10 Pieces

Xanadu Weyr - Hatching Sands
A domed ceiling stretches high above the sands, enough open air for a queen and her mate to be comfortable with their clutch. Thin slits of windows around the edges let in a little light, though more of the illumination comes from electric lamps diffused off the dome. The sands are ringed by the dark blue seats of the observation level, the first third exposed to the sweltering heat of the sands but those in the back glassed off for the comfort of those watching.

The circle itself is filled with a mix of red and white sands, deep enough to cover the largest of dragon eggs with ease. To one side, a small door is visible, hidden away behind a platform meant to provide a place for the clutch parent's lifemates to stand during the on goings.

He let the heat of the sand sear him.

Crouched next to an egg, Stefyr supposed it must look like other times that he had been overwhelmed by what what was offered up by an egg. But he hadn't touched this one yet. Not today. It would look that way from the outside, though, with the way he dug fingers into the hot, hot, too hot sand. The sand was fine for the eggs, good even, to harden the shells so that the dragonets might have hope of breaking free one day. (What would that look like? What would it be like?) But for his skin, it was too much.

His callused hands left the russet-and-white sands. He watched the rain of shimmering particles that brushed free of his hands as they rubbed one clean of their coating as best he could before uncurling his shoulders. His motion was slow, deliberately so, a movement under protest by muscles and sinew that wanted a faster shift, not one that moved with agonizing care through several less comfortable poses to get to the right, the easy one. But Stefyr needed the time, needed the presence of focus to observe each microshift. He expected to be a new person when he rose. Well, okay, that was a little dramatic, but Stefyr did plan to bring a new approach to his time on the sands today.

It wasn't the decision made in this moment; it was a plan concocted over days. In the days since that asshole in black had needled him, in the days since he broke down to R'hyn and was received a few precious answers to start anchoring the unmoored bits of his self to something. If he were being honest, that internal hitching post was to the idea of becoming a rider. It was dangerous, he knew, foolish. Rhodelia had told him as much. To get attached to the eggs.

It was all too easy to see that he might be disappointed looking around at all the people on the sands with him and thinking of the however many more scattered around the Weyr with white knots on their shoulders. There were enough candidates that these eggs would certainly have their pick. But he couldn't help it. His heart was already tied up here, on these sands. If he wanted this life, and he had decided he did (had decided before he realized that not wanting was even an option), then… why did he fear anything they offered?

Okay, it was reasonable to fear some of the experiences the eggs offered, like the one that had stolen his sensation of breath. It was even reasonable to fear that one, the one that had scared him more than the rest because it had asked too much about what he would leave behind, about who he was in a time when he was no one.

No, that wasn't right. He was— is Stefyr. At least two of his most trusted had explained that to his thick skull. It was time to try to help it penetrate. He had to decide to trust those people on a visceral level; without question or doubt. That had been R'hyn's advice (well, maybe a more extreme version of the advice the bronzerider had given him) for how to quiet the voice of the traitor within. It sounded simple. He did trust those people. But did that mean he couldn't trust himself? He drew a ragged breath and shoved that thought away. Too dark. Not a thought for now.

Now, he was here to be with them. The first time he touched the eggs, he hadn't known what to expect and it wrecked him. The fragile edifice that was what Stefyr presented to the world was demolished in a handful of touches. He had tucked his hands childishly away as if that would keep him from more dangers, more thoughts too frighteningly unwieldy to grapple with, especially when he already had enough confusion of his own. He looked down at his hand, and to the shell not an arm's length away. Incredible… that something so seemingly simple could so wholly undo him.

On his second visit, he presented the barely-rebuilt man to the complex presence of the hatchlings within. It was his own fault that he ended up heaving until his stomach had nothing left just barely out of where it would've been inconvenient to have done the deed. It humbled him, brought what he thought he had to be when he went to face the eggs into a new light. He let the artifice of structure and strength fall, and came as he was on his third visit.

The first egg he'd touched (The Prize-Winning Produce Egg) was so gentle in its requests, so welcome, that the incipient requests of mental vision were satisfied without thought or active participation. The first time he spoke to an egg, though, was surprised out of him. Silly, really. When the presence within The Beast That Calls The Egg claimed its certainty that he would be back, he had in a moment of unguarded surprise, agreed, at least provisionally, that maybe the dragon had known. Further moments with that egg had left him changed in different way. It made him want to speak to the next egg, so he had, not with sound, but with words so silent as to not have breath beyond the shape of them on his lips. Without conscious decision, he had decided to share himself with the eggs. He'd probably done it poorly, then.

Now as he stood on the sands, looking at the eggs that would change his life one way or another, he wanted to do better. If his lifemate was in one of these shells (and he hoped a foolish hope that it was) then to that dragon, he would give all of himself, and more - whatever more it needed of him. But right now wasn't the time for that. It would be too much, too intimate, too awkward and just wrong to share all of himself with any one of these half-formed minds. There were parts of him that he would be more than a little reluctant to share with his eventual, still only theoretical lifemate, let alone ten tiny minds who shouldn't be exposed to— well.

Still, he could do more than he had done. At best, one of these would be his, the others would, by the First Egg, end up paired with his fellow candidates. They and those other lucky nine (for he refused to believe anything but total success for the clutch, Thread be blasted) would muddle on through this long transformation together. They could do that. He would want to help, of course. To help, he'd have to know them better; the human half and the dragon half alike. He could work on the candidates later, but for now: the eggs.

It stood to reason that the dragons who would be his theoretical lifemate's siblings should know a little something about him. Maybe not what they demanded to know, or even in some cases, what they asked, but something. So he would work to offer that: something. And this wasn't like Turnover gifts when you could give the same thing to each brother and have it come out fine. This had to be personal. He had to think about what he got from each egg's occupant and give in turn. He hoped they weren't quiet today, but even if they were, he could offer something. He would try anyway. He would visit each in turn. All but… well. He'd save that one for last.

He turned to the egg nearest him, his fingers tracing the edge of the gold on Haloed in Light's shell. He listened, but he spoke too, not with his voice, though his lips moved, even as he did, walking a slow path around the egg, his touch following shifts in color and shade. He whispered without words the story of his favorite storm. The one that he watched with Daro from the doorway of the barn, when the thunder roared so fierce as to make the old barn shudder in fright. The stinging, driving rain was much too much for two small boys to make it back along the usually familiar path to the house proper.

He told the young tempestuous mind about how he felt protected from the wild weather without by the warm curl of his brother's arm when the thunder made him flinch, and about the story Dar made up to help him not be afraid. Their voices were shouts but could've been whispers for all the volume they could hear from each other. Dar said the thunder were the beats of a thousand dragons flying in formation above and the lighting was just the fire reflecting off the clouds. They were up there, forcing the clouds to burst to water the crops so they would grow extra tall this year. Extra robust he said. Stefyr didn't know what robust was, but it sounded good.

Stefyr, even small Stefyr, should've known to question more than he did, but instead he trusted, wide-eyed to be sure, but the story helped, and that was all it was meant to do. The storm passed and the boys had a fight in the mud to celebrate its end. They ended up so covered that Mum wouldn't let them back in the house until the older boys had captured them, kicking and hollering, and taken them out to dip them in the bovine pond to get decently clean. A quiet laugh from the Stefyr here on the sands and a last gentle pat was farewell to this egg before he went on to the next.

He looked at the diamond-dazzle of Kissed by the Wild egg for a long time, thinking about what he would most like to share with it. If he remembered this egg rightly, it had seemed some sort of hunter. But it wasn't about hunting. Hunting would have been the most superficial interpretation. It was about… bravery. He could tell it about leaving home for the first time in his life, to take up this new life at the Weyr, but… no. That was too much. Too complex and too… fraught. Something else, then.

Ahh. His hands touched the egg and he drew a quick breath at what he felt, before making his offering. His lips moved, his voice didn't. Once his favorite sister's favorite doll had ended up, mysteriously, in the bull's pen. Okay, in his defense, he had thought it would be funny at the time and he was still small, if not so small as to wholly excuse the action. But he hadn't known how she would weep, and gush snot and carry on like her heart was being wrent out of her chest.

Nevermind the way Mum had beat him when he climbed out of the pen, muddy and triumphant because just the idea of a boy so small being in a pen with their mean-spirited bull had scared her near to death. Urp. Maybe this wasn't the best memory to choose, so forget that thing about Mum, but the important part, Little Dragon, is that Stefyr had been brave that day. Also stupid. But brave. Sometimes the two can't be separated, really, because if you were wise, you'd be too wise to take the risk that might pay off. Yeah, that was a positive note to end things on, wasn't it? Not too bad for an impressionable egg? Oh, he'd better stop touching the shell before these self-assessments. Flushing, he pulled his hand away from the egg with just a hint of apology in his farewell.

When he turned away, he also turned toward. It wasn't knowingly done but even if it had been, he somehow thought the ominous black of Favor the Dark Egg would always surprise him. Best to get this one done. It was hard to make himself touch it again, but he did. His stomach flipped when he made contact, but he gritted his teeth and set his mind to the memory he'd decided he would share with this one.

This memory had enough pain in the telling to possibly make it appealing enough to this egg's occupant to gain its attention for a time, for enough time to listen to the whole of the moment. It was painful because it was Gaelis. The ribbons in her hair last Turnover bonfire. The way her face looked in the firelight, so close to his as they put their heads together in the shadows at the outskirts of the logs that ringed the blaze.

He made himself endure the reliving of this memory because as painful as it had become to him, at the time, it was the fiercest blaze of joy he had yet to know in his small life, in that small place, in that small world that was and wasn't part of the world he now occupied. He used the pain to try to lure the interest of the occupant, to lure it into feeling that intense joy, the secret joy he hadn't shared with anyone, a thing that was too precious to be shared.

Maybe he should have. Maybe things would have been different. It was too late for maybes and now, here… even touching this egg— He pulled his hands away. He wouldn't change it, but that last thought had been unkind, even if the occupant within typically was that, too. He reached up a hand again long enough to apologize, even if that was as ignored or poorly received as his memory might have been.

He was getting carless and that couldn't be allowed, not with something as important as this. But he didn't want to leave the task undone if he could help it, so his eyes searched and found another egg. His brows knit. This one had always been more of a puzzle; what would it like? Ahh. And a few steadying breaths later, he was tracing the ribbons of silver on Light of the Mother Moon Egg. The egg seemed quiet to him, but he would offer what he had, quietly, just in case.

The memory was from a Stefyr almost so young as to not really remember more than the feeling of protection the sturdy kitchen work table provided, that and the particular knot in the wood of the leg, just there, so it looked like a laughing mouth or a friendly grin. There wasn't much room in the cubby at Mum's feet, but there was just enough for a boy of three, snuggled between extra mixing bowls, trays and one ginger kitten whose puff of fur had been as fuzzy as his own blond fluff. "Shhh." He'd told the sleepy kitten, resting bonelessly in a bowl, lest it give him away. Mum's skirts had brushed the open face of the cabinet making it dark and cozy and warm. "Mum!" One of his brother's voices, thin in its youth and breathless with exertion. "Is Steffie in here?"

He froze. Would Mum give him away? She had smiled at him, had passed him a fresh biscuit just before he'd burrowed in. She knew he was there. Her drawn out, "No," let him breathe again. "I haven't seen him." And then the sounds went back to the familiar bustle of the kitchen, Mum and Aunt Tildy talking over things he didn't try to understand while they worked. He grinned at the kitten. It slow blinked and went to sleep.

The kitten was probably the least pleased when Stefyr heard the cry that meant the other kids had given up the search and the game. He had won. He glowed with victory as he jostled bowls and trays and Mum, "Sorry, Mum!" to get out into the light, to sprint joyfully into the wider world and claim his praise for just how well he'd hidden.

The man that Stefyr was becoming grinned. That had been a good day and he'd remembered more than he thought. The point was, little dragon, that being hidden and protected was good, sometimes, but there were rewards in being bold and being seen too. A caress of farewell and he stepped away, rubbing his hands together. That sharing had buoyed his spirits, put a bounce in his step.

When his carefully controlled but haphazardly wandering path brought him face to egg with sickle-bound red eyes in a riot of color, his breath vanished in sudden exhale. The egg that had started this all, that had surprised response from him. The egg that had left him silently weeping and feeling bereft for reasons he couldn't put a name to. Was he ready for this? To his mind, this egg valued bravery, but not the usual kind. The out of the ordinary kind. Did he even have that? Would the egg know if he backed away now and took it on at another pass?

He sighed. He'd sighed at this egg before. And as with the last time, he moved the few remaining steps and let his hands hover. This time he gave himself a moment. He waited for inspiration.


He waited. More nothing. Nothing nothing nothing. Then: this dragon liked stories of absurd heroics and hypotheticals, right? Well, Stefyr couldn't recall a moment when he was in a position back home to be called anything other than hero of the moment, to be briefly acknowledged and immediately set aside. There were nothing in those memories that he could even lace up in the fanciest words to make any convincingly engaging tale. But, without question, his zaniest, most fraught, daring deeds had all happened since arriving here. His face lit with a grin and he began.

The day seemed like any other since my arrival. The gardens were full of only the sorts of plants and people who belonged there when suddenly there was a ruckus by one of the arches. My hands tightened on my rake and I readied myself for whatever was to come. Running and abandoning my duties tending the helpless plants was never an option. I turned and saw a great beast trapped beneath the arch. I had seen such massive creatures only at a relative distance 'til then. And she was still at a distance, but she was by far the largest I'd ever seen. My head had never felt like it couldn't contain everything in it before I heard her booming laughter inside it. And that's when I met them: Leirith, Risali, and Rhodelia. They were- WHAT WERE THEY, STEFYR, -damsels in distress. And if Stefyr would be in the deepest kind of trouble for referring to any of the females in question thusly, well… it's for the egg, OKAY?

The story wound on, rich in its new dressing of playful exaggerations, building ominously as they abandoned the TOTALLY FINE gold in the arch to creep down mossy stairs that could claim any member of their party at ANY MOMENT. The looming threat of the swan army with goose outriders and a firelizard commander was built in vivid detail as he brought things to a finale gilt in firelizard treasure.

He waited.


The egg was quiet. He lingered. But nothing. With a low chuckle at how wrapped up in his own story he had become, Stefyr's fingers wove across several hues of purple before leaving its side and giving himself a shake. Too much, maybe? Maybe the swans were really as frightening as Rhodelia seemed to think.

The next egg deserved and apology from him before he would share something special. His hand went to the shell. "I'm sorry I wasn't stronger," the words form on his lips, silent but true. And because he couldn't be before, he tried now. His hands pressed lightly on The Egg of the Eternal Dance. Taking a slow and steadying breath, he brought to mind the day of his grandfather's wake. Though the memory was tinged with old grief, the part he wanted to focus on was the way people spoke of his forebearer.

Stefyr's grandfather had not been an easy man. He had not always been kind or generous or any of the noble traits that he had seen glimpses of in himself when he first touched this egg. But neither was his grandfather more than the usual amount of those worse qualities that he'd seen of himself on the second contact - the ones that had made him too afraid to return. The point, little dragon, is that there's a balance in people. It can never be all light, or all darkness. In each person, and dragon, likely, there is both. The balance changes, but it's not black and white.

His hands pulled off the shell of The Egg of the Eternal dance and a forearm pushed sweat from his brow. How many had he visited? How many private thoughts? A few breaths and he would go again, demand more of himself. His hands next found the shell of the egg Ilyscaeth had been so protective of, and for the knowledge of her protection, he found himself extra careful. He had to close his eyes, to feel this egg for the first time before he could formulate something personal. His hands came away to let himself breathe and think and breathe more. Then, his hands touched and it was his turn.

It was a brief memory, but as bright in the light of joy as the night in memory was dark. The Starsmith had come through, had asked for a bed for the night, and the children had watched him as one watched a grub go about its business, or a spinner make its web, with wary distance but no shortage of interest. When the man passed by their bunk door, Daro and Stefyr had slipped from their bunks and dared Mum's wrath to follow.

They had snuck out behind the man to the far field and laid in the tall grass, peeking through to see just what was it that smith was doing. Daro was growing bored, finally tired enough to want to sleep instead of adventure. The smith had, after all, done nothing worth watching yet. He had just set up some contraption and then just stood there, waiting.

Just as Stefyr rolled over to shake Dar awake, he stilled, eyes wide and then wider. The stars… streaks shot one after another after another in the dark sky above. Twinkles were there, of course, as they comfortingly always were, but now one blaze of light after another hurtled across the expanse of dark until it dwindled to nothing. He stopped the memory there. That was the important part, the part he wanted to give this egg's occupant, and his hands came away, a smile ghosting across his lips.

There couldn't be many left. He was beginning to feel wrung dry by giving away all these tiny pieces of himself, each chosen with care. But he hadn't visited them all yet, and if he could before the dam tired, he would. It was only fair. His fingers traced the filigree over autumnal reds and oranges on The Smoke That Rose Egg and he took a breath before giving away the next shred of himself.

With this little dragon, he shared the moment of tingling anticipation when his da called him into the barn to lend a hand. His arms were strong by then, but they were also more slender than the older men. There was a heifer who'd been having trouble with her pregnancy. The Beastcrafter had been called out more than once to check on her progress as time went along, but the Beastcrafter wasn't here now and it was her time. They'd set a stall in the barn aside for the need, full of fresh hay, old blankets and bowls of water.

He'd seen animals give birth before, but it never failed to be a riveting experience. The long, anxious quiet with the changing rhythms of the panting mother's breath, the ripples of muscle as the natural process took its course. This time, the heifer needed help. Da had been through this before and the Beastcrafter had told him what would be wanted in the event. And so it was Stefyr who was coached through the experience of physically, using his own two hands, to help bring a life into the world. Not a human life, no. One a dragon would readily gobble down when the beast was big enough, but still, a life.

He remembered the breathless moments of panic once the calf was on the ground as Da rubbed it and cleared its nose. And then it breathed. Moments like that can go on forever, little dragon. The whole of the night felt like forever and like a blink. A moment can mean everything. You don't have to think about what's remembered when you're gone if you're alive in the moment, in every moment. That's what counts.

As he turned away from the egg and shook out his hands, he made a mental count. Two left. He felt like he was running out of things to say, things to share. Could it be that anything safe to share with just anyone - with just any baby dragon - in the whole of his life could number so few? Well, to be fair, it hadn't been a very exciting life, as he thought of it, until recently.

He chewed on his lip and shuffled toward the next egg - the next to last. He glanced fleetingly toward that last egg. The one that nerve and need chose for last because it was the most important. Bringing his focus back, he took a breath and his hands touched the egg that was mostly just an egg, fingertips running across its trio of orbs. To the Fool Moon Egg, he closed his eyes and gave…

…a party. He had been five. Five was the age you got to start doing real work on the farm, not just helping Mum fetch and carry in the kitchen or Da in the barn. You got your own chores, your own responsibilities and duties. Some of the older kids told Stefyr the party was their parents' little joke because life wouldn't be fun anymore, after tonight. But Stefyr wasn't so sure. Responsibility didn't sound bad to him. He had always been the littlest brother. He wanted, more than anything, to prove himself.

So though his sisters snickered behind their braids and his brothers jeered, Stefyr beamed as a nut cake was set before him, glazed with his favorite sweet glaze and dotted with the fruit of the season. He was a man now. Well, okay. Still a boy. But a boy learning to be a man. To be more than he was. And he was proud. He was still quietly proud, proud to be going through yet another transformation, learning better lessons, finding himself. Let them jeer or snicker as he made mistakes, took on responsibilities and duties, and learned from it all. He didn't care, and, he suspected, neither did this egg.

One left. It was time. Stefyr was exhausted. Who knew that emotions and sharing could be so tiring? Not Stefyr. Maybe he'd just never made the attempt to share so much of himself, albeit in ten small slices, in such a concentrated shot. Tired or not, though, he needed to connect with this last egg. His favorite egg.

His hands touched the green shell of Prize-Winning Produce Egg, offering a shy hello that he knew left him flushing crimson on the sands. He wanted… more with this egg. He wanted a give and take, not just a give, but now wasn't the moment for those wistful needs and voracious wants. Right now the only thing he needed to do was to close his eyes and share this one thing. This was the sharing he had thought the most about. The one memory he had sieved the grains of memory for: the perfect introduction beyond what had come before.

He took a deep breath and called up the memory.
A familiar stuffy darkness.
The scratch of wool blanket over his toes.
The creak of a foot on a floorboard.
The rhythmic rock of Grandmother's chair in the next room.
A soft, sweet voice that filled him with all the love, comfort and acceptance that he could imagine.

He took a breath. Deeper, he wanted to offer something deeper, but then a hand touched his shoulder.

"Time, lad," one of the assistants said, pulling him gently away from the egg, steering him by the elbow to the exit.

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