Far Too Quiet

Xanadu Weyr - Luraoth's Menagerie
Before being cleared to make space for the training field, this expanse of land had been a farm. Fence posts still mark out small pastures or tracts of cropland that have long been left to go fallow and become little more than grassy patches of wildflowers. The path from the coastal road weaves between scattered fruit trees left over from an orchard, offering some measure of shade along the walk.
A huge barn with large doors that swing easily are moved by a mechanism with the sound of clinking chains and the chugging of a generator. Within, what must have once been storage space and the home for farm animals has been transformed into a place fit for a dragon. A huge stone makes up the center of the largest chamber, with heating or cooling with the flick of a tail. There are other stones set about in three other dragon-sized nooks, clearly set there for the comfort of guests or patients.
A set of metal stairs as well as a freight elevator around the side of the building allow easy access to a loft area that has largely been left untouched from the time this place was a farm. There's plenty of room for storage, but also room for any number of animals that may come to live here. One corner has been clearly dedicated as 'tunnelcat territory' with a bunch of little platforms, ramps, tunnels, and toys.

Toral is curled around Soriana's shoulders. He's quiet, head buried against her neck - oh wait, she's taken three more steps, and he lets out a soft keen, a wavering sound that fades off after the course of the next five. Soriana's frown deepens - not that it makes much difference, given where it started - and she strides on. Maybe the unhappy firelizard is helping keep people away. Maybe Soriana's just getting better about the brisk in-a-hurry walk. Or maybe she's emanating 'go away' strongly enough that - it doesn't matter anymore, she's made it to the turn-off for her cottage, and that's usually enough that nobody pursues. Not that she slows down, striding on toward… not the cottage, actually. She's going to the barn.

Ka'el has been busy throughout the day, mostly meeting with different people of the wings to get updates and see how new formations may or may not be working. There's an injured dragon in the annex that's kept a Comet rider down. Routes need to be shuffled around because of it. The cause of injury thoroughly looked in to. The craft riders always need checking up on, but they're more difficult ot get with due to varying crafts. He's actually in search of one of them when he caught sight of Soriana down the way. He's too distant to see her expression, but her walk does look purposeful. He redirects his route. There's always time for a quick hello, right? He tails her a ways, picking up the pace in hopes of catching up with her, and it's only when he's gained a few yards that he gets the feel that something may not be right. Maybe it's the way she's walking. Or the way Toral's wrapped up aroundher. Or maybe he got the fading notes of his soft kreeling? Whatever the case, he walks a little quicker, heading down the familiar path that leads towards their and their dragons' home. "Hey. Sori!"

If Soriana hasn't seen that injured dragon yet, she likely will. The schedule-juggling, well, that's Ka'el's problem. Soriana's problem… yeah, she's doing a pretty bad job at pretending there isn't one. At least she's not acting like there's something exploding. If she were, she'd be running. But no, she's just walking along and… now she's stopping, because Ka'el's hailing her. Toral's the one who answers first, with a mournful cry as he ducks his head around to gaze with purpled eyes at the Weyrleader. Soriana's slower to turn, and her eyes are… still brown, but they're a kinda shiny brown. Her hands give a twitch, partly curling, and… "Hey." Something's definitely wrong, but she smiles. Okay, so it's not really a smile, but it's an attempt at one.

Ka'el does a slight pause at the sight of Toral's eyes. That's not a good hue, pretty as purple may be. There's a twitch of a frown that tugs at his lips, but…well. No jumping to conclusions.. Though… he really has no conclusions to jump to. Other than the conclusion that something is off. Quite off, he'd say, as he nears her and gets a better look at her eyes. His are … filled with concern. But, why magnify things unnecessarily? There might be nothing wrong at all despite the royal-eyed firelizard and the too-bright look of his weyrmate. So, it's gently instead of franatically that he speaks, brows furrowed in vague question as he pauses near. "Everything alright?"

That's less a conclusion and more a step along the way to one. It's a tint (not rose-colored) for the conclusion, if one were to be found. Toral trails off into silence again, and Soriana's lips twitch at the question. "Maybe?" She doesn't sound like she believes it. More like she hopes for it. If everything was alright, well, then, that'd be… everything being alright! And she would be so very, very alright with that. If it were… "I'm…" She turns her head away again, glancing to the barn. "…maybe." It doesn't seem to have burned down at least. Soriana looks back to Ka'el, and her lips twitch again as she gives up the attempt to smile - it wasn't working anyway - and starts toward the barn again. She's not walking as briskly anymore. It's like she doesn't actually want to get there, even if she… well, she's going. She's going to the stairs that go up to the top level of the barn.

Maybe conclusions should be jumped to. Maybe things are terribly bad. Maybe. Ka'el's frown fails to leave his face, and the longer he watches her, the more it wants to deepen. He doesn't allow it to though, even as her badly etched smile melts away from her face. He looks towards the barn as she heads towards it, following a half-beat behind. A radical thought twists in his mind: Is something wrong with Luraoth? … Definitely not. Kanekith would know, and Kanekith would let him know. All the dragons would let everyone know if something was wrong with their Queen. Soriana herself would be effected … though he can't rightly say that she's unaffected now. Something's gotten to her, but it isn't Luraoth. Still though, as they enter the barn, his eyes dance to the queen dragon's spot as if to assure himself that she is in fact alright. He wets his lips a little, following her wordlessly to those stairs. His brows lift as he glances up to that upper level. He's never much paid it much attention. Never much gone up there himself. There's nothing up there for him. Nothing up there for dragons. There's just … animal stuff. Hay stuff. Tunnel stuff. .. Inkfoot stuff.

If it were Luraoth, the entire Weyr would know… but it isn't Luraoth. The queen's in her place, unharmed. Quiet, in a somber sort of way, but that's more a reflection of Soriana's mood than the other way around. The dragon murmurs a soft croon as her rider passes, though Soriana doesn't even look over… not that Luraoth seems upset by that. No, Luraoth is definitely alright. It's just Soriana who… ascends those stairs, with Toral murmuring another unhappiness along the way. She glances back to Ka'el, half-smiles - still not happy, but glad he's here - and steps inside to… animal stuff. Storage space too, for stuff that didn't quite fit or she hasn't decided about. The tangle of tunnels and platforms and toys to amuse a tunnelcat, and that's where she heads now. Inkfoot's not always there, of course. She brings him into the house to play, takes him outside to romp through the grass, but here's where he plays while she's busy with other things, with all the many chores of a Junior Weyrwoman. Or naps. He naps, too. He's been doing more of that as he gets older, draped in strange configurations or curled up in… well, sometimes in the overstuffed pet-bed of fleecy green fabric covered in tunnelcat fur. That's where he is now, curled on himself and lying very still. Toral spreads his wings, keening again as he glides down to perch on the edge of that bed, leaning in to nudge at the tunnelcat who… still… doesn't move. Soriana doesn't move either, watching this. She breathes in. Out. (Inkfoot doesn't.) In again. "Shit."

Inkfoot's place. Oh, well Ka'el has been up here. At least once. Once upon a time when weyrs were assigned and the excitement of living on their own in their own space to do what they wanted was new. He was here then. To explore her new home and be shown all the nooks and crannies of this dragon space. Tunnelcat space. He was here when it was lively and joyful. Now… even before they reach the top there's a sense of dread that makes him want to pull her away and get away from whatever's up there. For whatever's up there…is not good. But. They don't run. Or hide. Or cover their eyes. He reaches the top with her, watches as Toral glides over to a familiar furry body that's yet to move upon their arrival. That's odd. Even in his old age, Inkfoot has alays been alert in his own way. Observing. Getting in to things when he's inside. Waking from his frequent naps whenever Soriana is around, as if he has some engrained alarm that tells him when she's within a fifty foot radius. But now…he's not moving. He still isn't moving. There's no little lift and drop of his body to show the intake and exhale of breath. He's .. not sleeping, is he? "Ah…damn.." His words are gentle, his frown deep. He moves closer to Sori and reaches for her, an arm curling around her waist to hold on to her firmly. "M'sorry, baby."

Inkfoot was asleep. Curled up with… Toral, probably. The tunnelcat's been there ever since the brown firelizard hatched from that egg. Soriana's never been quite sure if they thought they were both firelizards or both tunnelcats or what, but… well. Toral woke up from that nap, and his playbuddy… didn't. So he went to Soriana. The firelizard looks to her now, with a keen that has a note of pleading to it. She's the one with the thumbs! Can't she fix it? … but … she can't. Soriana just looks at Toral, and then there's Ka'el's arm around her, and she turns away from the body that's still there (even if Inkfoot… isn't) and puts her head against Ka'el's shoulder. She's not running away. Or hiding. But she is covering her eyes, now that she's checked and made sure and knows that it's not actually alright. She's putting her head against Ka'el's shoulder, and she's putting one arm around him, and she's letting out a slow, shaky not-okay breath as she leans in against him.

Ka'el's other arm joins the first the moment that she begins to turn towards him. Yes, he's here for her in this sad moment in which loss is slowly beginning to sink in. He's not going anywhere, say his arms that hold her to him so securely. He presses his lips against her hair and holds them there in a prolonged touch, and a hand rubs up and down her back, from shoulder to small, and back up again. Slowly. Reassuringly. He's here. And…he's sad. Sad for her. Sad for Inkfoot, which surprises him. Inkfoot was not his pet. Not his friend. Not his…anything, really. But he liked him well enough. He was a funny little critter, back turns ago when he was a little faster and more spry. And even now…in days before today, he liked to watch him when he was around. Ka'el is sad because Inkfoot was Soriana's, and anyone who knows a thing about her knows that she loves … loved her tunnelcat. How many adventures have they had in their time together? How many stories can be told of his antics? He holds her, wishing he could absorb her sadness by proximity and will alone. "I can take care of him, when you're ready for me to," he murmurs, pulling his head back just enough to speak.

It's funny how slow it is to actually sink in. Soriana… well, she's sort of had ever since Toral came between to find her with a scatter of images and mournful thoughts. Not that she didn't hope he was wrong. Not that she still doesn't hope it, even though that would require rewriting the world to be a different place. So? Surely that's not too hard. This is (was) Inkfoot, the tunnelcat who slew a wild feline. The one who ordered baby dragons to dig out spiderclaws for him to chase. The one who… isn't here anymore. No more adventures. Soriana leans in against Ka'el, but she's not crying. She… doesn't seem to have any tears. It's just the empty feeling where there should be something. Where there should be a pet she's had for more than half her life. Where there should be Inkfoot. Toral gives up on pleading with Soriana and hops down into the basket, curling himself around the edge of it to not-quite-touch the not-right body that was Inkfoot. He keeps watch, while Soriana doesn't look. Her eyes are closed as she hides them against Ka'el's shoulder. With them closed, she can see Inkfoot as he was. As he won't be again. There are other tunnelcats in the world, but there's not another Inkfoot. She lifts her head a little as Ka'el speaks, looking up at him, then gives it a shake. "No, I'll do it." She sounds upset, of course, but not with him. She's not mad he offered, she just… "I'd rather… it be me." Just like when he was a tiny kitten and she was feeding him by soaking a rag with milk, catching crickets to demonstrate how… her head goes down again, pressing to Ka'el's shoulder. She'll do it, when she's ready. She's just… not ready yet.

It's both a heavy and an empty feeling. Ka'el's not sure how that can be, but it's both hollow and full, the sad thing that's inside of his chest. Soriana's loss. His loss. With Soriana against him, he can see the body of Inkfoot. The empty shell left behind. He doesn't know the tunnelcat's history further than five turns ago. He doesn't know just what kind of bond was formed between Soriana and her furry little friend. He does know that, while staring at that lifeless form that's curled up so peacefully, death is a difficult thing to digest. He just saw the little guy yesterday! Ambling about in the grass near the cottage. And now? He'll never see him again. Now, they'll have to summon the will to dispose of the body of a friend. Buried underground, never to be seen from again save for in fond memories. His eyes turn to Toral, the poor lizard, and his frown deepens. Inkfoot was a part of this family. Just as much as Toral himself is. Or Haruhi or Alloy. He nods as she speaks upset words of taking care of Inkfoot herself, not protesting. "I'll help, if you want me to," he assures as he lifts a hand to place it against the back of her head, stroking against her hair. Whenever she's ready, there's no rush. Be it in minutes or hours, he'll stay with her until that time comes. The rider that he was looking for can be found another day. The maps on his desk can be pored over tomorrow. That 'one last meeting' with a local techrider can be rescheduled for a later time. Right now, his family needs him, both human and non, and all of his time is now theirs. Time spent whispering difficult goodbyes and carrying a dear friend to his final resting place.

"Yeah." That, Soriana agrees to. She could use the help. Not that it's a big thing, that little body. Not anymore. Inkfoot, oh, he could take up an entire room as he bounced around. That? What's left behind? Soriana could carry it in one hand. Toral could carry it. It's not Inkfoot, not anymore, it just… looks like him, except for the part where nothing that stays that still could possibly look like Inkfoot. But Soriana… no, she won't need help with the physical bits of it. Wrapping the body (the fur's still soft) in one of the chewed-on squares of blanket that were alternately cuddled and played with. She could get a fancier one - a shroud of silk brocade from Ierne with embroidery all over it - but she'd rather it be one Inkfoot liked. Something comfortable, not that it… makes a difference. Not to him, but still. She can do that; will do that. She'll carry it down the stairs. Digging a hole, out in the yard… she can do that herself, but she'll take turns with Ka'el. Putting that little cloth-wrapped bundle inside and covering it with dirt again and a little mound of stones to make a cairn for him under the branches of a pear tree… Soriana can do all those things, she just doesn't want to do them alone. That's really why she wants Ka'el's help. So she's not alone, while she says… "Goodbye, Inkfoot."

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