Who A'ster, Leimna, Rulayn, Vossrik
What A'ster investigates reports of a dead candidate in the living caverns. Rumors, of course, have been greatly exaggerated.
When Mumble mumble something candidacy I am terrible at keeping track of IC time.
Where Living Cavern, Fort Weyr

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Fort Weyr - Living Caverns
This cavern, having been created by bubbles in the volcanic flow of this extinct volcano, has a breathtaking ceiling — a vast dome that arches high above the heads of the weyrfolk that scurry around beneath it. A hollow echo can be heard from loud enough noises, and the chatterings of various firelizards are consequently multiplied into a chaotic babble. All in all, the living cavern is a loud place.
Tables are scattered around the room, apparently in no particular order. Over to one side near the kitchens, two medium sized serving tables are constantly spread with snacks, klah, and other goodies. The tables look worn, yet perfectly fitted to the atmosphere of the caverns. In the 'corners' of the cavern, smaller two and four place tables are set up for more private talks or just a less chaotic atmosphere in which to eat.

After Ibriely's little stunt involving a baby and the barracks, Rulayn had strongly considered returning to sleep in the stables with the far quieter runners. Unfortunately, no such luck had come of her attempts to move her bed and instead the girl had spent countless hours with her head buried beneath a pillow to drown out a screaming toddler who could never seem to be pacified no matter how hard the Candidates had tried. No amount of food, rocking, or burping had soothed the infant and her crying had nearly brought the dragonhealer to tears herself. Now, with a free afternoon after finishing chores, Rulayn had taken every chance she could to avoid returning to the barracks and instead, had opted for sleeping out in the Living Caverns instead. Even with the busy people around her, Rulayn was slumped over a table, arms folded and her face buried into them, dozing away happily.

Having escaped any duty toddler-related thanks to quick feet and lack of fear of laughing in the face of other people's pain (if not entirely unkindly, sure), A'ster is momentarily uncertain in his duty now. He stands, arms crossed over his chest and frown faint on his fair-featured face, near Rulayn's chosen table; he watches for a few minutes more, then sighs a mighty sigh, drops his arms, and closes the distance with cop-steady strides. "Hey," he says first, "hsst," then looks like he wishes he'd thought ahead far enough to bring a stick — instead, he leans in to two-fingered jab at the candidate's shoulder, weight on the balls of his feet so he can side-step a swing if she's one of those kind of sleepers. "Don't be dead, don't be dead," he mutters at half-volume under his breath, then again, "Hey."

Zzz. Rulayn is clearly breathing, but she's not stirring just yet. With deep breaths she carries on sleeping quite peacefully until suddenly there's a painful jab at her shoulder. Ow. Why did someone have to wake her now? She was having such a nice dream about a dark-haired Weyrlingmaster and a rather beautiful Candidate! With a steady groan (and much to A'ster's relief) the young woman simply lifts her head, groggy, from the table and blinks wearily. The dark circles under her eyes say it all: this girl has had an exhausting day! Sluggish in movements, Rulayn rubs at her eyes with the heel of her palm and mumbles something incoherent to noone in particular, before turning to look for the source of the poking. Spotting A'ster, the girl blinks a few times and scratches at the side of her head. "Mmyeah?"

The relief on A'ster's face isn't the most charitable of expressions, but it is a forthright one; he eases down onto his heels and cracks a slightly regretful smile as he says, "Sorry, candidate. You don't have to head back to the barracks, but — you can't sleep here. At least," he chuffs a laugh, and rubs a hand across the back of his neck, "not the sleep of the might-actually-be-dead. Reports of dead candidates in the living caverns tend to make us look bad."

"Wuh.. ?" It takes a few moments for Rulayn to clock on to what A'ster is saying, but then it returns. The memory. The haunting scream of an insatiable, sleepless toddler. With a low groan the girl just sinks her forehead back down against her arms and sits there. "I feel dead right now.." She murmurs, combing her fingers through her messy, knotted hair. "That.. thing has been screaming all night. All night." She lifts her head again and looks around, tired eyes seeking out the nearest pitcher of klah. A hot drink was needed. As she slides from her seat, she folds her arms and hunches over slightly as she nods to the Brownrider. "Want a drink too.. ?"

A'ster waves off the offer with an, "I'm on the end of my shift, not the beginning," then huffs another laugh and advises, "earplugs, trust me. Won't drown the whole thing out, but should muffle enough of the sound you can sleep. Muffs," he gestures, like a man putting on a pair of over-ear headpho— warmers. Right. "If you can't stand having something in your ears. Believe me, it's how I survived-" he looks of into the distance, and counts on his fingers — then snorts and waves off the count. "-being a middle child of very affectionate parents."

Now why hadn't the idea of earplugs or something occured to Rulayn sooner? Granted it had only been the one night but the prospect of earmuffs just sounded -heavenly-. Momentarily forgetting her klah, Rulayn's face goes from a look of glum fatigue to one of sudden, amazed realization. Eyes literally begins to tear up with sheer gratitude at A'ster's suggestion. "O-Of course.. Why didn't I think of that!?" She could just hug the brownrider right now! But she doesn't. "Where can I get the best pair possible? Do the Weavers have anything like that?"

A'ster visibly balks at the mention of the Weavers, but that grudge is long-standing and not entirely one-sided; instead he thinks for a moment before snapping his fingers and offering, "Stores, more than likely — you're likely to get less worn if you went straight to the Weavers, but since you're not looking for something that's likely to last through a whole season, just some unhappy nights— I'd check with stores. Or ask around, anyone who's been through at least a winter here," he fingergu— finger-flamethrowers, sure, let's go with that, and clicks his tongue. "Should get you in business."

Stores. That involved walking and.. Rulayn was tired. And still in need of klah. Shoulders droop and the girl slouches back down onto her seat, giving a most audible yawn. No attempt to cover her mouth is made and thus A'ster would be able to glimpse that the girl's upper left canine was chipped off. "I'll go later.." She murmurs, massaging her sore, heavy and drooping eyelids. ".. Or I'll just find somewhere else to sleep.." She suggests, more to herself than anyone else. "Why did the Weyrwoman dump a kid on us anyway.. ?" She looks back at the man, as if expecting him to have an answer. Maybe she did though - it's in a stablegirl's nature to listen to rumours, and rumours of Goldriders' company are hard-pressed to miss.
"I can't speak to anyone else's motivations," A'ster says, because he is a politic little shit, "but if I'd been the one in charge of the decision? Because a brand-baby new weyrling dragon and an unhappy toddler are a lot more alike than they have any right to be." He has the grace to not look nostalgic; rueful, sure, and vaguely amused, but not nostalgic. "It's going to be good practice. Both for taking care of any lifemates any of you acquire, and for being able to sleep through the ruckus of everyone else's, if you're one of the luckier ones."

"But baby dragons don't -scream-." Rulayn is all too quick to point out. "They sleep. They -love- to sleep." She mumbles, beginning to scratch at her head. ".. And eat.. And be itchy.." Clearly there's some basic knowledge of baby dragons from this dragonhealer, but it's limited to the books she's been sticking her nose in. "Giving us a baby human really isn't a good comparison.. You should have given us something that at least has an ounce of intelligence."

A'ster looks into the camer— looks out, toward the bowl, with a flat-expressioned look that has incredulousness tamped down on hard; this isn't his first go-round with candidates since his own candidacy, but. But. Back to Rulayn: "They scream," he says, ticking off on one finger, "or if not scream, exactly: have no idea how to modulate anything resembling volume, or projection range, for at least a sevenday — sometimes longer. Toddlers, you can ear-muff; it's actually a kindness." Another finger gets ticky'd, and this time the look he slices toward the bowl is mildly resentful, "Some of them vomit, and it's not politey tiny-stomached human volume, either. They all shit themselves until they learn how to between, and some of them are squeamish about it — which means impacted, which means hand-expressing, which means trust me, you'll be glad of having had the experience of un-potty trained humans to bulk up your resistance. Trust me," he's an expert, "the toddler? Is actually a lot easier, even if it doesn't feel like it now."

"WHERE ARE MY BUBBLIES? TH'ERO WANTS BUBBLIES." Oh, look. It's Leimna! If anybody has been paying attention to gossip (or just paying attention, really), they will have likely been regaled with Lei'ero in all of her Fortian Weyrleader mimicking duty. Why has nobody stopped her yet? MYSTERY, but the rampage continues. She's sporting a cape (because this is reasonable), her usually red hair has been dyed the blackest of blacks (though that is fading), and she's pinned it up to replicate the length and waviness of Th'ero's. She's got a mustache and questionable facial hair to boot (really, how does she keep stocking up on that?), and she strides in with blue eyes harboring mischief. There may be talk of babies and dragons and sleepy candidates, but Leia is not one of those subject to an inability to function at GOGOGOGOGO even when her body is screaming SLEEPSLEEPSLEEPSLEEP. It just adds some impressive bags under her eyes, like she's been handling important weyr-folk worries and bossing them around with RIGHTEOUSNESS. "ASS'TER," that was no typo, and she sidles up beside the brownrider and Rulayn with a smile bordering on insanity. That might also have to do with a lack of sleep. "I would tell you that you look dashing today, except that Thys told me to leave you alone." Which she is not doing now. ARM PAT, ARM PAT, and the woman waggles fingers at Rulayn. "Look at his outfit. We should arrest him. 'Criminally Handsome' - that's a crime, is it not?" IT SHOULD BE.

It's really too early for Leimna. Too early being ever, of course. Rulayn flinches at the sound of her familiar voice calling across the cavern and the girl groans heavily. The screaming is normally tolerable, but when Rulayn is tired? No, no, no, no. Tired eyes survey the woman as she strides across to A'ster and begins to touch him up. There's no protest here - touch him all you like, Leimna. Rulayn won't let you hide behind her when Thys comes swooping down on you like a hungry hawk. What Rulayn will protest to, however, is the girl's loud voice. Too loud. "I don't care what it is.. Just.. Keep your voice down, for at least five minutes!" It's a grouchy outburst most unlike the former-stablegirl, but it's a clear signal that she's in no mood for the Leimna-Th'ero hybrid. With half a mind to seek out those earmuffs right now, Rulayn looks to A'ster. "I'd still take a dragon over a baby any day. You don't have to dangle and wave shiny things in front of a dragon to keep it entertained."

Mumble grumble drag grunt scuff grunt again and thus, on repeat, Vossrik makes his way through the cavern, past field and dell, past rider and terrifyingly thirsty candidates. "Mmph. Wait, toddlers get dragons now, what?" Blinking owlishly on his way past the biologically fascinating conversation, he offers that without even looking up, so intent is he on retrieving some form of refreshment. Of course, Leimna shows up to have him leaping comically about an inch off of the floor. The stare he gives the now-sable superweirdo is haunted, as if some great, life-changing experience recently occurred between the two (at least on one side), and he leaps to hide behind… Rulayn? "Please. Help me."

"No, they just rifle through your brain and your memories on the regular," A'ster says, with the resignation of someone who is clearly confident of his position, but willing to leave someone else to theirs. It is a long-suffering resignation, though, as he lifts an arm — the pat-patted one, at that — to point to a sideboard and announce, "Bubblies," and then slice his gaze sideways as he adds, "and it isn't an outfit, it's a uniform. U-ni-form. They all look like this; that's the point of them." Good morning to you too, Leimna. "Candidates get toddlers, to practice for dragons. It's not a direct equivalency, but if this trial run polls well, we might assign a heavier weight to the nursery rotation in the future." Is that a grin tucking itself into the corner of his mouth? Surely not.

Rulayn is telling Leimna to pipe down? Clearly she has never met this woman. Quiet is dangerous, if the Cheshire smile she gives her fellow candidate is anything to go by, but luckily, A'ster draws her attention back with his educational piece on uniforms, and why they do what they do. "Really?" she inquires, feigning innocent curiosity with unnerving perfection. Those blue eyes go wide, her lips round into a perfect 'o', and then she leans towards the brownrider to whisper, "Do you think the rest of the weyr knows about this un-i-form-y conspiracy? Seems dangerous." Like Vossrik, hiding behind Rulayn after setting foot in Leia territory. "Oh, Voss. Good morning, you handsome red fruit. Did you get your gift?" All innocent eyes and barely stifled laughter before she pat, pats Rulayn on the head. "You are evil incarnate, A'ster, and I volunteer Roo as tribute." BEAM. "Or Sygni - though she might blow the nursery up. No, better be Roo." A pause, and then OFF SHE GOES, towards the previously indicated bubblies without a word. Because she is the local crazy and can do what she wants.

The prospect of working in a nursery didn't bother Rulayn. That was only temporary work after all. But to have an ear-splitting screaming devil-child all evening? Not ideal. She still looks tired even as Vossrik decides to use her skinny frame as a hiding spot, and with a slight grumble of her own she glances over her shoulder to him. "You got to sleep, then." She assumes, her own eyes sunken with dark bags beneath each one. Looking back at A'ster, the girl shrugs helplessley. "I don't know. Maybe if we had been given some kind of -warning- before Ibriely brought the brat into the barracks, I wouldn't have minded so much. Instead she just showed up with the kid and expected us to just immediately become the thing's mother." At least with baby dragons, there's a massive hatching ceremony beforehand. And then of course, Leimna pats her on the head. Just, no. Immediately, Rulayn's hand shoots out to bat the woman's arm away. "I'm not a little kid you can just pat." She scowls, barely able to get her message across before Leimna goes whirling off in a bubbly-induced fervor. Being tired is such a bummer. Rulayn doesn't want to make any effort to be nice at all. "Stop hiding behind me, Vossrik. Not in the mood for it." No nickname? Even Vossrik isn't spared from the grouch.

"Oh, no, not putting candidates in the nursery — putting weyrbrats in the barracks." Oh, that's A'ster's considering face — the almost-grin is gone, broken into a full-on contemplative smile. He one-ups Leimna's head-pat with a hand-clap on Rulayn's shoulder, but it is not unkindly meant; he's almost laughing over, "Kid, you need a face full of klah and an attitude adjustment — candidacy's all about learning to expect the unexpected, and adapt from there. Or if it isn't, it should be." He's still definitely a fan of the unexpected toddler-ing of the barracks, all, "It's valuable life experience," and not having further risen to the bait about his uniform. Maybe that's what he's chalking exposure to Leia up to, as well. "Voss. Should I ask what kind of gift?" See, he has some sympathy, at least.

Vossrik leaps from behind Rulayn, bonks into A'ster, spins on his axis and tumbles to the floor in a tangle of limbs, indecision, and sexual frustration. "If it's a severed head, I'm going to be very upset," he puberty-crackles, looking up at Leimna, looking terrified. "Uh, hi sir. Sorry, sir, it's usually some kinda thingummer what's covered in hair. Or ~her own hair~." Insert horror-movie tense violin sting here. "And sir, you might gonna wanna watch your hand. Are you okay, Rulayn? Did I miss somethin' in the barracks last night or did you get a present in ya cot, too?"

"-Someone- brought a toddler into the barracks and now -we- have to look after it." Rulayn grumbles, picking herself up again. A'ster was right about one thing though. Need klah. And so, off she goes to the nearby table where a pitcher is awaiting, alongside empty mugs. She pours herself a cup and without hesitation downs the scalding contents in one. "I'm going to bed." She announces, mostly to Vossrik before trudging off down into the lower caverns.

"DUCK! IT'S A UNIFORM!" A couple does, cue Leia's cackling from the serving tables. What have you done, A'ster? CAPESWOOSH. That's about as long as it takes for Leimna to gather some food (read: bubblies) and a mug of Klah - make that two - before she heads back to the trio and steps right over Voss. One of those mugs is set before Rulayn with a knowing wink. This is her not taking your grouchiness personally; this is her giving you a peace offering that might very subtly be hinting at levels of grouchiness. "Ibreily was doing the right thing. You could have slept somewhere else. Like the stables." And it might sound biting, but it's all said in pleasant tones, with pleasant smiles, and an undertone of that's my cousin I will cut you. But Roo is OFF BEFORE SHE CAN, to get her own Klah and then sleep. Well. Leia side-eyes A'ster for all of three seconds, and then hunkers down into a crouch just above Voss' head. Look at that smile - for once seemingly sincere as she asks a softly spoken, "Are you okay?" followed by her sitting on the floor beside him. "Don't worry, I'll protect you from any wayward un-i-forms in the mean time. A'ster's got our five." And then a sigh. "A'ster, what's a good gift for a man when you want him to notice you?" Like Voss isn't right there.

"Charmingly psychotic," A'ster says in response to Vossrik's answer, although it's at about quarter-volume, easy to miss but not enough that he doesn't say it. "Someone's brilliant, although they might not realize it — earplugs!" he reminds the retreating Rulayn, then surveys the ground-bound candidates below him with a sigh. It's almost instinctual, the way he actually has shifted his weight and stance to guard them from the flow of traffic; he doesn't look self-conscious about this, just a little resigned. (He's excercising that expression a lot, this candidate class.) "Peace," he says, without a trace of irony, "probably the best present."

"Uh, thaaaanks." Vossrik's drawl is not totally sarcasm-free, even under the thick layer of hormonal panic. "Guess I'm glad I had Infirmary duty 'cause we have to crash out there just in case they need us at butts-thirty in the morning." A'ster? He earns The Most Grateful of looks. If they were cats, the Smith would be blinking at the rider despite the terrifying siren that looms above him. "Wait, why'd you drop a buncha toddlers and stuff on the Candidates? Is it, like, supposed to build character or something, because y'all have clearly never had to deal with Rulayn being woken up before her time of day or you'd definitely include a few supervisors so that babies aren't dropkicked. Wait, Leimna did you…did you leave me a baby?" This is grated in a paranoid whisper, coupled with a shifting of his hips and a crossing of his legs.

Peace? "That's it?" Leimna inquires with speculative tones. "All I have to do is find all the renegades and say, 'Quit with your violence,' and he'll like me?" That's slow smile clearly says she knows exactly the kind of peace A'ster was referring to - but it doesn't stop her. "I could kiss you for such genius, but Thys would tie me to a runner and -" a pause. Leimna blinks down at Vossrik while he speaks and then leans herself towards him. "Left you a baby? Scrumptious little bubbly, why would I leave you one when we are going to make one?" Is Leia running her finger down Vossrik's sternum? She is, looking simultaneously wicked and innocent when she turns her eyes up and onto the brownrider again. "A'ster, where's the nearest renegade camp?"

"Just one," A'ster is answering Vossrik, "you're a test market for the program," like he had anything at all to do with the actual decision-making behind the toddler-incursion. It means he doesn't tune in to Leimna's running of the mouth until his name comes up, and then there's a brief, vacant-expressioned moment while he leans on his lifemate to help review the minute and a half immediately previous. "No," comes down, his generally genial expression folding itself back into a frown, "hey, no, stop that — sexually harassing your fellow candidates? Not actually cool. We," oh, how something clenches up over his next words, as he jerks a thumb back at himself, then gestures toward — well, wherever the Weyrleader is, most likely. "Can handle it — might not like it, but can handle it. I know you're smarter than this," finger-jab back toward the seated candidates. "So cut it out."

"Ssssso, why we talking about Renegades so much?" If possible, Vossrik is even paler, even more so with the trailing finger that inspects his teen-concave chest (hey, he has muscles. Nobody said they were good ones, or even symmetrical. "Or buh-buh-no I am not having a baby. I can't even do that. Can I? I don't think so. But what's … and why is everyone dressing like Th'ero?" Dramatically, he flops back on his back, the safest position if he can manage to use his mind to propel downwards through the floor. "Hey, wait, someone put gum under this table again. Jeezy petes, I just had to scrape all that stuff UP. Who DOES that." Life? Very confusing for Vossrik.

"It's only harassment if he doesn't like it," Leimna says, courting amusement in every word. "And anyway, the rules never said I can't flirt with him, they just said I can't tango with him - horizontal or otherwise." But she endures the finger jabbing, and the scolding, and even refrains from the petulant urge to roll her eyes. She is many things, but stupid is (probably) not one of them. She respects authority, even if she toes the line of respect with reckless disobedience. "Alright, alright," Leia murmurs in a tone meant to soothe, and then she's tilting her head sideways and watching Vossrik before stifling a huff of laughter. "Are there more? We should have a secret club." But to her feet she gets, swiping at dust that probably isn't there before saluting A'ster and stepping around Vossrik. "Love to stick around, but I have renegades to go talk some peace into. Well, bye then!" VAMOOSH! FLEE. AWAY SHE GOES. Don't worry, the renegades are safe.

A'ster returns the salute, but ends it with a finger-point and a, "You know the line, Leimna, just care about it more," of parting. Then, when she's good and gone, heaves a breath and shakes out some of the tension that he's been unconsciously holding since her wham-bang entrance onto the scene. "I think it just seems like more than one of 'em," he admits to Vossrik, then hunkers down to crouch (thank faranth no-one's still around to comment on his butt when he does) and eyeball the undercarriage of the table. "Small children and people without manners," he pronounces, then, "come on, get up, I think you're clear for now."

OR IS THERE? "NICE ASSETS, BROWNRIDER." Leimna calls unexpectedly from the entrance of the caverns, before her gleeful carries her well and truly away. We all know what she was aiming for there.

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