby as the bronze's head rears back, as though that will save Andy's poor mental eardrums. « HAHAHA! PARTY POOPER, » is a distinct j'accuse, sassy sparks flying from his mind to hers. « More the fool am I for thinking you'd fall for that, » the dragon admits as he attempts to reel his mindvoice back in, chin dropping to the ground in a playful sulk, « but I suppose I understand. The last breath before the fall. » It's his turn to indulge in a bit of cheek, pressing the image, the sensation of teetering on the edge of that ridge in the distance: wind tearing the air from lungs, the unbroken view of the meadow below, the grip of gravity that increases as claws lose their tension and wings fold in take the plunge— only to pull back as fast as it came on. « Go on, then. Excite me. » Dragonlids lower, intent clear: he is done teasing for the moment, content to return to the story held in pages rather than beating hearts.

That gentle press of muzzle surprises the baker, but allow the contact she does, even letting herself lean a little against it in return — right up until he laughs and the subsequent movement of his head almost causes her to lose her balance entirely with a little shriek (that's undoubtedly lost in the booming force of her new friend's amusement). "I can't blame you for trying, " laughs Andalise once she's righted herself more securely, sucking in a breath for the sensation shared, to hover on that precipice and feel dizzy — no, wait, that's her head, as it lingers once his impression fades. "Well, " his candidate hums before pressing onward with their tale, as requested, where Buttercup and Westley eventually professed their love for one another " … but they had no money for marriage. So he packed his few belongings and left the farm to seek his fortune across the sea. But he never returned. His ship was captured by a notorious pirate who never, ever left captives alive." She's a decent enough narrator (as those who deeply enjoy excellent stories often are), hushing her voice for good effect in the appropriate places.

Xermiltoth would be appropriately chagrined if only he knew how. His empathy may be acute, but his sense of humility… maybe not so much. « My apologies, » comes just a touch past its due and threaded with distinct amusement, the kind that implies Andy's reaction was almost as golden as the cheek that inspired it. « I hope I didn't hurt you, » sounds like Xermi means it at least, lids lifting to observe her resettlement of herself with a keen eye for potential discomfort before going lax again. If the blackened beast notices he's left her dizzy, it doesn't show, patience seemingly eternal as he first waits, then listens, utterly spun up in the tale by his candidate's devoted delivery. A low rumble emits from deep in his chest for love gained and love seemingly lost, concerned colors bleeding into bright eyes. « That bodes rather ill, » Xermiltoth observes in muted tones, mental heat a mere fraction of its normal soft burn. « Are you sure that's what happens? There's an awful lot of the book left for them to have lost one another already… » Up his head rises again, more slowly this time, twisting as though he's going to peek over her shoulders and make sure she didn't accidentally skip a page or twenty. The jury is out on whether or not he can even read the text, but he knows exactly enough renegades pirates to draw the darkest of conclusions, thoughts quieting as diamonds flicker from gold to white to black. He doesn't ask, but perhaps Andalise will sense it's time to ease or further burden his troubled mind with her narrations.

"I'm alright, " Andy assures him cheerily enough, and seems quite herself again by the time he's ready to question the sequence of events that she's sharing with him. There's a rosy smile tipped toward Xermiltoth as his head lifts, doe-like eyes at once wide and pleased. "You are enjoying it, aren't you, " says she delightedly, even shifting a little closer so she can better hold the book between them while she continues, through Buttercup's engagement to Humperdinck that wasn't of her choosing " … where the only joy she found was in her daily ride through the forest, until one day … " she ran into three men who kidnapped her and hauled her onto a boat while spluttering and spouting rhymes, of all things " … and then they looked back and saw a boat with black sails, trailing them through waters filled with hungry beasts. She saw her chance and leapt overboard while her captors were thus distracted! You were right to call her brave." It's a near-audible parenthetical, that last part, followed by a small lapse in narrative while the girl takes a moment to drink some water from the little canteen she tucked into the grass nearby before turning the page.

Xermiltoth, caught. The dragon huffs a breath through his nose as though gently embarrassed she's seen through the pretense of his questions, straight into the heart of the matter: he's invested. If dragons could flush with color, it's possible he would be doing so, though it's anyone's guess how a person would tell through all that dark hide. « Yes, well, » doesn't deny it, though, « if I am, it's because of your performance, » puts the fault squarely on Andalise's shoulders. Luckily, perhaps, there's a softness about his words, gold a molten pool that speaks to relaxation as he adds: « You make it feel as though we were there, watching it all happen. » Despite this praise, he is diligent about observing the pages as they turn, something about the combination freeing just enough space in his mind's eye that aurum waters twist and rise, forming that small watercraft and several struggling figures, one of which abandons ship, throwing sparkling spray from his mind to hers. As her story goes silent, so does his miniature reproduction, mind scattering away in every sense but the literal. He lurks much like that ship in the distance, a friend in foe's clothing as he agrees with a rumbled, « So I was. » The statement is as loaded as it is self-satisfied, glad to have seen so much of the heroine's true nature so early. « Would you do the same - throw yourself into the unknown for a chance at leaving an undesirable fate behind? » Hadn't she done so already?

The pretty baker blushes happily under the praise for her narration. "That's the point of a good story, Xermiltoth, " says Andalise knowingly, "feeling like you're really there." And with his golden-spun creations, there's another dimension added to the idea of seeing a story in one's mind's eye. His candidate isn't above giving him a tiny bit of side-eye for his subsequent question that seems to say, oh, of course, as she sets her canteen back onto the ground in order to better tip a thoughtful look toward the skies above. "Isn't every day like that, though? We don't know what's going to happen, but we go forth into it anyway." The shoulder bearing her white knot lifts, drops in a one-sided, small shrug. "I already asked you and yours for a chance at the unknown. I guess I kind of thought if I didn't, maybe no one would ever ask me." Never mind that she has somewhere around an entire decade ahead of her in which someone still could.

« Not all stories are good ones, » Xermiltoth says after a long pause, « and not all of them deserve to be told. » It's a heavy truth that he tempers with a somewhat more droll, « But telling those that are and doing it well… that is important enough to warrant praise. » Almost as important as Andalise's pondered response to his question, a response he awaits with patience enough to match his rider, keeping his quiet well beyond the end of her delivery. When his thoughts on the matter come, they come slow, and for once, his words are just that: penned script on a golden background, a peek at the inner machinations of a mind that just maybe uses all of that boom and bombast to distract from something that runs far deeper. « I hope that one day, I get to tell your story. » Underlines strike to life under those last two words, each becoming somehow larger than life, blotching, merging, reforming until they are almost a marquee declaring Andalise the titular character. « I admit to being biased, but I feel that no matter what happens, it will be one worth telling. » Opinion firmly stated, Xermiltoth shutters her glimpse of the man behind the curtain, pushing her back to something with a little more pomp and circumstance, fractals flashing as he says, « But for now, I am dying to know if our dear lady gets eaten by a sea monster, and if perhaps the rest of this story is merely Humperdinck's redemption. » CHEEK.

"I'm just little ol' me, " Andy half-protests, but carefully balances their storybook on her lap with an elbow so that she can offer an affectionate pat from the hand that's nearest to him. "But I'll try to be in one that you'll want to tell. I wish — " She pauses, sighing a little. "I mean, I hope that one day I'll get to know what it's like to have a lifelong friendship with a dragon as nice as you, even if I have to go to the other side of the world to find them." There's the general wistfulness about such a statement that one might find in most any candidate, if fed by something that likely runs far deeper; a real need to belong might surface there briefly in her dark eyes and the little exhalation that precedes her recollecting herself to the task at hand. "You'll just have to wait and see, " sing-songs the brunette before spiritedly immersing them back into their story, where daring swashbuckling, witty repartee, miracles and happily ever after await.

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