Heather sidesteps suddenly into a long passage. Stumbling in the dark, you follow her up a slope.
"Sorry 'bout this," Heather says conversationally, "but R'shi loves to be high up and this is the highest cave available."
"R'shi?" you ask.
"Yeah, he's Shaula's younger brother. He impressed a dragon from-"
"Draconia Nest?" you suggest.
Heather looks disgruntled that you've outguessed her.
"Well, yeah. This was one big family and friends group that arrived here from Everond, so naturally they all applied to the same Nest. R'shi recently turned twelve, so he's only just old enough to be a dragonrider. Luckily. He used to be real envious of Shaula and Mamyds, until he impressed his own dragon. Now he's finally stopped trying to help out Shaula, Ascella, Sheratan and just about everyone else with a dragon!"
During this long explanation, you've been walking up the slope which has been growing steadily more steeper. You finally emerge in a large-very large-cave with an opening, a little similar to Heth's cave. Unlike the other caves, this one has a soft carpet of grass on it.
As if reading your mind, Heather grins and nods.
"Yeah, sand is the norm, I know. This is more the room where the dragon (and R'shi) come to sun themselves and just generally relax. That ledge in front of us will also be pretty useful when they want to go flying-they can just take off. Well, they can when the dragon's old enough to fly, seeing as how he won't leave without R'shi."
You look around and see a young boy with a bronze hatchling behind him. R'shi looks to be younger than his twelve reelays, but apparently he's also strong for them as well, judging from the two buckets he's holding.
::R'shi, we got visitors!::
The boy looks fondly down at the little dragon.
"I know, Neds, I can see," he says teasingly.
"What's in the buckets?" you ask R'shi, as Neds comes over to inspect you more closely.
"Well, right now I've been persuading Chrysial to give me lifts down to the beach."
"Again?" Heather interrupts. "Didn't you spend most of your time getting Neds' sand from there?"
::I got lotsa sand to sleep in!:: Neds tells you proudly. ::Wanna come see?::
Given that Neds is pushing you hard towards a cave mouth, you don't really feel you have a lot of choice in the matter.
"Neds is a real extrovert," R'shi tells you. "He'll talk to almost anyone."
You nod as best you can when you have a determined hatchling shoving you along, and almost trip.
"Neds!" R'shi says. "Be careful." He gets what you've come to think of as a 'dragonlook' on his face, then it clears. "Yes, I know you want to show them your nest, but I think they can walk." Neds stops shoving you abruptly and bounds past you, waiting in the entrance. You follow him and find yourself looking into a slightly smaller room that's covered in sand, feet deep in places. A deeper hole towards one of the edges marks Neds' sleeping area.
"That's...um...sandy," you say.
Apparently satisfied, Neds starts nudging at your legs, trying to propel you out. You're wise to him by this stage, so you just move out on your own steam.
"You never answered my question," Heather tells R'shi. "Why are you moving water up here?"
"Well, Neds loves nothing more than swimming," R'shi answers, "and until he can fly us to the beach, I thought that..."
::R'shi is building me a swimming pool!:: Neds explains happily. ::R'shi is the best dragonrider ever!!::
"Neds!" R'shi protests, but you get the feeling that he doesn't really object to this comment. "You can take a look around if you want-I'll just keep working."
You nod and get your first good look at the youth as he carefully empties his buckets into a deep pit in a much larger adjoining cave. R'shi is about 5'2", with hair so blond it's almost white, and cut short around his head. His eyes, in contrast to this hair, are dark brown. Combined with his skin, which has that tanned look of someone who's spent a lot of their life outside, the hair and eyes give a kind of mismatched appearance.
"Hey, you got anything to drink?" Heather calls through to R'shi.
"I think I got some water in there with you," R'shi calls back from where you can hear splashing and Neds demanding is the pool nearly finished? and when can he get to swim in it?, so loudly you can hear him.
"Great, thanks." Heather roots around, upending various items with no concern of place or privacy, until she finds what looks like some kind of flask, which she pries open and drinks from. Suddenly, as if remembering something, she offers it in your direction. "Uh, do you want some?"
"No thanks," you say. You already had enough to drink with Ascella.
"That's good, 'cause I just finished it. Hey, here ya go." She hands you the empty container.
"Um, thanks, I think," you say, taking it.
"Well, the tour's gonna take us to the islands," Heather says matter-of-factly, "and so we might as well fill it up from the stream out there."
"Okay, okay," you say. You've already learned that it's quicker to agree with Heather than to argue with her.
R'shi steps into the room again, closely followed by Neds.
"You finished?" Heather asks.
The boy runs a hand through his hair.
"Nowhere near! I gotta get at least three times this amount." He sighs. "At this rate, Neds'll be old enough to fly us down to the beach by the time I finish."
Heather grins again and pulls at your arm.
"C'mon, we'd best leave them to it," she says. "Let's head out of here and down to Setor's Nest!"