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"Look at that," Squall said, pointing to the north. "It's Nightride, but... What is that following him?"

Apogee couldn't help but look - as her lovemate's powers kept them both hovering solidly in the air, she didn't have to cling on to any part of the raven-braided woman, but she held her hand gently anyway. "I can see something, but ... it's got wings, that's all I can tell."

From the ground, then, came a sending of curiosity and wonder, from White-Eyes. There is a rider, up there! She says her name's Ainea, and that she comes for a purpose! She wants to talk to you.

"Talk..." Apogee said, then switched to her mental voice, which carried to White-Eyes quickly. Tell her to come to the high Aerie, follow Nightride and we'll meet her there.

After a pause, the far-sending White-Eyes confirmed that the message had been recieved. She's on her way. It... I get this other mind in there, though. Like she's not alone.

Perhaps it is someone in need, Apogee thought, We'll see.

She broadened her sending range to include even those who were out hunting - the successful Rasp and Whip were on their way back from their hunt already. The snowy air didn't impeed thoughts.

Everyone back to the High Aerie! Another meeting - someone is coming to visit us!

Squall could feel the excitement in her partner's mind. It was certainly something new, they'd been isolated out here for so long, Apogee missed those who did survive the collapse of the old Peaks. But this wasn't someone she knew, that much was obvious. Ainea? Who was that?

Squall looked out at the distant snow and saw only twin specks - one was the bond bird, the other... A paler form. The dark skinned elfess began to float them back to the Aerie.

At the top of Bald Mountain, the north-facing aerie was filling up with people. The scarce tribe members, Rasp and Whip, would be there shortly. Annoyed, too, by the sound of their sendings to White-Eyes.

We hunted well and we won't even be able to be rewarded yet... Rasp whined. They arrived before the pair of flying creatures did, and deposited their kill on the stone floor of the large room.

The dark feathered Nightride landed first, sure of where he would be flying by many eights of turns practice. It was true that the bird was quite old - feathers dropped from his great body and tail as he backwinged and landed less gracefully than he had before. Farfire approached her bond, and they communicated with their deep sending briefly. Her eyes went wide, and she gave a bit of a gasp.

"Look," she said. Her gaze went past her mostly-moulted bond bird, at the snowy air outside. It was growing dark, apart from the cloud cover. But everyone could see the shape of a white birdlike creature coming in.

It was no bird! It had leathery wings, and four legs - a long reptilian neck and large pawlike feet on long legs. Its silvery white wings had delicate snowflake patterns on them. It landed after locating the ledge and folding its wings.

The whole group - two short of two eights - stood with their eyes wide and mouths half-open. "What... is that?" Asked Whip.

It is my dragon, bespoke a mental voice as pale and icy-smooth as the dragon's skin. Everyone became aware that there was a small rider on the back of this creature's neck! She was dressed head to foot in finely made leathers and furs. Her skin was tan, and what could be seen of her hair was a wispy black. Her eyes were darkly brown, and large. She was small for even this group of elves.

I am Ainea, the elf spoke mentally. Her voice, though crystaline and high, was strong - she was used to sending as her only means of communication. And this is Adisath, she was hatched several turns ago at a place called Ryslen Weyr.

The murmuring started shortly. Mostly to be heard, was "where?" and "what's a dragon" and "why are you here?"

Ainea removed her furry hat, and shook out her hair. It was short, cropped to the curve of her jaw. Dragons, are these - she pointed to Adisath who smugly raised her head and snorted. Ryslen is a place that dragons are bred and ridden by people. The way she thought 'people', it was a hesitation - she meant to say 'humans' but didn't know how that would go over in this Holt. She'd rarely been among her own kind, let alone humanity - but it seemed she'd been spending more time among humans lately than anything else. All of that came out with the next statement, I am looking for suitable bonders for her offspring. They are at Ryslen with a number of other pair's eggs.

Stunned again into silence, the group watched the elf as she rubbed the dragon's pale hide.

"And you believe that ... what," Apogee said, wondering if she was really going to say this, "that we're appropriate?"

Well... Ainea looked at the group. Adisath was actively looking at each of the elves in the high-ceilinged room. Adisath and her mate Juyath have laid eggs along side many other female's. The Flurry flight- it takes place in winter - has mostly white and silver dragons. Since the other females are there we felt confident enough to go find our own bonders. Usually, the Weyr has someone to do that for us, but they're quite busy. And Adisath wanted to fly after being grounded. She was heavy with eggs for two months - about eight hands of days, and then laying and guarding them... We were quite bored.

"There are no 'weyrs' around here," Warmhand said, concerned. "Where is it that you're talking about?"

"Yes, even Humans don't have tales of these dragons - and they fear everything like them." Rib, the eldest of their group, said.

Ainea looked away and thought, it is not on this planet. It is on another world - perhaps several worlds - I know of other dragon hatcheries and weyrs. They call them many things, on different worlds. Weyrs, caers, dens, nooks, eyrs, castles... everything.

She glanced back at the group, and saw that most if not all of them were still following her thoughts. I was searched by a dragon and rider, I live far to the north along the coast to the west of this place - far away indeed. It will be good to visit, but we'll be home soon enough anyway.

"You flew on a dragon, to another world?" Shatter said, unconvinced.

We flew, but then we moved through time and space. That too has many names. Betweening, teleportation, portal, too many to name.

"Space and time?" Apogee said, curious. "I don't know if your elders taught you about how the High Ones arrived to this world, but..."

I know the tales. They are true of course - I ... believe them anyway.

"I do, one of my ... old friends," Squall said, uncharistically open for being in the group, "she was trained by a High One, and she told me."

Space and time are nothing, and even less to a dragon who can teleport! Ainea assured the group. But that is why we could not return while she was heavy with eggs - traveling that way often kills or changes the offspring before they're laid. And usually, she cast a glance at her dragon, the dam is too busy tending her eggs on the sands to leave - her mate usually does all the hunting.

"But you've come back to your home world," Whip said, "to ..." He stopped, and then glanced at the others.

"To bond," Rasp said, "it's all right. Some day, you'd have done so."

Others encouraged the sad cat-rider to face his fear. Then Farfire had a strange question. "If you find a dragon, how long will they live?"

Ainea looked at the red-headed elfess and thought, indefinitely? I know they live a very long time - it seems that their human bonds age more slowly if they are paired. And when a human grows old, their dragon does as well. I do not know if there are enough of our kind riding them, to know how long they will live. I never gave it thought.

Adisath snorted again and apparently pleased Ainea with a response.

She says she will live with me as long as I am alive. So, that would be your answer.

Apogee gazed at the faces of her tribe. Each of them had something special about them already - even if they didn't admit it or hadn't realized it yet. And she did so miss having a bond mate - it wasn't like having Squall's mind near her, even though they had long since learned each other's soul names. They were a pair stuck forever, but TwoClaws was something else. Apogee knew that Whip's bond cat was a loyal creature even though she personally detested the cats - they were why Two Claws had only two claws on his one leg...

"We'll go, and come back as a tribe of dragon riders!" Apogee announced. "Can you imagine? What will it be like for those poor humans..."

"You make friends with them so easily," White-Eyes said, "I can't see them being a problem."

Excitement filled the room as preparations were made. Ainea told them that there were many places which seemed in need of bonders from any world that they could get.

"Then we could split up, and bond at different places?" Asked Heartshy. "I don't know if I want to be apart from everyone..."

It would not be for very long, and you could all agree on a place to meet back up again after your dragons... if you all bond, that is, must not give you the impression that you'd all bond the first time you stand... when the dragons are adult and they've had the proper training, you could all meet back here at a particular time. It is no trouble for any dragon hatched at Ryslen to travel through space or time - though I will say it's even colder than my ice house...


Over a meal of the roasted brush-boar that Rasp and Whip had caught earlier (and been thouroughly congratulated upon too), the holt full of elves made their minds up about what they'd do if they bonded. They lounged in the main dining room of the Holt's cavern system, which struck Ainea as being remarkably similar to the weyrs they would be viewing.

There would be protectors, scouts, hunters, of course. Warmhand thought that perhaps his healing ability would be of greater use if he went out on dragon back instead of having wounded come to him. Collecting items and carrying them back to the Holt would be far easier with sturdy dragons on hand, if they wanted to help.

Farfire sat dejectedly in the corner of the feast room, watching the elves talk and send and yammer on. She bolted silently back to the aerie where Nightride was resting. It was chilly. His nest was not as warm as it could have been.

But she found Adisath with her white wing resting over her black bird's back, keeping the chilly winds off of him. Her heart broke. Then her mind was filled with a beautiful sad voice, so unlike that of her bond-bird's mind that she was brought to tears.

He is not long for this world. He is tired.

"I... I know he is. And there are no females. The fledges we had were bonded by elves who left Bald Mountian on them. They promised to come back, but they never did and I fear that Nightride's offspring did not live to produce fledges of their own."

Then you should come with us. I know a place that would take you in a moment. All dragons can speak to each other - and we gossip more than our riders would like to admit.

Farfire giggled, wiping her tears away. "I'll go. But... what about Nightride? I can feel his life fading, but ... I didn't think it would be so soon. So abrupt."

It is best this way, lingering is torture for any creature. Dragons ... well, when their bonds die they send themselves to a place outside of time. Their spirits reside where their bodies cannot. To be reunited with their bond and their families is important. But to me, I know I will not leave Ainea's side. Your bond will be just as strong. You have proven yourself able to care for a flying bond before.

Adisath nuzzled Farfire, and kept her warm along side Nightride, as the great dragon-sized bird's life left it.


Ainea watched as the group of southern elves spoke excitedly among themselves about what they might expect and how to decide to pair off, and where to go.

It was hard to decide where to go, though. Harder still, because Ainea actually had very little experience getting to all these unusual places. She had heard about them through the dragons speaking, and anyone who attended a Frenzy or Flurry (as she just had not long before) knew that there were many different breeds of dragon to be found. She silenced the room with a sending.

I think that I should bring some transport dragons, and take you all to the Den for a while, she gave off an image of a big rocky place that had dragons of every sort and a woman running the place who was clearly human - but she gave the impression that Baeris was a friend, and at least a few of the tribe's encounters with humans so far had been positive so they did not balk immediately. So you can look at your choices more carefully. If you want to bring things, you should. I will be able to bring us back to this point, or a few minutes later, if you wish.

The tribe sent among themselves. There was merit to going to a place which could show them exactly what they were getting into. And every one of them trusted Ainea. Anyone who sent exclusively as their means of communication couldn't lie to any of them - particularly not to White-Eyes, who was very interested in this event.

Apogee nodded, "all right, but... Will these dragons be able to carry all of us?"

Ainea's musical laugh was enough to bring a blush to Apogee and a laugh from Squall. Ainea told them, Adisath is a very very small dragon. In fact, most other dragons won't really be able to fit even in here - though I saw there are other mountains with caves just north of here too.

"And south," Squall said. On her many flights around the Holt she and Apogee had explored all over. "There will be room to have these dragons."

Absolutely. Let me send Adisath to find our friends at the Den, and she'll be back shortly.

When Ainea touched her dragon's mind again, she knew that the red-haired girl's bond bird had died, and felt the great sadness that her dragon expressed to the elf. When Adisath recieved her instructions, however, she apparently offered to take the lifeless shell of Nightride away so that the elves did not have to deal with the corpse when they got back. Farfire agreed, but took a few more feathers first. The old bird had always loved being ridden without a harness, as well, so that leather contraption lay unused for the better part of a century. Little did Farfire know she'd be making another one soon enough...


The dragons that Adisath arrived with were in fact uniformly larger than she, except for one, which was almost the same dainty size. Apple-golden-green Dulath, bond friend of Baeris, decided to see this batch of friends that the small leathercrafter/rider was going to be showing off.

They are all very healthy and strong willed, Dulath told Ainea. Baeris will enjoy helping them, I think. Do they speak a language she would understand?

I can translate if need be, but they can send as I can. And she is always receptive to thoughts - any human with a dragon bond is thus.

Dulath nodded and peered at the group within the cavern. The elves had assembled themselves once again in the aerie - and some were slightly disturbed to note that Nightride's nest was now empty and Farfire was cleaning up the last of his moulted feathers.

"Is he-" Apogee said, warily.

"He died just while you all were talking down in the feasting chamber." Farfire said, sadly, but her face showed promise. "Adisath removed his body, and I'm ready to go wherever it is we're headed."

The other, older eagle rider without a bond hugged Farfire strongly. They now both knew what it was like to have and to lose. Whip did not participate in this little sob-and-cry session. He had abruptly decided it was time to replace his cat's memory with a new creature.

The dragons which came otherwise, were all smallish in terms of dragons, but still uniformly larger than Adisath and Dulath. There was a dainty sharp-winged golden-green whose feet, tail and wingtips were dappled in a darker green, while her wings were more sunset-gold, and all along her spine from nose to rump was a white flecked shade. Patlak curiously nosed into the aerie.

This is a nice den! I think our kind will enjoy being here. Don't you?

She turned her attention to one of the others, a dark-red with white swirled markings on her wings, and a white mask over her eyes. She had horns, unlike Patlak. I do. Small ones. Perhaps two will comfortably fit just here. There are others?

The red dragoness seemed to ask the elves, and Shatter came up with the answer of "... yes, there are eights of caves like this."

Good! Khauduk announced.

The third dragon to arrive was larger than the two females, and Ainea pointed out that while there were going to be exceptions everywhere, mostly, green and gold were female dragons - so Dulath and Patlak were female on sight; while blues like the clouded white-blue Keik were male. Reds were often either gender, because they were more rare on certain places' hatching grounds. Some didn't bear red or black or white at all. That almost seemed to disappoint the group.

You'll wind up with a colorful bunch of dragons anyway, Ainea told the elves. After the feast, they had gathered travel worthy clothing. They were told they did not need their sleeping and camping and hunting gear just yet - that could all be gotten later on while they were in transit to their respective weyrs or dens. They would be coming back before any extended stays began.

They easily fit three astride Keik, and another three upon Khauduk. Dulath carried Apogee and Squall - even though Squall insisted she could fly with the dragons.

You cannot fly this way, though I am sure that you would match our speed in the air easily. You have the aura of a flier about you. Keik told her - his voice was airy and kind of sad, a mood that she knew all too well. She liked this dragon a lot.

Adisath could carry her rider plus one, and Dulath took on three of the smaller more slender elves. Patlak picked up the last two, White-Eyes and his mother Rib.

With an excited rush, into the snowy night, the dragons took off. Because of the intimacy and directness of sending thoughts, Ainea explained quickly to everyone that they would be flying a bit, and then they would teleport - everyone must remain calm, no matter what they might see or hear, or not hear. She expected the ride to be short, just a few heartbeats worth of time.

The group of elves inadvertantly let off several shouts of fear, surprise, glee or wonder, as they took off. Most of them had ridden at one point on either Apogee's bond or Nightride, but that was very little like this! The strong flapping of the muscular dragons took their breath away.

Even Warmhand, normally a bit afraid of heights, thought that this flight was the most marvelous thing ever. Of course, his son Clearwater and Heartshy were crushed up against him in half-trembling joy too. He hoped this might make them ... well, thoughts of recognition were always on his mind - he had been blessed with twins as his legacy after all.

The trip between worlds was unnerving to everyone. While human kind normally saw and heard nothing, those with any amount of telepathy or empathy could tell that this 'empty' space was filled to the brim with spirits and the dead, other transportation means and people who got lost. To White-Eyes, it was amazing. The spirit of his father felt its way up to him, but he knew better than to reach out and touch. The saying that the wolf-blooded elves had, "when you see the dead, you're close to being with them" came back to him. It didn't make him afraid, but he did know he had a lot more to live for, than to be lost to this black place.

Besides, apparently, he'd be traveling back and forth through it enough to get some time with his long-dead father.

To Whip, however, it was torture. His tiny child and his loving recognized mate were there, begging him to come along with them. He had to turn away. This place would be difficult for him to travel through. He would bear it, as he'd borne everything else. He must.

The trip was over just about when everyone's feelings started to tingle. They came out over this wide, flat area of the Healing Den - the parking lot. At this moment, there were actually several space-worthy vehicles there, and Ainea wondered whose they were.

You see the symbol over the entrance? Ainea sent, and Apogee's mind went rocketing back to her days at the Peaks, where Symbolmaker lived and learned how to use things like this... They hadn't been remarkably close, but he had written down several of her flight plans and made maps with her from her extended scouting journeys. She learned to read maps... That was fun.

The symbol was an open sun-moon duality pattern, brightly yellow on one side, and blue on the other. Even Ainea didn't try to guess what that meant. If you concentrate on the symbol over the doorway, you'll always find yourself at the right time and place. This place exists outside of time.

"Like the High Ones said their traveling palace did." Squall announced. "This place could be just like that. Did humans make this?"

Someone did, it used to be many other things before its use here, Dulath told her. Come inside. There are places you should see. And you may rest up before your trips.


Baeris was busy with some off-world guests, but she made a cursory examination of the elves. They were tiny - Ainea's height was average for them, apparently. But they were all very different, from each other and from human kind. They exuded a sort of natural beauty and magic, which Dulath told her really was magical - they could heal and shape plants and ride the wind.

"Wonderful," Baeris said, a little more flatly than with any excitement. "I suppose the records room is where you'd like to head. It'll have a lot of information."

It looked as though Ainea's sending was helping the group either learn her language, or just get the gist of what she'd said. Ainea spoke very little, but she had picked up a lot of language skills while she was in training at Ryslen.

When the elves got into the high-tech records room, they were all rather amazed, and somewhat discouraged at the same time. The records they were used to having were scratched onto bone fragments, were shaped into walls, were painted delicately onto hide.

This was ... a humming computer/video room. They could never even have imagined what this object or that flat thing meant to do. Ainea however had seen it before, and been shown how to use it by Baeris for the last Frenzy.

This is called a terminal, she announced while standing next to a keyboard/video unit. It will show you images and locations of your destinations. If you move this, she wiggled the mouse, you can move this little dot over what you'd like to see. Press this, she clicked once, and you can get a better view.

They all stood mystefied. The seats were high, the desks were almost too tall for them to see what she was doing. But they got used to it quickly, as elves - like humans - are adaptable creatures. And, Ainea's sending helped greatly.

Shortly, she showed them how to bring up a list of which places needed candidates most. "I still don't really like the idea of being split up like this," Heartshy said.

"But it will be for the best, we want to have a variety of dragons, right?" Rasp said. Nudging her brother, she sent privately to him, and if you have the right dragons, they'll mate off, won't they...?

Clearwater blushed, and got back to looking on his terminal. Several others stood behind him, or Ainea, or Farfire, as they searched. Farfire gave off a whistle when she saw the image of one particular locale's breed of dragon.

"They are beautiful, aren't they?" She said, and they looked at a wild, sharp and fierce dragon. Shatter nodded.

"That's a very strong looking dragon. You'd do well with one of them, I think." He placed his finger over the screen, "where is this place? I want to see it."

"It is called.... I cannot read that," Farfire said. Out in the dragon den and flight area, she felt a voice - Adisath's.

It is Abri weyr. I knew you would find their dragons to be your type. Let me ask Dulath to help you on your choices. She knows how to read.

Dulath made her way through the wide hallway outside, and poked her apple-green nose through the doorway. She couldn't actually fit within the room, but she could offer mental assistance. Shortly, with a lot of excited gasps and chuckles, the group decided that in fact, this would be quite the adventure for them all.

They would travel to their destinations, separately, but return to Bald Mountain the way that they left it - on dragon back! Each of them vowed that they would bond the right dragon, that they would never let their friends down.

Ainea typed something in on the terminal, and the computers beeped for her. There. I have told the computers to print out copies of the location you need to return to, when you are ready to go home. You must keep this information, because you will need it, or you'll get lost in time and space.

Whip really didn't want to get lost, he was the first to take a printed out star chart.

"These are the stars over our Holt!" He cried.

Yes, they are. That is the best way to navigate. You will understand better when you are bonded. Dragons navigate carefully, but you must tell them where to go, or else they have to depend on their memories. Their memories are... not quite what humans would like them to be. They're more like ours, really. Ainea smirked. We forget things, after a time. But with this paper, she waved one of the star charts and Squall took it, you'll be okay.

They went back to the Holt, gathered what gear they wanted to keep, and kept having to remind each other that they were going to come back - right after they left. The food would not spoil in the meantime. They would be gone perhaps several days, maybe an eight. When they came back, they would be... a tribe of dragon riders!