It was later. The initial damage had been repaired, as much as it could be. Kassia had been taken to the Infirmary. The remaining eggs were...taken care of. The dragons weren’t letting anyone close enough to say much more than that.
The dragons. R’tal had worked on autopilot somehow, giving orders, letting the dragonhealers have access, listening to his mouth which apparently knew exactly what to do while what felt like most of his mind clung desperately to that connection with Talith.
And then everything was taken care of, and most people other than the guards and N’shen had filtered out and there was no-one left to put on a Weyrleader face for. The silence stretched for a minute or so before R’tal actually realised that and, much like the Weyrling he hadn’t been in a good few decades, swung his legs over the barrier rather than bothering to go around to get to his dragon.
N'shen did not notice at first that R'tal was moving. But a moment or two later, his own mind caught up with the fact that the world was still moving now that he and R'tal were alone. He followed R'tal's lead and walked across toward Truenoth. He tried to pretend he was not terrified that the damage to his eyes was permanent. To pretend he was not terrified that Kassia's baby – potentially his baby – had not survived. To pretend he was not sharing in Truenoth's distress over eight of his children dead and gone in this… whatever it was. This failure on his part to protect his Weyr.
No-one was watching. Except the guards who didn’t count, and N’shen who was probably too occupied with his own dragon to care. It was safe to sit on the Sands with a bump, safe to press his face into Talith’s brown hide, safe just to be quiet and scared and sad for a few minutes, mind reaching for his bond with his lifemate but not talking even through that. Something very bad had happened. They didn’t have to talk about it for them both to acknowledge it.
N'shen sat with Truenoth just so, silent, for a good long while. Eventually, though, he had to take next steps. He had to figure out what he was going to do.
"What do we do now?" he asked.
R’tal lifted his face from Talith’s side, pink and creased where it had been leaning against the dragon. “In terms of what?”
"How do we stop this happening again? How do we catch the ones who did it and stake their stinking carcasses out for Thread?" N'shen asked as though these were the obvious next steps.
R’tal took a breath, and scrubbed a hand over his face and tried to think. “Well. We probably have to face the fact the world and his wife will descend on us shortly,” he said after a moment. “That’s.. Not going to help.”
"Then… I'll handle the world and his wife, and you find the festering lowlifes, yes? See. This whole double weyrleader thing is already paying off." N'shen wanted to sound like he was making a joke, but he only sounded a touch mad.
R’tal took another deep breath. It didn’t help. “Feels like if I found them right now I wouldn’t be waiting for the trial to stake them out,” he admitted. “Feck. I shouldn’t be making decisions on this. Nor should you. Too-- too sharding personal.”
"Who makes these decisions if not us?" asked N'shen. It seemed whether it was personal or not, it was their… it was his responsibility to find a way to make up for his failure to prevent it in the first place. Everything he did to protect the weyr, even after the attack at the Gather, had been useless. And he had been so confident that it could not happen there.
“I don’t know.” R’tal had had a full afternoon of sounding confident and in control. The mask was dropping now. “I’d say Kass but-- that’s not better. Ask the Harpers.”
"Nobody can make us step aside on this," said N'shen. "Do you really think it's for the best if we do? We don't have to… oversee the investigation or be judges in the trial or what have you, but I can't fathom not even having a say in how we…" He sighed.
"I botched this, R'tal. This is all my fault. I need to make this right. Somehow."
“We both botched this,” R’tal said heavily. “I stood right in front of Kass and told her that she was fussing, that the Gather was the exception because of the crowds and that bringing in too many new guards would be more dangerous. I swore to her that watching people coming in was the safest way.” He reached up, running a hand over Talith’s hide. “Fecking idiot.”
"How…" N'shen sighed. It did no good to ask how it could have happened. It had happened right under their noses, right under their guards' noses. Right under Foreth's nose, for that matter. If they had all missed it, what else could N'shen have done?
He reached out to poke at Truenoth, but the bronze had nothing to say, wanted to say nothing. He wanted to be left in silence. To wallow, N'shen supposed. He understood the sentiment.
"They have the advantage, whoever they are. They know who we are and where to find us, and we know nothing of them. And we could round up all of them who worked in here, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the ones responsible are already long gone… Still, if anyone knows anything, it's likely the ones still left."
“The guards will be on it. GuardCaptain knows his job - better than we do apparently.” R’tal sighed. “What are your plans for tonight?”
"Tonight?" N'shen had not even considered that he ought to have plans. He wanted to spend the night with Truenoth. With Kassia in the Infirmary. He felt a stab of guilt at not putting his own pregnant weyrmate before Kassia on the list, but he warred with himself even then, as nobody had tried to kill Cotai, and their baby was fine. Kassia's… Faranth, he needed to know the baby was going to be OK.
Truenoth sighed sadly. His babies were not going to be OK.
"I don't know. Truenoth can't get back to our weyr like this… Wyelloth could give me a ride up, but I don't want to be away from him… There are too many places I want to be at once."
“Well. Kassia isn’t here, so there’s the weyr through there.” R’tal jerked his thumb towards it. “Doesn’t look so much of a mess as to be unredeemable. I’m not leaving Talith but I’m happy to share if you are.”
"Hm…" N'shen eyed the temporary weyr. "It… Is it a good idea for us to sleep where they could take us both out at once?" he asked.
R’tal shrugged. “Talith says he’s not leaving the eggs. Don’t know how Truenoth feels but.. If they came back and took out the two of them it’s not like we’d be working anyway, is it?” It was a bluntly phrased question. No-one dragonless would be sane enough to stay as Weyrleader. He considered, thinking a moment. “Though.. With your permission I might call T’ryn for a chat. I’d say we need a named WeyrSecond right now and M’gal is likely to want to be with Kass.”
N'shen sighed. He wished there were some other answer, but R'tal was right.
"You're right. That's a good idea." He had no better idea for who it should be than R'tal did. He was jealous for a moment of M'gal. They were likely assuming the child was his, he supposed.
“Right.” R’tal was quiet a moment. “I..really really want K’ren right now,” he admitted frankly. “And I’m betting your girl really wants to see you.” Which meant either going elsewhere or mutual agreement to pretend not to see or hear each other for a short period.
"I'm worried for her, too, and my son…" N'shen sighed again. "I should have done more to find more guards. But then… if we'd done that, that's how they would have come in, instead."
“I honestly believed they wouldn’t go after anyone but Kass,” R’tal was cursing himself for that assumption now, but now was too late. “Or that they’d pick something utterly random, like the Creche.”
N'shen frowned at the notion of R'tal expecting the creche was in danger. That was where his son was much of the day.
"They knew we'd assume that," said N'shen. "Counted on us assuming that. They… what if they knew it wasn't Kassia to begin with? What if they wanted us to think it so that they could do this instead?" He was not sure just how that would work… but it seemed as likely as they had managed to do what they had starting from the Gather.
“I don’t know.” R’tal was tired, and Talith was hurt and he wanted his weyrmate. “I don’t know, N’shen. I can’t think tonight.”
"OK." He could not stop thinking about it. But he could let R'tal get some rest without having to listen to him.
Truenoth nudged him again then. No words, but he took the meaning. Let me get some rest without having to listen to you, too.
[[OK, my heart. Very well.]]
"Then let's sleep."
“I want-- I need to talk to K’ren first. And T’ryn.” The one because his heart hurt, the other in case they died in the night. “And you--you should see your weyrmate. She’ll be worried.”
N'shen glanced at Truenoth again.
"Then it's OK for her to come here?" he asked. He did not want to… could not leave Truenoth. He wanted to see Gebrand, too, if he saw Cotai, but he was not sure he could bear for the boy to see Truenoth in this state.
“I’ll pretend you’re not there if you’ll pretend K’ren and I aren’t?” It was a big enough Hatching Grounds but still, sometimes the best way to have privacy was to learn to be deaf and bl-- No. Don’t even think that word.
N'shen nodded. "Deal."
Foreth surveyed her eggs sadly which uncharacteristic sadness. She hadn’t been able to save them and had added to the loss. Now she just had to protect the remaining eggs, but clearly she couldn’t be trusted to do it on her own.
‘Watch’ felt like a painfully ironic word right now as Talith raised a head that turned towards her only by following the sound of her moving. Still, he heaved himself up, willing if clumsy in his own personal darkness. ((We can--)) He hesitated, because that word felt like a lie. ((We’ll find a way to guard them.))
Truenoth was similarly hesitant for the same reasons. But he was not going to pass up and opportunity to somehow make up for his first failure. He would find a way to protect the eggs because he had to. He had to.
((We will,)) he promised.
Foreth warbled sadly as she pulled herself to her feet. The sorrow and feeling of failure was heavy within her as she gathered up the Gilded Cage Egg first. There was a clutch of eggs left, but the fear that there would be another attack was real. As harsh of a reality as it was, the gold eggs were the only source of another generation. If any had to survive, they did. And they’d be safer off the ground and farther from where attack would be so easy.
Moving both eggs at once was too dangerous. Foreth quickly moved the first of the golds to the Upper Caverns where it’d be farther from danger, then returned for the second. Once she had both with her in their new home, she started making the appropriate nest and left the rest to be guarded by the sires with what capacity they could muster.
Talith swung his head back and forth low over the eggs, trying to convince himself that if he was close enough he could make out shapes through the darkness. It was only when he got close enough to nudge one - still unseen - with his nose that he gave up on the idea. He heaved a sigh. ((Ideas?)) he asked Truenoth privately. ((If we can’t see danger--))
((We…)) Truenoth sighed as he did the same, moving as slowly and carefully as he could.. He was keenly wary of crushing any more of the eggs. ((We must put ourselves between the eggs and anyone who approaches. One of us on either side…? With the eggs in the center?)) he suggested.
Talith was silent for a long long moment, not wanting to admit helplessness. But-- ((Truenoth,)) he said quietly. ((If they got past me, I wouldn’t know if they were destroying them in front of me.)) Horrifying thought, the idea that they could be so close and unable to protect them still. He thought about it, trying to find a better plan. ((When Foreth guarded them at first, she lay on top of them.))
((If she can do that without crushing them, then so can we,)) said Truenoth. He did not want to give voice to the admission that he, too, would have been just as oblivious if someone made it past him without him hearing or smelling them. If they were touching the eggs, completely covering them, well. That would be one more sense on top of sound and smell they could use to guard the eggs.
((We can each take half.)) They might not have been big enough to cover them all, but there were two of them. Truenoth was more appreciative than ever that he had help.
Talith started to shift them, slow and steady, feeling his way around the Sands. ((We can do this,)) he reassured - trying to reassure both himself and the bronze at once.
((We will move slowly, steadily. I will stay still until you are ready for me to move,)) said Truenoth. There was no room for mistakes.
Silence for a few moments and then an exhaled breath. ((I have one safe here,)) Talith reported. ((I will make it comfortable while you take one.))
((Good.)) Given the go ahead, Truenoth took the same painstakingly slow effort to move one more of the eggs toward himself and to make a nest for it where he could safely cover it with his body and wings.
((Your turn,)) he said once he had finished. One at a time, one after the other. Eventually, they had the eggs… the remaining eggs divided between them.
It was exhausting work and they were both injured besides. By the ending Talith at least was grateful that Truenoth was unable to see how much he was drooping over the eggs as he settled himself on his portion like the world’s largest mother hen. ((Safe,)) he reported gratefully.
((Good. Well done, Talith. We will see to this… that is, we will handle this together.)) Truenoth resisted the urge to sigh at the slip of the word. But once again, he was glad he was not in this alone.
Foreth had been keeping an eye on things, poking her head down to watch occasionally and listening. When they seemed finished she took a good look over the Sands. She ignored the spots where egg shells told where a destroyed egg had been and fought the urge to start keening again.
((You two are doing a good job,)) Foreth crooned, glad for their help. ((But you missed a few.))
When you were exhausted someone telling you, however kindly, that you had to get back up was not welcome news. ((..A few?)) Again, Talith tried to stare at the Sands, sweeping his head around as though he might find something other than blackness.
((N'shen, would you…?)) Truenoth, too, was spent and too tired by far to cast about in the dark slowly and carefully enough. He conveyed his feelings as best he could to N'shen, who stepped out onto the Sands long enough for Truenoth to use his eyes to find the last eggs they missed. Just a few paces from where the others had been.
((I think I know where they are,)) he said to N'shen and to Talith. ((I will move them closer, take mine, and then you may take another.))
((Thank you.)) The gratitude in that was sincere. From rivals to this; depending on each other utterly to defend the eggs.
Truenoth moved a bit more slowly even than he had before. He was tired and had to force himself to move at all, for the sake of his – of their children. So he moved. After a little longer, the remaining eggs were within Talith's reach, and Truenoth had taken his.
((You may go,)) he said as he rested a moment.
Slowly, slowly and carefully Talith moved those left. By now R’tal too had come to watch, almost holding his breath as the last few were moved into place.
Almost done and finally a slip as the brown failed to see the rock half-buried in the sand. As he tried to shift the Green Caged Egg into place it was pushed up the slight slope the rock provided and then abruptly dropped from the other side before anyone could shout a warning. Talith gave a slight yelp of alarm, feeling it slip.
Foreth had been going back and forth between her gold eggs and watching, but she’d definitely heard the drop. She gave a yelp of distress and poked her head down, stretching her neck as far as it would go to get a better look.
Across the top was a long, very thin crack but otherwise the egg looked intact.
((I...I think it’s okay,)) she said. There’d be no way of really knowing until Hatching.
((It will be OK,)) Truenoth echoed. He felt as though his chest would burst when he heard the sound and did not even realize until Talith spoke that he was not breathing. But he could not let Talith wallow in guilt over what might be. The egg was not broken. Talith would have felt that.
N'shen glanced over at R'tal to see his expression. He wanted to get closer to look at the egg, but… it was really out of the question.
R’tal’s face was set. It felt as though if he could stop his face showing his emotion maybe he could also keep it from Talith. “Just a little crack, love,” he reassured, trying to minimise it in his own mind’s eye. “And-- it’s at the top. It’ll be fine.” Maybe being up there would stop the leaking of fluid that had happened after the earthquake. Maybe.
((I thought I had it steady!)) Talith was horrified and guilty, not quite daring to touch it now even to shuffle it safely amongst the others he protected.
((You did your best,)) Foreth said, uncharacteristically gentle. But she had no room to talk with eggs who would never make it to Hatching due to her own earlier panic. She crooned soothingly to him, trying to ease the shared pain.
((You may tell them I did it,)) said Truenoth. ((If anyone tries to hold it against you.)) How far he had come from jealousy to this deepest camaraderie. He doubted he would ever again feel as close to another dragon as he did Talith, save perhaps his weyrmate, Wyelloth. One did not experience this kind of trauma together without forging bonds.
((No. You did not.)) Talith whuffed air softly over the top of the injured egg. ((It must stay there,)) he said after a moment. ((If I move it now it may break completely.))
((Is it close enough to check? That it is still there?)) Truenoth asked. He already began to fret that they might have to leave one of the eggs exposed.
((I can touch it if I lean,)) Talith said after a moment’s experimentation. ((And.. if Foreth heaps sand around it, it maybe that none but us know that it’s there.)) Foreth at least could see to do so safely.
((Don’t move, I’ll help,)) said the big Queen
Foreth made the careful transition down to the lower Caverns which as even more crowded than before with the two big males and places unusable from the attack. There was just enough room for her to move carefully around to the egg. Very gently she mounded sand around it. With the tiny tear and the inability of the egg to be incubated under body heat as well as the sand, whether the egg would ever Hatch was up in the air, but when Foreth returned to the Upper Caverns she did so knowing they’d done they best for the egg as they could in the conditions.
((Now we just wait,)) she said tiredly after she settled back with her golden eggs.
((We wait,)) Truenoth repeated, internalizing it. It would be a long wait. And they would be waiting for so many things. Truenoth wished he could sleep until the waiting was over, but he had watching to do. Guarding to do.