"Okay," Heather says, stopping outside a cave with a furry curtain-probably made out of the skin of some animal-hanging in front of it, "this is where T'nir is staying."
She pushes the curtain to one side and steps in. You follow, hoping to see another dragon.
The cavern you're in is pleasantly spacious without being ridiculously large. There is a small bed pushed against one side of the wall (unmade) an even smaller table with a half-written letter on it addressed to 'Narie', a half-filled water jug and strewn all over the sand floor-buried in places where the sand is particularly deep-are half a dozen cat toys.
"T'nir!" Heather yells loudly.
There is a 'miaow' from down a small tunnel and a cat comes in."That's Jet," Heather says. "T'nir's from a fishing village-I forget the name-and he was Chosen, so he just had to bring Jet and Garnet with him."
Another cat pads in silently and gives you a 'who are you' look.
"Hey Garnet, where's T'nir?" Heather says, crouching down to scratch the feline behind the ears. "C'mon girl, let's see if we can find him."
After about an hour of Heather searching different tunnels, caves and then going back to the same ones on the basis that T'nir might be there now, you're getting a little tired.
"Who is this T'nir?" you ask, slightly testily.
"Oh, he's a dragonrider from Draconia Nest," Heather says offhandedly, whilst playing with Garnet and her rubber mouse.
"Seems to me most of 'em around here are," you say.
"Yeah...most of 'em know each other. From what I can work out, there were three villages very close to each other, and they just used to visit each other. M'lani and T'nir were both at Shaula's Hatching and Impression; once she Impressed Mamyds though, she got so busy taking care of her that she hasn't had time to go exploring or hunting for firedrace eggs like she usually does. Sheratan suggested that they find some firedraces as companions-but M'lani's not been too keen on that idea ever since his accident, and T'nir has Jet, Garnet and Lady...who's around here someplace. Man, if I thought he was besotted this much over three mangy moggies, you should just see what he's like now he's impressed a dragon!"
The shout from behind you makes you jump and you bump your head on the rock ceiling.
"Oops, sorry!" the young man addressing you says. He looks to be about eighteen years old, with light brown hair and green eyes, and a light brown cat sitting by his feet next to a brown hatchling. The youth offers you his hand. "I'm T'nir," he says, "from Narie, and this is Lady of Earth, although we just call her Lady for short," he adds. "She's a champagne solid Tonkinese cat from Act Two Cattery."
"Hello Lady," you say, as you reach down to scratch the cat behind the ears. Lady purrs and rubs against you.
"And this," T'nir goes on, bending down to scratch the hatchling affectionately, "is Inuids." His eyes unfocus briefly. "Alright," he says, "but only in the Area!"
Inuids pads off. "Sorry about that," T'nir says. "Inuids is very shy and doesn't really take much to strangers, so he's gone off to the Area."
"What's the...Area?" you ask.
"It's the largest cave in this whole place," T'nir answers. "It's where young dragons can try out their wings without worrying about a fifty foot drop to the ground below if it turns out they're not quite ready to fly. Inuids isn't; he just uses it as an excuse to get out of having to be with company and go see his sibling Oriods."
"Oh right. Er, where did you say you were from?" you ask T'nir. It isn't the right reply or the most courteous, you realise a few seconds too late.
"It's a small fishing village between Rindon and Auren," T'nir explains. "We've never produced any dragonriders yet-you can imagine how excited my family was when I was Chosen!" He lowers his voice to a confidential whisper. "Actually, I think they were glad to get rid of me; or at least get rid of Jet and Garnet! Cats in a fishing village tend to be bad news."
You bend down to scratch Garnet behind the ears. She purrs loudly, then leaps up. You feel several needle like claws digging into your back as she puds, trying to get comfortable.
"Garnet, cut that out!" T'nir says sharply. "I'm sorry," he adds, pulling her off and lifting her up so she can settle across his shoulders instead of yours. "She does that with me all the time; I just don't think sometimes. Really, really sorry. Are you okay?"
"Sure," you say.
"It's just that she tends to forget she isn't a tiny hand-sized ball of fur anymore," T'nir goes on. "Anyway, what can I do for you?"
"They want to know about you and your candidacy," Heather announces before you can speak.
"I will not condescend to answer you, Heather," T'nir says in a tone of mock aloofness, "rather, I will ignore your comments re 'mangy moggies'." He grins suddenly and Heather snorts. Obviously, this kind of good-natured teasing is common. "Anyway, if you really want to know about me, I was born in Narie, as I've said. I never knew my parents. Apparently, they died in a boating accident. I wouldn't know; I was only nine months old when it happened."
"How awful," you murmur sympathetically.
"I was raised by pretty much the rest of my family," T'nir goes on, "which is a pretty large family. I'm the youngest of four and I have six cousins and about as many aunts and uncles as well. I guess you could say I'm the youngest in my entire family." He grins again, then turns round as Inuids sneaks back in and takes up a position firmly behind T'nir, peeking round at you occasionally. "Oh, you're back, huh?" T'nir says teasingly. "Did you meet Oriods?"
His eyes unfocus again, then clear. "Oh, that's a shame. Still, Oriods usually does go to sleep after having visitors. Anyway, when I was about sixteen, I went out travelling; forget why. Oh yes, I wanted to go see if Shaula was back from her firedrace finding expedition. Anyway, as I was riding along, I heard this tiny miaow from inside a clump of plants (not sure which ones-I've never been much good at remembering things like that) So I went to check it out. It turns out there was a mother cat there that had been pretty badly injured by something, some kind of predator, perhaps. It was sad; she was on the verge of death. She'd obviously placed her body over her kittens to keep them safe. It worked, too; there was a litter of five kittens there. I gathered them up as best I can and took them to Shaula's village. We managed to save three of them-Jet, Garnet and a black and white cat that we called Flash. To cut a long story short, I got into trouble when I brought these three kittens home-like I said, kittens or cats in a fishing village can cause problems. But after a while, my older brother Polusin got attached to Flash and took him off my hands. About a year later, O'yor came along on brown Luods and said I'd been Chosen, so I made tracks for this empty nest, bringing Garnet and Jet along with me for company and impressed my Inuids here from Draconia Nest."
T'nir pauses for breath.
"Wow," you say, not quite sure what to make of this lengthy narrative.
"Also, when I visited Draconia Nest," T'nir goes on, "I noticed they'd just recently opened a cattery, so I went to check it out. I never thought to come home with another cat, although Lady's no trouble and she gets on quite well with Jet and Garnet. Well, so long as she leaves their rubber mouse alone and they leave her scratching post alone," he adds with a grin. "And they all get along with Inuids. Actually," T'nir adds, "Inuids likes to chase them around a bit when he thinks no one's looking."
"Cool," says Heather (obviously champing at the bit), "hey, you want to go meet another candidate?"
You glance up at T'nir, who shrugs, grins good naturedly.
"Better go with her...unless you want Jet on your shoulders! She's giving you That Look."
Hastily, you assure him that no, you don't want another cat clawing your shoulders to pieces and beat a quick retreat with Heather.
"C'mon," your guide says, dragging you along the tunnel, "we had a new dragon arrive yesterday-R'shi's Neds. Let's go see how he's settling in."