Remembering Inkfoot

Xanadu Weyr - Forest
This broad path that leads from the main clearing into the forest has been designed in such a manner so as to be not only wide enough for wagons to travel through, but also providing ample space for dragons. The path appears only worn in the center though, as most of the traffic moving through this area is that of the two-legged kind. Flowers sprout up and speckle the lush grass with bright saffron and cheeky rose, creeping all the way up to the bases of the trees that rise upward in their aged magnificence, gargantuan limbs casting often welcome shade, the general atmosphere and scent of the path is one of freshness and wild abandon.

The path winds its way leisurely through the trees, deeper into the forest and a number of less traveled paths branch away from it. Southwest leads to the forest's edge near the base of the tumbled rocks that mark the wilder areas of the forest and the mountains that rise behind Xanadu. West leads to the Firelizard Theater, northeastward the path leads to the feeding grounds and beyond that the gravel road that bisects the paddocks leading to the bovine complex. East leads to the meadow where it joins both the road that crosses the bridge over the river leading to the clearing and the the coastal road that leads out of Xanadu bypassing the beach and the Caspian Lake. Here there are secluded spots where one might picnic.

The leaves are red and gold, still hanging onto the trees. Past them, the sky is a rich, deep blue. Soriana is out in the forest, in a clearing that… well, maybe Luraoth could fit, barely, if she folded her wings and curled up tightly on herself - but there's no way the queen could walk here, nor is there room for her to land without some downright impressive aerobatics. That's okay. It's just Soriana here, sitting on a boulder and watching as Toral dives at the leaf-litter and chases little trundlebugs and… whatever else it is that's unlucky enough to be out and pounced today. She's probably been here a while, but that works, because she'll probably be here a while yet. Don't ask her how that works, but… it does. Somehow.

Whoever said that being Weyrleader means doing whatever you want whenever you want is a bold-faced liar. Those 'do whatever I want' days are rare ones for Ka'el. When the perfect storm of paperwork being caught up on, riders all settled, schedules made in advance, no meetings to attend, and no crisis to tend to happens then and only then can he throw his hands up and kick back his feet! But … unfortunately, those perfect storms are rare. Even today, such a perfect autumn day that beckons him to lay out in the sun and listen to the rustle of leaves as they are carried off by the wind…he's had things to tend to since waking up this morning. And now, past morning and well in to afternoon, he heads through the forest with a purposeful walk. He's sought Soriana, but she was nowhere to be found in the admin wing. Kanekith, through Luraoth likely, has been able to clue him in to her general whereabouts, and thus he's here, wearing a jacket against the chill as he emerges through the forest and into the clearing, holding in one hand a single, orange and yellow dahlia. Eyes flit to Toral, and he quirks a little smile before heading to the lone weyrwoman. "Miss you in the office.."

Ka'el's voice stirs Soriana from her reverie, and she looks up and over at the Weyrleader. "They tell me I've days off." Her tone's a wry one. They do tell her that. There's notes that go around with when various ones are being scheduled. It's just… there's also sick dragons and urgent requests and all sorts of things that, while another of the juniors could get to them… she could do, and then somebody'd be having a better day. Admittedly, if Soriana tries to do all of them, she'll end up having a pretty terrible forever as she works every waking hour and some of the ones she's supposed to be asleep, but… they're sitting there, waiting to be done. Today they're going to have to keep waiting, because while they may be in the office, Soriana… isn't, as Ka'el discovered. Luraoth, while she's not here, is usually all too willing to tattle about where Soriana's gone - particularly when it's Kanekith who's asking - and so she's not surprised to find she's been discovered. Nor, apparently, unhappy about it, though her smile's a small one.

Ka'el stops at her boulder perch and half smirks in response. "So they say. Probably right, and it's good that you're taking them." Without seeking invitation, he slides upon the boulder with her, sitting on the edge of it, leaving most of the space for her. He offers the bloom her way, a slight, tentative smile to go with it. She's not a flowery type of person, he knows. But … she's getting one anyway. It's a cheerful looking thing, and she possibly could use a bit of cheer. Silence dominates, but it's not the sort of stiff silence one gets when there isn't anything to say. He has plenty of words to say. But in this moment, there feels like there is no immediate need for them. No rush. Her mood is … dim, and he knows she has good reason for it to be that way. And so, for now, he allows his presence alone to do the talking. His touch, as he leans gently against her, side to side, to do the comforting. His eyes stray back to Toral. Firelizards. Their minds are so fast. Flitting from one thing to another. Does he remember his lost friend? Is he still sad? Or is there no room for past memories and feelings of loss once a new day has dawned?

Technically Soriana probably should have turned in a form or filled out a timesheet instead of just looking at her desk and telling Sorrin on her way out, but contrary to what they say, not everything in the admin wing actually has to be filed in triplicate. She accepts the flower from Ka'el, with a quirk of her eyebrows that's lopsided just like her smile, and turns it slowly in her fingers as she sits there. Round and round it goes, and where it stops… oh, there's where. The part where she sighs softly as she leans in against him. Toral… at the moment, he seems as if all's well with his universe. Even if he does turn quiet sometimes, is that his own memories at work or a reflection of Soriana's mood? Does a firelizard even understand the difference between a friend absent for a day and gone forever? "I don't know if I'm actually due one," she admits. "I don't really care. There's nothing important scheduled for the rest of today." She did, at least, check that before making her escape.

An arm is slipped around Soriana, along the small of her back, his hand coming to rest upon her opposite side. Ka'el's lips find their way to her temple when his head turns her way again, a soft kiss. Consoling. Encouraging. It's been different without Inkfoot around. Ka'el hadn't realized how much of a staple the slinky little guy was to their home til .. now that he isn't there. "They'll deal," he says of her unscheduled day off and day away from the office. Just like they'll deal with him being late back to it. There are more than a few people who can take up the slack! He falls back into silence now, unsure of .. the correct steps. Dealing with loss is … while not quite a foreign concept to him, dealing with the loss of a pet is. How long is an acceptable time to mourn before the topic is approached again? Is he allowed to talk about ol' Inkfoot? Will it make her sad again? Sadder? Angry? His arm tightens its hold against her just slightly. "..I don't know if you ever told me … how you came to have him," he says, testing the waters cautiously. "You were the only person I'd known that had a tunnel cat when I met you."

Soriana leans in against Ka'el - not enough to push him off the rock, but enough to make it clear she's definitely here, held by him, smiling slightly for his kiss. She nods about the office. "They will." She's not terribly concerned about it, to be honest. If something actually urgent comes up, it's not like she can help but to know. Luraoth will see to that. If it isn't urgent… well then, it isn't urgent, and it can wait until she wants to deal with it. Her eyes drift away, and then she looks back to Ka'el for that question. She's quiet for just a moment, then… "Heh. There's not many that do." Her gaze drifts back across the clearing, watching the firelizard at play and the wind rustling the trees beyond. "I don't even know where he came from, really. None of the holders near there had one, not that I ever heard." She smiles, looking out through the trees and back through time. "I was a kid, playing out behind the pastures. And I heard something squeaking." Her lips curve up further. "So I went to look, and there he was. Just a lone kitten, tangled up in mud and leaves."

Inkfoot, the one and only. Ka'el smiles as the story begins, seemingly without remorse or notes of depression. Young Inkfoot and how he came to be! It's a happy memory, and a little of the rigidness that came with the question, uncertain of how it would be received, begins to ease from his spine as he listens to her speak. The faraway look on her face eases him further, and he himself returns his eyes to Toral as he flits and pounces within the clearing, picturing in his mind a younger version of Inkfoot doing the same. "A kitten?" he says, blinking back to her. "That's what they're called when they're young? Huh … kitten." What a strange thing to call something that isn't a feline! He chuckles a bit. "Was he hard to catch? I remember him bein' shardin' near impossible to get a hold of before." Before age set in and slowness with it. Before? He was a quick little bugger that could disappear beneath the blink of an eye!

"Kittens, yeah. Or pups or kits. They… sorta get called whatever." Soriana considers that for a moment, then shrugs. "Probably because there's so few of them. The beastcrafters call 'em for whatever else they know better." Soriana smiles with memory. "I made my mom take me to the beastcraft hall, just so I could find out more." That's all she's got anymore - all those memories. She might as well focus on the good ones… so she does. Or at least, she tries. Sometimes the sad part slips through, but for now… Soriana doesn't laugh, as she leans in against Ka'el, but she does smirk. "He tried to eat my finger." Which, bright side, meant he wasn't trying to get away. Besides… he was a tunnelcat. Baby or no, 'get away' isn't really a part of the ferret vocabulary. Dart and hide, yes. Squirm around to look at this thing from a new angle, also yes. Retreat, though? It just isn't their style. "Course, once I got him home… he got into everything."

"Of course he did. Your fingers taste really good. They're like, a delicacy." Ka'el smirks. "He probably thought they were small, pale, sausages, your fingers. I can't blame him for trying to gnaw them off. Any tunnelcat in his right mind would." Or maybe, just maybe, it's an animal's instinct to bite and attack an unknown thing that's captured them. Gnaw gnaw rip bite! Luckily, baby teeth normally don't do much harm! "I can imagine a young tunnelcat sort've being like a newly hatched firelizard," he says, picturing how little Inkfoot might've been the first night in his new home. "I could be totally wrong but…they're almost like wingless, furry firelizards, aren't they? .. Heh, without the constant images of trundlebugs flashin' behind your eyes," he adds with a smirk. "I'll remember him fondly … though … I've a suspicion that he hid my socks and gnawed my underwear." He squints his eyes suspiciously. "S'been more than once where I couldn't find a matching sock, and as for the underwear? Well, those teethmarks definitely weren't mine."

Soriana wiggles her fingers at Ka'el. Slow and lazy-like, as if she's taunting him with their sausagey goodness before she curls them back around the stem of that flower. "Something like." She tilts her head a little for Ka'el's comparison, a smile growing as he qualifies it. So, except for being different in nearly every regard… "Kinda." They both get into trouble. That's one similarity, at least. "…they're both bottomless stomachs." Similarity number two! "He was too small to eat meat, so I gave him milk. Cream, actually." The cream of the crop! "And little bits of meatpaste." But that was after they'd figured out the care and feeding of tunnelcats, after a young Soriana'd demanded consultations and promised she'd take care of him and clean his litterbox and all that… not that Sorrin was a hard sell, beastcrafter that she is. At least runners don't make a mess inside; tunnelcats, well… "Pretty sure he nested in them." Soriana smiles. "The socks, that is. He'd hide entirely inside one as a kit." Oh, the memories! And the ferrety habits that, well, she never did entirely train him out of. It was too cute! And what's a sock or three, in the grand scheme of things?

With all her turns of tunnelcat care, Soriana is definitely an expert! An expert with fond memories, and it’s these memories that he hopes to keep alive. But even fond memories can be saddening. The happy times can be reminders that there will be no more happy times to come. At least, none starring Inkfoot, the sock-stealer. Inkfoot, the underwear gnawer. Inkfoot, the happy kitten. Ka’el’s eyes stray down to her flower now, his mind on a sock-covered baby tunnelcat while a smirk lingers on his lips. “You’re lucky your ma was a beastcrafter. M’sure anyone else who would’ve found anything but a canine or feline would’ve been told to leave it be.” A look to her. “I’m lucky I have so many pairs of socks.” A grin, though gradually it begins to lessen. Not to a frown, exactly, but more so towards a smile than a full out grin. And eventually, that diminishes to until he’s left with a look that could be considered thoughtful. “..Do you think you would be happy with another tunnelcat? Not to replace him,” he says with a headshake, “but, I know you had a lot of love for him, and listening to you now, you sound so … fond. I wonder if maybe another tunnelcat would help you to.. I dunno. Keep these feelings.”

Oh, yes. Sorrin may not have known that much about tunnelcats when Soriana first found one - they definitely weren't her area of expertise - but she at least knew enough to recognize them as a pest control species, not… some kinda weird… tuberat… thing. Soriana was lucky in that regard, and she nods. Ka'el… yep, also lucky. Because he has - "Had." There's a smirk there. Just how many pairs did Inkfoot steal? …probably not all that many. He was only one tunnelcat! One of a kind. That being the kind of tunnelcats, and also… sigh. Soriana's expression drifts toward… a still smiling one, but one where the smile has a rueful tinge to it. Because, well… that past tense applies to more than socks. Soriana had a tunnelcat. An Inkfoot. She… looks down, at Ka'el's suggestion. Her eyes fall on the flower in her hands, watch it. She's quiet for a bit. "I was going to get another one." Soriana looks up, glances to Ka'el. "Back… back when I got here. A friend for Inkfoot. I was going to go to Keroon and buy one, but…" she shrugs. "My mom was busy, and then… so was I, being a candidate and a dragonhealer and everything, and he had Toral to play with…" The brown firelizard, so like a tunnelcat. At the moment, he's chewing a leaf to bits, but it might as well be a sock. Or underwear. "…so I… didn't."

A friend for Inkfoot. One that never came to be. Would that have softened the blow, if Inkfoot died yet one still survived? A tunnelcat left to scurry through the barn and across the yard? Would it have made it worse? These are answerless questions, as that friend is a friend that never was. But possibly, it isn't too late for a friend? A friend for Toral. A friend for Soriana herself in the form of a fuzzball kitten or a grown tunnelcat in need of a good home? Keroon. "The races are there in a seven or so," he says thoughtfully. "If we go … we could look? Just look and see," he says, his hand starting to rub against her opposite side. "See if there's anything there. See if that's something you want to do. If it feels wrong … then we'll stop looking. No harm, no foul. If it feels right and we find something, maybe then we'll come home with a friend for Toral." A friend for them all. He leans in to kiss her again. Same place. To her temple. Right against the edge of her hairline. "What do you think, baby? Is that somethin' that you want to do?"

If Soriana had, she'd have… but she didn't. It's not like Inkfoot seemed unhappy or lonely. That's part of why she hadn't, even after Luraoth's presence meant she could take herself to Keroon any time she had a free afternoon and a junior weyrwoman's salary meant she could have her pick of the tunnelcats instead of saving up in the hopes of affording one of them. Of course, that same dragon and job meant she didn't have that much in the way of free afternoons, but she could have made one. Would have made one, if she'd thought… but she didn't, she hasn't, and so now… yeah, the races are coming to Keroon. She nods to that, a hand lifting to toy with the petals of that flower, then pausing as she turns her head to look… at Ka'el. She could, couldn't she? Look at those tunnelcats. At the beastcraft halls and cotholds where they breed those cunning pest-control critters. At dozens of Inkfoot look-alikes… and she frowns, just a little. Just… a thought, and then she lowers her head, sighing softly as she kisses at his shoulder in return for his. "Yeah. We could," she says, and her fingers slip from flower-petals to settle on Ka'el's leg, resting there. "I think I want to look. I… I dunno if I want another tunnelcat. I'm just… I'm so busy." Would she have time to care for it properly? "And…" her voice quiets, "I miss him." Another tunnelcat wouldn't be a replacement, but… "I'd like to look."

It's a small step, looking. But then again, it's a big step too. The first step towards a change. A possible change. A step towards healing, though in truth, healing has started even without the influx of another tunnelcat. But this could be a chance to make the process a little less painful. To Keroon, just to look. Ka'el nods gently, his free hand moving to rest upon hers on his leg. "Then we'll look," he agrees, voice gentle. "And nothin' at all has to come from looking if you don't want it to." She's busy. He's busy. From what she said, baby tunnelcats take time. Grown tunnelcats may too, if they're new to a home. If they're both gone, who'll be there to make sure it settles in properly? And that it doesn't tear up the weyr and eat all the socks and underwear? Perhaps she has a point, but for now … they're just browsing. If a tunnelcat comes home with them, they'll deal with the care of it then. Things usually work out in the end…somehow. "We should bring Toral with us," he notes with a look towards the firelizard brown, his words only a partial joke. "See what he has to think of the whole situation. If he fancies the idea of another tunnelcat around." Skeptical he is that the firelizard would have that deep of an opinion, but .. still. He might have a slight opinion. Maybe.

Or else to make the process a lot more painful, when tunnelcats start chewing on their fingers. It's sort of hard to say, without knowing. Without investigating and finding out… and oh, tunnelcats are good at investigating, aren't they? At sticking their little noses into things and dooking cheerful interrogations at whoever's passing by. "Yeah," Soriana says, her tone uncertain. What does she want to come from it? A new tunnelcat? He couldn't replace Inkfoot. A reminder that none of them can replace Inkfoot? That's not exactly going to make her feel better. So she… yeah, she's not sure what she's looking for, but she still wants to go look. She sighs, leaning in against Ka'el. Inkfoot was a mature critter, hand-reared by a girl who had more time to devote to him than Sori and Ka'el combined these days, and he still got into trouble regularly. And yet… there's the temptation. The urge to have a different fuzzy thing to keep her company and amuse her with antics, and her lips curl in a slight smile as she too lifts her gaze to Toral, stretched amidst the leaves. "S'good idea. Make sure it's… that if we get one," if, she says, and it's a big one, "that they'd get along." Haruhi, well, she barely gets along with anyone, but Soriana's used to that.

As for Alloy, he never had much of an opinion of Inkfoot. He doesn’t have much of an opinion of any creature that is not of his own kind. What good is a tunnelcat? You can’t eat it. They don’t smell particularly nice. He never did understand Toral’s infatuation with the thing, and so any potential new furry friends likely won’t have any issue with Xanadu’s most valuable firelizard. He’s far too busy in the office anyway, keeping bugs out and keeping watch over the desk. And sleeping in chairs. With the plan for Keroon somewhat in place, Ka’el settles in against Sori and falls quiet while his thoughts turn. This should be good. It will be good for her. Hopefully. Hopefully, seeing all those little furries won’t cause sad feelings to rise again. “I’m doing another lesson with the Weyrlings later. After that, I should be free. … I’ll make dinner tonight,” he says, suddenly inspired. “I’ll be off in time. It won’t be late, so don’t eat at the caverns, alright?” Mm, yum. A dinner of… cheese sandwiches, perhaps? Grilled, of course. With a side of water. Gourmet!

Inkfoot could sleep in chairs! Also on couches, tables, piles of clean laundry, piles of dirty laundry, beds, likely spots of floor, cobblestones… okay, so what we're trying to say here is that he was good at taking naps. Nearly as good as he was at waking up and bouncing off anywhere and everywhere! …sigh. Soriana's going to miss that scamp for a while, new tunnelcat or not, but at least she's got a smile as she thinks about former pet and new possibilities. She nods about Ka'el's upcoming weyrling lesson, tilting her head in a curiosity that's followed by a blink as he suggests dinner. "Really?" she says, then laughs. "Yeah, okay." Why not? It'll be nice to eat together - at home, not in the caverns where there's bound to be someone who definitely needs to talk to at least one of them, and while the menu is, uh, sometimes a bit limited, grilled cheese certainly beats bread and water rations! Because it… has cheese on the bread. So fancy! Cheese is naturally fancy like that. Serve it with wine, and you've got an entire formal dinner party. Or, well, not a dinner party exactly. More a wine and cheese tasting, but those can be pretty formal, so it still works. Soriana curls her fingers up around Ka'el's, and smiles. "Maybe I'll go by the Annex." Because she doesn't want to go back to the office. "See if they need help with anything."

Ka'el unhooks his arm from around her in order to stand up, but that hand that is held in hers remains that way. He has a secretive smile on his face, perhaps going over dinner options in his mind. What kind of bread? What kind of cheese? Or maybe, although he's no culinary artist, maybe Soriana will be pleasantly surprised with something other than sandwiches! Or … not so pleasantly surprised if those not-sandwiches burn… since his record of handling ovens and stoves isn't exactly impressive. But let's not dwell on the past, shall we? Only when it comes to tunnelcats. Past-dwelling on tunnelcats is perfectly acceptable, and maybe during dinner more Inkfoot stories will be shared. More opportunities to smile. More opportunities to miss him. Ka'el lifts her hand to touch the back of it to his lips, and with a crooked grin, he abandons the act of nobility by leaning down and forward til his lips find hers to press an affectionate and lingering kiss. He pulls back. Well, eventually he pulls back. But he leans in again to kiss her once more, a briefer kiss this time, but a kiss all the same. "The Annex always needs extra hands," he agrees, giving her hand a squeeze before releasing it. "I'll see you at dinner. If you need anything, you know where to find me." He'll be in one of a thousand possible places! A hand is lifted in a wave of departure before he turns to head away.

He could add things neither bread nor cheese to them! Like… mustard. Or… think exotic, here… thin-sliced meat. The world is his… okay, not oyster. Those probably wouldn't go well on sandwiches. But Ka'el has a recipe for success! (Hopefully.) He's certainly got recipes for making Soriana smile, which she does both for that kiss to her hand - kinda lopsided, half amused and half pleased - and the one to her lips. Okay, so really, she smiles after the one on her lips, because while it's actually happening, she's busy with putting her free arm around his shoulders and leaning in against him to kiss with warmth and affection. Those things linger afterward in her smile, the sadness - if not the memory - of Inkfoot chased away. He was good at chasing things. Maybe over dinner, she'll tell the story of the time he caught a tunnelsnake and dragged it under her bed. Or the one where he found a whersport and nearly got himself carried away. Or… oh, there's so many options. Eleven turns of tunnelcat life to tell and remember! For now, Soriana brushes her lips to Ka'el's and returns the squeeze of fingers, then nods. "To make the klah, if nothing else." But she's grade two now! They've got more junior healers to make klah. Maybe she'll do it anyway, though. Just… for old time's sake. Or maybe there'll be something else to occupy her, keep her usefully busy until it's time to head home. "Yeah." She knows where to find him - wherever Kanekith says he is! Not that Kanekith is always the most forthcoming of bronzes, but if Luraoth asks, on behalf of The Girl… it'll work. "See you then."

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