cracked. She slammed the door shut to spare Oldive the sight.
“Everything’s ruined,” she said tersely and pulled him toward the stairs, dreadfully certain now by the sounds of screams and shouts from the lower floors that there would be more damage elsewhere.
Fire-lizards drove the intruders out of the Hall where the humans were halted by the sight of a dozen dragons, their wings spread to form an impregnable wall, their eyes whirling red with anger. More dragons hovered overhead, their wings casting dark shadows on the scene below. Shouts and drumbeats echoed down Fort’s rocky canyon, confirming that reinforcements were on their way. The cowering vandals were herded into a knot, clothes rent by fire-lizard beaks and talons, bloodied hands raised to protect their faces. While no dragon would hurt a human, the fire-lizards were under no such restraint and darted in to peck or claw when anyone in that huddle moved.
Call them off now, Ruth
, Sharra said, pausing to catch her breath on the broad top step,
and thank them for coming so quickly. We need the wretches alive and able to tell us why they despoiled a Healer Hall
Though some of the wild fire-lizards looked as if they would disobey, a second rumbling bark from Ruth caused themto disappear, leaving the dragons to stand guard. When the dragons did not advance, one of the men uncoiled and stood up, glowering at Sharra and Oldive.
“Why are you here?” the Masterhealer asked at his sternest. He counted fifteen men and women in front of him, a sufficient number to trash more than his fine stillroom. His heart sank at the destruction they must have done. “Why have you destroyed the very materials and medicines—”
“The Abomination must be halted!” a man shouted, his body taut with his fanaticism. “Its taint removed forever from Pern.”
“Abomination?” The word made Sharra shudder. That’s what some people called Aivas. And those Abominators had kidnapped Master Robinton to force the Council to shut Aivas down because of the technology he represented. They’d tried to prevent the restoration of the technology that their ancestors had used and that many, many people wished to revive. Oldive caught her eye and his expression turned bleaker still.
The others began to chant, shaking their fists in the air, undeterred, as if they now realized that the dragons would not harm them.
“Vileness must be expunged!” the leader went on, louder, more daring. “Erase abominations.”
Sharra began to shiver in the cold. Oldive’s face looked pinched. Though she could see nothing beyond the high interlaced wings of the dragons, she could hear the pounding of hooves on the hard-packed road, the rumble of a cart, and shouts of many voices. Lioth, bronze dragon of N’ton, the Fort Weyrleader, cocked his head as if he had understood the taunts, his eyes beginning to whirl with orange spurts.
They’re coming, Sharra
, Ruth said and craned his head ominously toward the protestors. Their chanting noticeably faltered as the sound of hoofbeats and shouts penetrated to the dragon circle. Their leader rallied them to greater efforts.
“Tradition must be upheld!” He glared around him, his angular face and burning eyes inciting his followers. “Halt abominations.”
“Turn back to tradition at Turnover!” screeched one of the three women, waving a bloody hand at Ruth, who frowned down at her.
“Our petitions have been ignored!”
“We protest the Abomination!”
“And all its works!”
Stoically, Sharra and Oldive endured the chanting.
Smoothly, as humans neared, the dragons began to close their wings and give way, to allow the reinforcements a clear path to the despoilers. Lioth stepped closer to Ruth; Sharra knew that his rider, N’ton, would be in the vanguard. But it was two of Lord Groghe’s sons who arrived first, riding bareback on a gray runnerbeast that wore no more than a headcollar. Haligon hauled it to