Heather takes you into a plainer cave that nonetheless contains the same amount of sand as the Crystal Cave. A girl about eighteen years old is settled on a ledge outside, playing on her pipes. You stop and listen, thinking you've never heard music quite like that before...sort of happy and sad at the same time.
Heather takes a step further into the cave.
"Ascella?" she says. "I thought I'd come and show this visitor your nest."
The girl doesn't respond until she's wound her playing to a complete halt. Then she stands gracefully and turns towards you. You notice she looks completely different to Heather, having long, wavy black hair and dark skin. Her eyes, in direct contrast to this however, are a brilliant green. You look at her and decide she's about five foot ten.
"Hello," she says distinctly. Her voice is low and musical.
"Hello," you reply.
The girl keeps her clear green eyes fixed on yours.
"I'm Ascella," she continues. "Who are you?"
You introduce yourself to her. Ascella nods, almost as if an unasked question had been answered, then smiles warmly.
"So what brings you here?" she asks.
"Uh...Heather?" you suggest wittily.
Ascella laughs lightly.
"She does like dragging people all over the place, doesn't she?"
You raise your eyebrows.
"Tell me about it!"
Heather simply snorts good naturedly.
"Are you a Candidate?" you ask Ascella, indicating the nest.
Immediately the girl's eyes light up.
"Actually, no, not any more! I was lucky enough to be successful at Draconia Nest!"
You blink, slightly taken aback by the abrupt change in her.
"So, uh, where's the dragon?" you ask.
Ascella laughs again.
"C'mon and I'll show you."
She leads you into a huge 'subnest' and you realise that the nest you originally entered must have been her room or something.
A small hatchling yawns widely and stretches, obviously woken up by your entrance. It's an unusual colour-bronze with multicoloured plating.
"This is my Halloween dragon Witcheds," Ascella tells you proudly. "She's a bronze/green/black mutation, and-" She breaks off suddenly, then blushes. "Uh, Witcheds wants to know if you find her cute."
'Cute' isn't an adjective you'd usually apply to a dragon but looking at Witcheds, you can't really see that there is any other word for it.
"I think you're very cute," you say to the little hatchling, who gives you a cheeky draconic smile, making her look even cuter.
Ascella gives a mock sigh.
"Yes...it's my own fault, of course. I watched her hatch just as I'd finished writing a letter to my friend Larana-who's recently taken a nest next to mine, but at that time was back in Rindon-and my first thought was that this Halloween dragon wasn't scary or dangerous but cute. It's kind of influenced her."
::It has not!!:: Witcheds says so indignantly that you can hear her. Ascella smiles fondly.
"I'm only teasing, and you know it! Go on, go and finish your sleep and I'll feed you again later-after I feed Vampira," she adds.
Witcheds pads over to her bed again and tucks her head under her, then goes back to sleep.
"And this..." and Ascella leads you over to a dip in a rock filled with hot sand and indicates a firedrace curled up inside it "is Vampira herself, who is also from Draconia Nest. Unlike Witcheds, though, who apparently is extremely slow growing, Vampira shouldn't take nearly as long to grow up! I think we should leave her alone-she does get grumpy if she's woken up."
"Uh huh," you say. "So how'd you end up at Draconia Nest?"
"Well, that's a tale and a half!" she answers. "Have a seat. Go on," she adds as you hesitate, "the sand's really quite comfortable!"
You sit down and Heather plonks herself down beside you. Ascella settles in front of you and says:
"I was born in Rindon seventeen years ago and I have two brothers and three sisters. Rindon's a small town about thirty miles northwest from Draconia Nest, near the ocean. We're not noted for producing potential dragonriders like some of the other towns and villages-our talent has always been in music."
"So I heard," you say admiringly, glancing at her set of multiple pipes. Ascella flushes, clearly pleased.
"Thankyou. The head of the Music Guild has often taken apprentices from Rindon. My brother Meson was one. Well, when I was about eight years old, I saw an Everondian dragon flying for the first time in my life." Ascella smiles at that memory. "I just stood there with my mouth hanging open, until I realised that it was getting dark and I was a long way from Rindon-I'd gone exploring for something or other with my friend Shaula and we'd been warned about staying out after dark before. We started home but then the dragon came and landed next to us. He was a black, one of the rarest type of Everondian dragon. K'shar-his rider-said he was going towards Rindon and he could give us a lift back, if Karmads was willing." Ascella coughs a few times. "Sorry, I'm getting a little hoarse; do you mind if I fix myself a drink?"
You shake your head and Ascella moves out into a small room and returns with three mugs which she dips into a kind of natural pool in a ledge outside the nest. She hands you yours and you sip gratefully, finding it extremely refreshing. Ascella takes several gulps of hers and continues. (Heather just chugs hers straight down. By now, you weren't really expecting anything else.)
"According to K'shar, Karmads was perfectly willing and we flew back to Rindon. That has to be the best experience of my life," Ascella says, her voice full of wistfull remembrance. "When Shaula and I were about fifteen, Karmads visited Rindon again and said that Shaula had been chosen to come to Draconia Nest. I was pleased for her, but couldn't help being a little jealous. I had applied to quite a few places-but most of them never bothered to answer my letter. Anyway, Shaula was lucky first time and now lives in her nest with her green dragon Mamyds. I had stayed here for a lot longer when I was finally successful and got both a dragon and a firedrace!"
"Well, good luck in taking care of them," you answer, not knowing what else to say.
"Thanks! I think I may need it," Ascella answers.
"Hey Ascella, your mentioning Larana reminded me...has she finished decorating her place yet?" your guide asks.
"Uh..yes, I think so," Ascella answers.
Heather grabs your hand.
"C'mon! I want to go see her! Let's head out for her nest!"
"Thanks for visiting me-please feel free to drop back anytime. Perhaps when you come back, the firedrace or the dragon will be a little older!"
"Thankyou, I will," you answer. As you leave her nest, you hear the sound of her pipes wafting out after you as she starts to play again.
Phew! I'm beat. Give me a break!
Thanks to Icon Bazaar for this background