The fluttering in Shalia's stomach had little to do with her recent illness (she hoped, at least), and everything to do with her present circumstances. She was actually Standing! For only the second time in five Turns, she'd made it to the Sands. No impending nuptials which kept getting pushed back to attend; no mindhealer ban (although she was guiltiy aware that she probably *should* have); no pregnancy; and no sharding gold kidnapping her!
Of course, the selfsame sharding gold had forced her to come to the upper Cavern with the two gold eggs, and not downstairs with the with the sixteen eggs which might contain her blue, but that was alright. She was *here*, and that was all that mattered. If her dragon was downstairs, he (or she, she belatedly amended) would find her.
The petite redhead glanced around at the others around her. Some she knew well, some were barely a vaguely recognizable face in the crowd, while most were somewhere in between. Andreya had chosen to stand near her, and she flashed a grin up at her taller cousin; Shalia definitely hoped one of the golds would go for *her*. She looked around at the other hopefuls - family, friends, and strangers. Some girls here at their first Hatching, some who'd been Standing as long as she herself (albeit with many more actual times on the Sands under their belts). Some short (though few shorter than she), some tall (though few taller than Andreya). She wondered how many of these girls would continue to Stand if they failed tonight; with three adult and soon to be two baby golds, some of these gold hopefuls might decide to leave Candidacy and join their Craft fulltime, since it would likely be a long time before another gold egg.
Commotion down below drew Shalia's attention; the first egg had started! The weariness of the hour left her as a burst of excitment surged through her, and she moved as close to the edge as she dared, trying to peer through the gloom to see what was happening below. She couldn't see anything, but movement behind her caused her to turn just in time to see Almira head towards the stairs. "Congratulations," she murmured under her breath as the other Candidate - Weyrling, now - ran down them as quickly as she could. She moved back towards rest of the girls; it was too dark to see anything down below anyway, and at least over here there was company. The cheering of the crowd as girl found dragonet and Impression was made seemed distant, even as it echoed around the Cavern.
And then came the screaming. There was... a lot of screaming. The panicked, horrified screaming of people suddenly remembering that for all their grace and majesty and intelligence, dragons were *predators. And Hatchlings didn't have the... whatever it was which prevented an Impressed dragon from harming humans. Eyes wide in her pale face, Shalia was suddenly glad she was up here and not down there. And glad that there weren't any Holders down there, although there were plenty of Weyrfolk (even amongst the Candidates) who were likely to have not really realized what a newly hatched dragonet could do.
Her cousin Trifali (and she really should have made more of an effort to get to know the girl) broke through the circle and headed towards the stairs, and Shalia watched as she rushed down, down *towards* the screaming, which was starting to subside. 'I really, really hope she's running for another dragon,' she thought to herself, fervently glad that *she* wasn't the one called by a dragon who had almost certainly at least mained somebody, if not worse.
Every time Shalia's energy started to flag and she began to consider sitting down, there'd be another burst of excitement from downstairs jolting her awake, and periodically another girl would rush for the stairs with that certain look on her face. She was staying near the stairs and so got good looks at each of them, and even though she smiled and cheered and yelled her congrats, she suspected that the lucky girl barely noticed. Each time the crowd below cheered, though, her own hopes sank just a little, and while she could never begrudge those lucky enough to find their Lifemates, she knew that each one was one less chance for *her*.
And then the quiet murmurming in the Upper Cavern came to an abrupt halt as one of the golds found her own key to open the lock of her Gilded Cage. Even Shalia held her breath as the goldling stepped out, and not even the dim lighting could disguise her beauty. And then a moment later, the other gold egg began to rock back and forth before shivering into a myriad of pieces to reveal its goldling occupant, just as lovely as the first, if in a completely different way. She grinned as the two of them bantered, and despite herself found herself trying to figure out which gold would suit her best. Or better, rather. There was a certain self-confidence in one of them (the second, she thought, though wasn't entirely positive) which appealed. A few more minutes and she was; definitely the second one, Nimoth, the 'golden brat' as her slightly older sister had dubbed her. 'Oh, if one of them has to Impress me, let it be her,' she thought.
But even so, when first one and then the other made a move towards the stairs, Shalia moved aside, not willing to get in their way - either gaining their attention and maybe their bond or being ignored and bowled over or even worse. Nope, her fathers hadn't raised a fool in *her*! Not that it mattered in the end as both of them were summarily captured by Foreth. The three golds spoke for a bit, and Foreth finally released Andorath to choose a lifemate.
Shalia's eyes widened as Nimoth suddenly looked straight at her and suggested her to her sister. 'The one with the red top' *could* mean any of a number of them, including Andreya standing right next to her, but she was mortally certain that the little gold meant *her*, a certainty that was verfied when she took a couple of steps to the side and the small (for a dragon, at least) golden head followed. Although at least maybe it meant that Nimoth wasn't wanting her for *herself*, right? Shalia tried to tell herself that, Though she failed to be very convincing, given how intently Nimoth looked at her. And to make things worse, Andorath *also* kept looking ricght back at her while dismissing the other Candidates. Shalia started to feel a tickle at the back of her head, a tickle she attributed to the two goldlings broadcasting so closely while focusing on her, although she wondered if it meant that one of them was taking more of a liking to her than she really wanted. "No, no, you ladies don't want me," she muttered fervently. "Look at 'Ara, or Andreya, or... anyone else up here, not me!"
And then suddenly Nimoth was also freed, and *both* golds were racing at her. And unsurprisingly, given the earlier screaming from below, there was rather a dearth of fellow Candidates to hide behind. Shalia did try scuttling to the side, but the pair simply changed to match, and both came to a stop in front of her, and Shalia stood stock still, afraid to move as both golds inspected her even more closely than before.
Nimoth's eyes suddenly changed color, to the red of anger, and she hissed. And then... yelled that she was *claimed*, which caused Shalia to blink in confusion. Claimed? Foreth was fond of her, of course, and Rhyth, and a few other dragons she was close to, but that shouldn't affect Impression. Should it? She darted a look at Andorath; could she be the one who'd 'claimed' her? But no, she looked just as upset, and it was possibly a good thing that Shalia was looking at her, because she missed the paw that was swiping at her until it was too late to instinctively make a move that might have meant those sharp claws shredded more than the front of her robe, managing to miss her skin completely even as the garment was well and truly riven.
Shock held Shalia in place as the robe gaped open, revealing to one and all that she was only wearing a thin pair of underpants beneath. And then Andorath bugled angrily and shoved her backwards. Fortunately, she had moved enough to the side trying to avoid their gazes that she didn't tumble down the stairs, but Nimoth had made her way behind her, and human tumbled over dragon... a dragon who most definitely did *not* appreciate a girl who wasn't *her* lifemate behing on top of her, and bucked. Had Nimoth been a runner, with saddle and stirrups and reins; had Shalia been properly astride and ready, she could have made a go of staying on her back. But as it was, being in sudden shock and off balance, instead she went flying, screaming in pain as she landed on her arm and heard a sickening crack. The pain filled her enough that she didn't hear the young gold's command to go, which likely wouldn't have mattered anyway, not being in any position to obey.
Fortunately for her, both golds quickly lost interest and decided not to punish her further for her transgressions. Even more fortunately, the sharp pain didn't block the sudden call she heard in her mind, and Shalia gasped as her head whipped around to the stairs, pain forgotten for the moment. "OH! Oh, yes! Oh, I'm coming!" she called. She tried getting up, hissing in pain, and a small bugle answered. "I'm coming, don't worry, don't worry, oh, I'm okay, Nireseth, don't worry!" She swatted at hands that were trying to keep her down. "Let me up! I need to go down! My Nireseth is calling me!" The helpful hands suddenly started providing the help she needed, to get to her feet, to untangle the tattered robe, and she beamed as she recognized Andreya. "His name is Nireseth!" she said, in case her cousin missed it. The shredded robe had fallen half off, and she shrugged it off completely, ignoring the pain in her broken arm in the process (although another bugle of distress from below showed that she was the only one ignoring it); it was faster and easier to let it drop than to try to get it back up, and she had more important things than modesty to worry about! "I'm coming, Nireseth, she called down ahead of her, kicking off the stupid, silly, useless sandals that would surely kill her if she tried running down the steps in them.
And so she appeared at the bottom of the stairs, barefoot and nearly naked, broken arm held close but then forgotten as she wrapped her good arm around her beloved blue. "I'm here, Nireseth, I'm here, oh, I can't believe it, I finally found you!" she said ecstatically.
((Who did this to you??)) Nireseth demanded, eyes whirling in a combination of anger, upset, and hunger, as his neck and tail twined around his lifemate.
"It doesn't matter, love, all that matters is I'm here, and you're here, and you're wonderful, and I'll heal, don't worry, it only hurts a *little* bit!" The last was a lie, but the endorphin rush she was getting from hugging her blue - *HER BLUE!* - was doing a good job of masking the pain right now. Of course, there was a *lot* of pain, and not just from her extremely abused arm but several other parts of her body that would surely develop spectacular bruises.
((If you're sure, then... can I have some food?)) the brightly colored blue asked plaintively. His' pain was all well and good, but he *hungered*.
Shalia laughed as her own stomach gurgled in time with his. "Of course, love, of course! Let me just-" Another wince of pain as she started to stand up, and she settled back down. "Can somebody bring us some meat!" she yelled out, looking around, although the first people to reach her were Healers.
LrdSlvrhnd on the Wizzy thingie, and also on Discord