There's Something In The Forest
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Xanadu Weyr - Deep Forest
The wooded areas closer to Xanadu Weyr represent a compromise between man and mother nature, but to the north and west, no such arrangements have been made. The deep woods between the Weyr and the mountains are less traveled, the wider paths fit for man and beast less present. The noises of mankind are barely audible here, brief ghosts on the wind, and the quiet thrum of forest life presses in on all sides. The snapping of a twig, a bird's cry, the low cadence of insects; all of these things seem louder. Closer. The deeper one moves into the trees, the more it becomes obvious that one passes through nature only at her allowance.
The cover of trees is more severe in this area of the wood and only occasional shafts of sunlight lance down through the canopy, the sky visible in brief patches. A rough path has been blazed back towards the Weyr. It does not appear to be a heavily frequented path, but the few who have chosen to pass through this area appear to use it more than other avenues available. Only the very foolish or the very experienced would ever wander far from the path.


In the interest of keeping her emotions at bay (worry for D'lei, worry for J'en, whatever this was for K'vir), Risali gave up on straps and books and let Leirith talk her into an adventure - an adventure that lands them in the middle of a forest where her not-so-little queen doesn't really fit, and where she definitely got lost before. Leirith's increasing bulk is probably why they've stopped where they are at now, Leirith squished with wings folded in tight against her side in a reasonably large clearing, Risali running her hands along a lowered maw and those peskily-itchy eyeridges. "Right, so if we got lost here, I wouldn't make water from the snow. It lowers your body temperature, which can lead to - " « Minion! What is that? » There's a pause, as grey eyes blink from where they are focused on Leirith's hide to sweep around the trees. "There's nothing here, Leirith." « I mean that it sounds like Garouth! Listen. » And Leirith's thrill at this is projected clearly, the drums of her mind building up slowly despite her best efforts to be quiet. But Risali listens, listening for the hush of life beneath the snow in a way that almost makes the cheerful white suddenly horrifying. It's… absent, snuffed. "Do you miss him?" Risali asks the little queen softly. « Yes! » But Leirith is, as always, an unending source of cheer. « He will return. He always does! » Such faith this little dragon has. "Someday he won't, Leirith." « Then we will go to him! »

Really, what sort of dragon goes this deep into the forest? It's not suited to large winged creatures. There are all these trees. Which… are a challenge, certainly, but Garouth is up for that. He… may even revel in them sometimes, let's be honest. So! Here he is, being another dragon that doesn't belong as he moves between the trees like a wolf on the hunt. Or, more accurately, a dragon on the hunt, because that's what he actually is! He moves with his feet and wings seemingly all taking turns to propel him - not enough room to properly spread his wings, but they flick and shift as he pushes off from the ground - from the rocks - from the trunks of trees - and slides through the forest like the dapple of bronze light and brindled shadow that he is. Does he fit? Not really, but he has enough practice at it that he can pretend. D'lei is on his back, crouched low over his dragon as he joins in the hunt and tries to not get beaned by a tree-branch, and… they fly! …run. HUNT. …but sometimes, the hunt isn't successful. Sometimes… … …WELL. Sometimes you find something else instead! Garouth pauses, perched on two paws and a wingtip all resting on different trees, his breath a part of the wind that moves between them and sways the branches that his mind hides between. The beat of hearts, quickened by exertion, but with it? The beat of drums. Garouth exhales, breath turning to a cloud of fog to veil him, and changes his course even as D'lei hunches closer to his back while the bronze dashes between trees. He still hunts! But his quarry now - and intentions thereto - are different.

And while Leirith certainly cannot see, she can hear; she hears life, hears something moving through the forest in a way that maybe one day she will envy, but for now she simply enjoys. « Minion, » she tries again. « It is closer! » And now Leirith is moving with all of that heedless gusto she applies to every faucet of her life, caring not for the trees or branches that catch at her hide when she tries to move with Risali staring in a different direction. "Leirith, what are you hearing?" Because she can't hear anything. Fear tightens her voice, makes it a whisper. It beats at her, sending her heart into her throat as Leirith gives mutual (clumsy) chase and Risali struggles to keep pace. "This isn't funny. Leirith, slow down. You're going to get hurt, you're going to - " « I have the most badass minion around! I'm not afraid! They should be afraid! » And Leirith's pleasure simply grows, expanding out, the beat of drums swelling to mimic the frantic beating of a heart as it is chased or gives chase, and she moves, with much less precision, with much less grace. Gnarled talons slip on rocks, she takes a beating from trees but beats back, and she moves. « Closer! » Risali's breath pours from her in frightened gasps as she races to keep up, grey eyes wide and frantic, trying to see something and still seeing nothing. "Leirith!" But her only gained response is laughter. She will not be deterred. There is something in the forest.

If Garouth thought he sensed something before, when Leirith rested? Now he knows he does. The snap and crack of branches is obvious even to D'lei's ears, the crash of things as Leirith hits and bounces like some kind of wrecking ball through the forest. He knows, and he zeroes closer, the big bad wolf moving silent through the trees, hunting in that way that brings the eerie silence that reminds the hairless apes of those times when they were prey. There is something in the forest, there is trouble in the trees, and Garouth is light and darkness, the shadows that move amid the trees and WAS THAT IT? No, not even, a sway of branches that changed the pattern of light coming down through the bare treetops, nothing more than that - until it is more than that, and the pattern of shadows that wasn't even registering as a thing is suddenly a dragon with opened maw descending toward Leirith with steam from his breath trailing back as his rumble rises and he BONKS her with his cheek, the physical touch that confirms she's found him (because it's not like she can see that) and stops her tumble by having her tumble into him and tucks his muzzle down against her as he breathes in again because that open maw is because he has been running and breathing is just about as important as the pleased rumble-growl that rises up in his chest as D'lei blinks-then-grins and starts to swing down from Garouth's back, because the plan has clearly changed and where Leirith is surely Risali follows.

And oh, Leirith's joy is near-tangible as she tumble-collides with Garouth in a way that doesn't hurt nearly as much as it should, when his rumble-growl earns him a croon of unencumbered delight and the bass and drums give way to dancers who ambush Garouth's forest with much more graceful feet than she. « I have found you, my Garouth! » Or did he find her? It doesn't matter. Leirith is pressing her own gaping maw into Garouth, bunting his head with her own as she shifts again to get even closer, pressing hide-to-hide much like a cat might when greeting their human. « I will always find you! » And there is Risali, who sees Garouth before the impact of dragons; Garouth, whose appearance turns her fear into a stark relief that has Risali slowing to a walk with one arm wrapped around her ribs, nursing a stitch in her side as she leans forward to catch her breath and watch the reunion. And then… anticipation. It crawls up her spine because she knows D'lei is here too, and she swallows down another gasp of breath as she breaks into a jog that turns into a run and she can't get there fast enough. And then it happens. Something in her breaks. That head full of dark hair comes up, and grey eyes find D'lei as he makes his way down Garouth, and something breaks. She stills, rooted to her spot with heaving chest as grey eyes take in the bronzerider, starting at his boots in a slow crawl all the way up to his eyes where they hold. And then she's crying, honest-to-Faranth crying as not-nearly-long-enough legs take wide steps to eat up the distance separating her from him.

There's the moment when D'lei looks away, because he needs to see what he's landing on, and then he looks back up to see Risali, rooted there like one of the trees as she stands there and traces up from those boots on the forest floor all the way to his eyes, and now they're the ones that hold a question, an uncertainty that turns into… "Shards," as she starts to cry, concern as he turns into his own run, coming to catch her and tug her to him in a hug to crush her against him, because he doesn't even know what but it doesn't matter, because she's there and she's crying and he just wants to hug her until she's okay or she starts beating him up or whatever else. There is something, and it needs to crystallize and this, his arms around her and squeezing her tight to him, is the best way he knows how. So he does. Garouth rumbles, nuzzling Leirith and shifting to curl against her, the warmth of his body curved to hers as he nuzzles in and hi we are here now. « You have. » The dancers and the forest are each other's partners as much as they are character and setting, the twirl of vines and the leap of branches from the footing of roots and stones. « Sometimes the quest is long and hard. » There's no disagreement - almost the opposite, as if he agrees and encourages and reminds her to not give up even if it seems impossible. The winds shift, a back and forth one-two as they dance around the trees, a rocking motion as they move and dance and twirl from leaves and branches to the feathers and tresses of dancers and back again in the dance of the worlds combined.

And Risali lets herself be swept up in the crush of D'lei's hug, curling her body into the press of his as fingers scramble for purchase along his shoulders, then further still, against his back. She presses her face into his neck as she squeezes impossibly closer, breathing him in as much as she simply remembers how to breathe. There are no heart-wrenching sobs or wretched whimpers of emotion to accentuate the shaking of Risali's shoulders; the goldling is quiet as she cries, as silent as the wet running down her cheeks, unacknowledged by Risali even as she pulls back just enough to catch D'lei's face between her hands. And grey eyes inspect him, through the impossible kaleidoscope that tears create, as if to ensure herself that he's okay and he's really here and maybe it was only a day but she missed him and - "You lost." It's not a question. Risali blinks grey eyes to amber from the area of his lips and holds, because she saw the devastation in Garouth's mind through her connection with Leirith, and while the young queen may not grasp the implications of the bronze's silence, broken to share Half Moon Bay's sunrise, Risali understood. « I'm not afraid! » Leirith tells Garouth. « Nothing is too long or too hard, not when I have my Risali and you! » And perhaps she misses the implications, and perhaps she doesn't quite grasp that what she tells the bronze may contain different connotations when she is fully grown, but she doesn't mean it any less. The dancers move to decorate, bringing with them the sweet scent of funnel cake and cotton candy as they string up lights through the forest - not meant to chase away the shadows, but perhaps to give them more depth. Even now, the young queen would not change Garouth. « I want to be your sun, » Leirith tells him then, and from the mirrors in the sky comes that image from Half Moon Bay, of Rukbat's ascent, bleeding life and color into the endless grey of night, « and you will be mine! » And when he is left in the shadows by his moon, she will bleed life back into him with her light. Or, so might be implied, even if Leirith does not understand.

"Yeah." Of course it was obvious to her. D'lei is unsurprised, only acknowledging the truth and lack of surprise even if he doesn't know exactly the method and mental leaps; they were small enough that… of course she did. One of his arms shifts back, though his body doesn't move, and the backs of his fingers touch to her cheek. Opposite it, a corner of his mouth tugs back and in, and he's not even mad he's just… almost numbed, dull about it as he gives the other piece of information she might not've leapt to. "It was Marzoth again." A two parter double tour of Weyrleader's bronze, and D'lei… slips his hand away from her cheek once more, carrying a few tears with it as he puts the arm around Risali's body with another squeeze; not quite so crushing but still up there in that desire to have and hold her close. (Why? …because.) Garouth rumbles, pleased at Leirith's lack of fear at the monsters lurking in the depths of the forest, hidden even as the festival lights go up. See? How vast the forest is, like the skies that stretch past the stars. Those little lights, points of color against the forest, revealing… so many shadows, so many colored leaves and bits of wilderness… and so many dark places between them, such chances to hide and seek and celebrate in darkness those things… best suited to such places. « Yet only some are worth the chase. » He means it as a metaphor! …probably. Even if he doesn't entirely, it can still pass as one, for now. « Still. You will be strong and go far. » He nuzzles her, as the winds sway those branches with lights, making the patterns of light and shadow dance against the forest trees. Darkness, revealed by light! Or maybe the other way around. What are shadows even? What is Garouth? He's quiet as Leirith shares back that sunrise, the shadows under the trees… remaining, for their branches are thick and heavy, and yet even the sun cannot chase away darkness, only give it depth and brightness that dapples from dark to vibrant like the hues cast in clouds by that star of home's ascent. « Am I. » It's a question, for all it isn't; for all the forest is quiet and still, watching the sunrise as its warmth soaks through the branches and reaches to the earth below to stir life within it and… nourish those forest trees whose life comes, in turn, to herbivores and hunters and all that dwell in the forest - kindly or wild, safe or dangerous, they all watch the sun rise and know its name.

But Risali doesn't say anything; she simply bears witness to his being here, leaning her face into the hand on her cheek, dropping her gaze only when she's turning to press her lips against his palm, placing one of her hands over his own with a gentle squeeze, watching him again with that attentive intensity she seems to always have around him even if her tears cloud his face. She's looking, seeking, trying to read things she can't possibly see as D'lei speaks and his hand pulls away and - they start anew, her tears. Bereft at his loss or the loss of him, still, the weyrling remains silent, offering no pretty words to deliver inadequate comfort. She's crying for him as much as she's crying for herself. Risali uses her body to convey what she does not trust to the failing inadequacies of the English language: she returns D'lei's squeeze by crushing him to her this time, arms over his shoulders, fingers in his hair as she pushes her cheek into his and gets him wet and doesn't care. She doesn't acknowledge it, she doesn't bring attention to it, she simply holds on until he signals she should let go. "I'm here," she tells him, and she doesn't know why, but it's no less important that he know. It's important, him not being alone; it's important that he knows she is here, and she will always be here, to shoulder his highs and his lows, to share in his victories and his defeats, to offer him sanctuary when there is nowhere else to go. He is important. He is… so much more than this, and it is important that he knows. It's what she tries to convey in the press of her body to his for the duration of that embrace, and what she will continue to convey long past his return to Monaco Bay. « Of course I will! » she agrees with Garouth, as her dancers give up clothes of iridescent light to take on the colors of the bronze she sees through Risali's eyes, the bottoms of dresses given rough edging like his wings, mingling with those in colors of her own hide: mustard yellows and creamy whites. They move together in harmony, hand in hand, peeking into the deepening shadows together, unafraid. « Because you will be with me, even if you are not beside me. » That is what he told her after all, wasn't it? That one day he would leave, but she could still find him in the vast infinity between them. And Leirith examines the question that is not a question, as if there is a realization to be made that she doesn't quite grasp. And while the sun rises and soaks warmth into the forest, Leirith's sharing with Garouth every interaction with every dragon she's had. They are vast, there are many, but the joy that she projects when she is sharing her interactions with him is more. « Yes! » she decides, upbeat in her childishness, confident in her decision. « One day, we will watch Rukbat rise together, everywhere. » Because he just… doesn't have a choice, does he?

D'lei is here and that's… his hand on her cheek, the other arm still around her. That's his eyes, that seem to unfocus even without the cause of tears before they draw in again with his perspective from her whole face and the forest beyond to just her eyes, grey to his amber as they meet through that veil of tears. His touch, warm to a cheek that's warm and wet. Her lips, her own hand, the crush of arms and the leans back of his cheek to hers in silence and touch. He's… hurt, that's there in his face along with so much else that's there in some sort of complicated tangle of what it means, how he feels about that and this and her and… so much, and yet for all of that there's a certain emptiness to his features . He's not lost, not exactly, but he is still glad to be found. She found him. Or Garouth found Leirith. Or Leirith found Garouth. Does it matter? Maybe. But… however it begins, they are here now. And D'lei leans into that hug, his cheek wetted by her tears even if he has none of his own for this moment. "Yeah," he says softly, his breath a stir for her hair. He's quiet for a moment, letting that sink in, and then he repeats it… or says it for himself, with the different meaning it takes. "I'm here now." He wasn't, gone away, but now? He is here. This is what has his attention. This is where his focus lies. This, here, is where he is, now. Later? That's another question, and perhaps the squeeze of his arms is an answer for it… or perhaps not, but it's the closest thing to an answer that he has. At least, right now. He's here, and he has the hug to prove it. He lingers with that hug, in no rush to leave… though eventually, he does speak again, at least to quietly ask… "Are you okay?" Because clearly she's kind of not? But also she may still be. That's why he has to (well, wants to) ask. Garouth rumbles softly, and… disputes. « No. » He's not upset, still gentle in his affections as his winds stir against her dancers and lights. « You will because you are strong. » The wind picks up, a gust to rattle trees. « …and Risali is fierce. But you do not need me. » Cold words, and yet his winds and shadows encircle her, playing with flickers of leaves at the patterns of light and movement. « But I will be with you. » Even if she doesn't need him! « And we can watch the sun rise together until we understand. »

"I missed you, D'lei," Risali breathes, "welcome back." She's content to remain in the shelter D'lei's body provides, absorbing his heat through their jackets much like she soaks in his presence and uses the crushing contact of his harder body against her own softness to rebuild all of that characteristic strength. It takes her time, maybe too long - but then, time seems to stand still for these moments, when she is just as much found by him as he is found by her. Who found who first doesn't matter; they found each other, and here they are, better for it. Or are they? Risali is, certainly. But she pulls away without breaking contact first, just enough to see D'lei's face once more, so that grey eyes can jump between amber as D'lei asks that forbidden question and - no. The hint of it is there for just a moment in Risali's face, raw, intense, but buried when she forces a smile that falls flat of intended mischief. "Are you saying that I look terrible?" she whispers. A beat, and then, "You must've forgotten who you're talking to, bronzerider." And so what if her voice breaks? She just brings one fist down on his shoulder to deflect with a gentle punch, a faux threat, one whose impact is probably considerably less significant than her forehead pressing to his as her flexes with one arm. SO TOUGH. And around breathy laughter, her hands find his biceps and her eyes close. "You're here; I'm okay." And if he allows, she will hold him like that for just a little longer, and then a moment more, until her hands are on his cheeks again to hold him in place as she places one kiss, then two on his brows. It's not until she's placed another kiss on his nose, assuming that he hasn't pulled away, that she's asking, "Are you?" Leirith's dancers spin in the wind, tracking the path of the breeze with elegant pose as the gold meets the bronze's not unkind dissent with amusement. « I do not need you, » she agrees with him, cheerful. « But the world has much more color when you are here with me. » And then the Garouth and Leirith costumed dancers move about the forest, catching leaves in their hands and letting them go in the breeze, watching them dance and mimicking their complicated movements with long limbs. And instead of responding to watching Rukbat rise, Leirith's coming back to a statement he'd made earlier, as if she's only just caught on to what it is that he's said. « One day, Garouth, I will chase you. » Because he will always be worth the chase. Her dancers display this, in a game of tag that leads them through the shadows.

What is time even? How long does it take to change an entire world? Ask any dragonrider that, and they can give you an answer in how many seconds it took between the first snap of shell and the contact of mind. Forever and yet barely any time at all. D'lei's question is earnest, concerned, the apology he won't quite make behind it because… he's sad but not sorry that he went. And yet she missed him, and he missed her, and there is a sorrow there if not a sorry. Which is certainly behind those eyes, guiding their focus on hers and the angles of mouth in almost wistful ways, but whether she'll read it there… who knows? (Risali, of course, but she'll only know that reading she makes, and never the intention behind except as what she thinks she sees may approach it.) So what is he saying? A quirk of his lips, answering that unconvincing smile, and his shoulder drops with her punch, that arm shifting down (the other does the same, a moment later) to sink lower down around her as his forehead leans to hers. He closes his eyes, then, quiet as she holds him - as he holds her - and as her hands shift, letting those kisses fall with his arms around her. His eyes open as she does, focusing in on her own nose and the eyes that are blurred with too much closeness as well as tears. "…I'm saying you look beautiful…" he says softly, quiet enough that perhaps the conduction of bone between their bodies carries it better than sound-waves through the air. "…and sad." His lips quirk, a faint smile that's sad in its own way. "I missed you too." He closes his eyes, arms tightening around her for a moment as he holds her like this, and she holds him, and then a brief laugh. "No. I'm not okay, but I'm happy." For all the sense that feelings don't make. Garouth laughs with the stir of avians cawing in the branches of swaying trees, only agreement now. More color, more light to deepen the shadows and expose the secrets of the festival and forest… those he can agree to with a ready heart. « One day you will. » Even that, he will agree to. So what if it's not the standard narrative of dragons in flights? This is Leirith, and he has no doubt she will find an opportunity to do so if that's what she desires. The shadows beckon, and the dancers chase through them… deer, and rabbits, and other creatures of the forest startled into motion for this pursuit of tag-hunt-chase. It's a game, and yet… there's a hint of fear, these creatures knowing that game and hunt are not so far away. « …you may change your mind, when you are older. » It's half statement, half…. permission, though there's a reluctance to that part of it… and a chill beneath it. « Others have. »

And Risali is not sorry that D'lei went either, though she is also sad. Sad because of the sorrow she can see in his expression, sad because she wasn't there, sad because she was stuck here, with Leirith, learning how to be a dragonrider so that someday maybe she could be there, with him, to celebrate or mourn. And while she is sad, she too is not… sorry. But she is blushing, tear-reddened eyes blinking wide and jumping between amber, as if she's never heard the words before and intends to make him say them again but - oh. But he is hugging her, and she presses back into him, taking the moment of closeness to recover as she slides hands with gentle pressure along his jaw and brings her arms around his shoulders, once more pulling herself even closer as another breathy laugh escapes her, shaky in application. "Shut up, D'lei," she breathes. "Liar." Though she squeezes him just a little tighter when he tells her that he's missed her too. « When I have my eyes, » she concedes, because she will find a way - though she does not understand the implications of her words now. She will, in time. The dancers change their elegant gaits to match the animals of the forest, masks and clothing changing to match the game that they chase - except for one, one who chooses to be the predator, the wolf, and who is probably the one Leirith actually is, enjoying the chase. But they scatter with Leirith's confusion, and then come together again when she thinks she understands. « I am not your moon, Garouth, » she tells him. « I am your sun. » Though he never said she could be, but as in much of anything dealing with Leirith… does he have a choice? And then, amusement. « I will always love you, Garouth. I will always chase you. That will never change. » Though perhaps the love will change, the chase will be something else, but she will always hunt him. She knows it. She intends it. It will be. Goodluck convincing her otherwise. « And maybe one day, I will let you chase me. » Risali? She's drawing away from that hug again, this time placing her hands on D'lei's chest without applying pressure as she leans back and just trusts that he will keep her from leaning back too far. They have come a long way, see? OR HAVE THEY? "Do you want to talk about it?" she asks, grey eyes searching amber for an answer she may never get. "Or do you want to shoot arrows at the trees and yell really, really loud until we can forget we're not okay? Because I have…" And give Risali a moment, her hands coming away from D'lei as she digs in the pockets of her jacket and then pulls out a piece of paper with a devious smile. She unfolds it to reveal… is that a pictured list of current Weyrleaders? It totally is. She stole it from a book. "A really good target. And I bet my aim is better than yours."

There's a soft smile for Risali's confusion, sad in its own way and yet there, and then the hug that draws her close and uses touch instead of those unreliable word things that can mean so many things. "Never," he answers her, with a grin for her laugh, one that's so close to that border where shaking breaths are undecided between joy and tears… and yet here, now, has picked a side and taken it even though things aren't okay but that's okay. Never a liar? Or… never shutting up okay yes we all know which option is the MORE PLAUSIBLE one here, never mind we don't need to spend more time on this question, it is well and truly solved (and yet we are still talking about it, because of course we are because that's how this works, it is a full and complete interactive demonstration (no actual interaction included) of just how (SHUT UP, D'LEI) this thing wor- (ow okay was all that punching really necessa-) we now return you (so much blood) to your regularly scheduled (viscera, everywhere) pose already in progress). Where Leirith chases - or dances - the roles of herd-creatures and the hunter among them, the wolf in her own clothing (or the dragon in wolf's) that pursues before scattering away to… coalesce their thoughts together once again. « You are Leirith. » The shadows shift, a sweep like the time-lapse of light through the trees, a motion that encircles her - the dancers, the sense of presence that she is that makes the circular motion in his mind a circle in and around hers as well. « So long as you are Leirith, I will be Garouth. » He's hesitant to make that same promise of certainty, the memory of… a change in mood and inclinations… too recent, too strong, for him to risk that… betrayal… again. Still. So long as she is Leirith, and not some other dragon who uses that name for a phase more different than the two moons of Pern are from the Red Star, he will - for her - be Garouth. « And I will love you. » Leirith, who beats down with the force of a thousand suns… and yet without that light, that heat, where would the world be? …cold dark and dead. And Garouth is only two out of three on those, but he laughs at her even so. « Could you keep me away? » There are eyes in the trees, amber and gold as the wolves and monsters gather and pace - showing their presence, their huffs and barks, but not yet revealing their strength. Not yet! Hardly yet, for it is hardly the time… yet even so, he teases and asks the question. Even if she doesn't understand, she knows that he is fierce as well as she. Though maybe Risali could defeat him. Good thing they're not in a direct competition, here! For Risali's with D'lei now, who doesn't drop her on her ass as she leans back, only tilting his head to look at what she pulls out. It's a study aid, of course. Targeted education about important subjects, and he laughs at it. Or maybe her. Or probably himself. "I don't even hate him. So probably." His eyes linger on the page, looking at the face of Marzoth's Rider. It even says that, right in the subtitle! So convenient. "I mean… shards." The laughter falls out of his voice, like his own crash down, but at least he still doesn't drop Risali… though she can feel the tense of his fingers. "It's a flight. And it's sex. But if she's still too busy with him to… even say anything… maybe that does say something."

Of course D'lei says, 'Never,' which merely earns him another punch in the arm with a little more force than last time but still not nearly enough to hurt. Leirith's dancers move as the shadows shift with that eerie, time-lapse quickness, though Garouth's words are met with more of the queen's amusement, the single wolf-dressed dancer in a pack of herd animals lifting her head as if she can sense the eyes of the wolves and the monsters long before they ever appear. « Could you keep me away? » she counters, all upbeat cheer - though she does not understand, despite knowing that he is strong and for some reason chases lady dragons which seems silly but one day she will learn. For now, she's laughing, crooning as she tucks her muzzle between their bodies and wuffles into his hide, into the snow melting beneath their bodies. She steals his heat, much like Risali steals D'lei's, and she's equally unapologetic about it. « I will be Leirith for you, Garouth! We will be like… Risali calls them heroes, and sidekicks. You will be my sidekick! Or my minion, I'm not picky. You should go with minion, though. Minions are more fun. » But she is teasing him, because he is teasing her. « We will save my seeing-eye minion from being disappointing. » And where the monsters gather, to show they exist, the dancer who Leirith is moves forward, prowls back, imitates Garouth's beasts with a grace she will never physically know, to show she is not afraid - even if she does not understand. « But you are still my sun. » But you're damn right it's a study aid, and while D'lei laughs at her, or her stolen guide, or both (or, okay, maybe himself), Risali watches him with a quiet smile of her own. This is what she wanted, after all, and for just a moment, she basks in it. Then the laughter leaves, and words as hollow and as stark as the winter-bitten woods surrounding them have Risali pressing herself back into D'lei's body, her arms tucking beneath his this time, as she leans in and rests her chin on his sternum. Grey eyes are watchful, attentive, and Risali simply… listens. She listens, and the things she can't (or won't) hide are there on her face: sadness, anger, and something too complex to be gauged properly. "So what happens now, D'lei?" she finally whispers, giving him another squeeze, one intended to communicate that she is here, and he doesn't have to tell her. "Do you fight for the girl, or do you fight for yourself?"

Of course he did. And of course she did, and for a minute there's that grin for the punch, the brief flare of joy that is the happiness of abuse because this is D'lei's life now (and he's glad for it). Garouth's monsters and wild creatures laugh, their presence known… because of course it is; it's only the fools who hide away and pretend that the wolves aren't there. « It might be fun to try. » Which means NO, but that he likes the chase and so if she chases him? Sure, why not? Puppies gotta learn to hunt! And someday, when she does understand… well. That is a question that will only be answered on that someday. Will the sun always rise? Will Leirith forever be Leirith? (Will she be his sun? (Duh, she said so, didn't she? Who is he to argue, seriously, just some Garouth or something who is to be a minion in her grand scheme of things. Also, a space heater.) He rumbles as he curves in over her, his wings coming up carefully, folded in toward his body to not knock into trees but still making a shell around her of shadow, like the darkness of space that surrounds the sun (and that it shines through). « I will be a minion. » If those are his options, anyhow! « For I will have minions of my own. » An empire of cri- er, justice, they are heroes after all. (Whyever would you think otherwise? Seriously.) « I will lead, and you will lead. » WHO LEADS THE LEADER? …Garouth and Leirith, that's who. Yes, both of them. No, not together, they are both the leader and - no you have a circular reference in your org chart, it's - nuh - uh - shut up - fight me. « Never boring. » Garouth agrees. Leirith prowls forward, and the monsters come to meet her, grins on maws and blood on claws as they circle with, predators waiting to strike… or dancers, as the music begins to swell, and their paws trace out a circle on the ground, faint traces of fire in the autumn leaves stirred by that passage. The sun, and the shadows. D'lei's eyes lift from the page, out past Risali to the bare branches and snow of the forest. His arms remain around her, the touch a constant and a reassurance, but he's seeing… well, in truth, not the forest either. He's seeing a face, one that isn't on the page Risali stole. The girl. Quinn. The one he's thinking about even as he holds Risali, the one that she asks about and… he squeezes her back, amber eyes leaving the ghosts of the forest and focusing again on hers. "I… don't know." One corner of his mouth quirks, sadness and a faint self-deprecation. "Usually it's the girl breaking up with me." And then he stops, because those are not the words he expected to come out. But now they have, and he's heard them from his own mouth, and he can't immediately deny either them or… what they imply about what happens next. "Shit." It's contemplative, almost. Is this where he is? Really?

"Stupid girls," Risali breathes, and suddenly the goldling is drawing back just enough to fuss with D'lei's jacket instead, as if the zipper is not right, or the fabric is sitting the wrong way, or maybe she just really doesn't want to meet his eyes, especially when he seems to come to conclusions that may not sit so well given the way he says, 'Shit'. Because this is D'lei's choice, and Risali does not want to influence it; she will support him, regardless of the path he chooses to take. So, give her a moment of fussing with her 'distraction', and then Risali's eyes are back on him, hands pressing against his chest with one gentle pat as she leans forward again. "You deserve to be happy, D'lei. Always." And sometimes what is good for one person is not necessarily good for another. Still, Risali lingers for only seconds before withdrawing on the heels of pressing a kiss into D'lei's sternum, so that she can try to distract him with humor. "So tell me, bronzerider. Were you aware that your dragon flirts shamelessly with mine?" It's an exaggeration, of course (kind of, it's more her dragon flirting shamelessly (and unwittingly) with his, but SEMANTICS). "Because he does. And I'm starting to think he gets it from you. 'I'm saying you look beautiful.'" And then… well, something clicks. Something clicks, and suddenly grey eyes are on D'lei's face and she's staring at him despite the seriousness of feelings and potential break-ups between them, because their dragons flirt and one day, maybe, it won't be so innocent, and maybe, one day, Garouth will actually catch Leirith and she will - they will - oh, Faranth. The teasing smile on Risali's lips turns into a little 'o' of surprise, and then the weyrling is taking another step back, to drag grey eyes from boots, to thighs, to stomach, and chest, and arms, and… amber eyes. She's flushing by the time grey meets amber again, and then the weyrling forces her mouth shut as those brows furrow and, without another word, Risa's stalking her way to Leirith. She doesn't tell her to stop, though. Instead, she's pulling a rather worn pouch from where she's tied it off on the sightless gold's straps and then hauling it back to D'lei. MUST. NOT. GO THERE. She crouches in the snow before him and OUT COME THE CONTENTS: a bow, probably too small for D'lei to use comfortably as it's clearly been tailored for Risali, and a quiver with arrows. She takes one of those arrows and marches right on over to a tree, driving the head through her stolen worksheet and into the trunk so that fearless leaders look back at them inconspicuously, unaware of their fate. Right back to D'lei Risali goes, pushing bow and arrow into his chest as she puffs at her bangs to chase them from her face. "Do you need lessons?" she asks, and while there's a hint of Risali's usual fire, taunting him into action, the words come out on a whisper. Faranth help her. "It will help you think." ABOUT WHAT TO DO WITH QUINN, of course. Even if it seems like he's… already decided. Speaking of Leirith, that single dancer moves around the circle of monsters as if trying to select a partner and finding none worthy; instead, the other dancers flood in, to dance with beasts as she slips into anonymity within the fray and moves her way through them, untouchable. « When I can see, » Leirith tells Garouth again, joy unencumbered by her temporary handicap. « What will you lead? »

It's not about Risali. It shouldn't be. And it isn't. Right? It's about Quinn. Okay, and maybe a little about Serena. But mostly… well. Mostly, it's about D'lei. Or it should be, anyhow. The fussing at his jacket definitely notices a few scuffs that might not have been there before, but then again, maybe those are about Risali. Anyhow… they're not important. His happiness? A wry smile from him for that, because what has happiness ever done for him? …besides get him tangled in trouble, anyhow. He looks to her from the forest as she leans in again, amber eyes soft as he reaches his own hand to place it over one of hers on his chest, resting there lightly to feel and agree to the contact. "So does everyone." It's with a small, almost sad smile, though his eyes are steady, and then his fingers fall away as she draws back. His eyes remain, watching her with a sort of earnest study of just how her mood changes, what exact motions of eyes and lips signal the tease that she is making, the accusations that fly, and his expression mirrors her, with the corners of his mouth lifting as she leads by positing the emotion she wants and he follows because he doesn't want to hold on to the ones he has any more, because they're unpleasant and he doesn't like where they lead and needs to think about them more… but not now. Now Risali finds her own conclusions, and he's… concerned, but not surprised. What happens when dragons flirt with each other? Yeah, he knows this one. He's been there - more or less - and so it doesn't take much of a leap to get there now. Not that they are there now, but someday they might be. And on that day? …well. GOOD QUESTION. D'lei smiles crookedly, his expression somewhere between apologetic and wistful as Risali makes her way back to his eyes again, and as she stalks off he just stands there. BUT. She comes back again, and he is a little surprised by that. But he watches as she pins up their target, then takes the bow as she hands it to him. "I know the basics." His self-appointed lessons in all things martial! Which… he puffs out a breath and pushes himself to focus on bow and arrow to get them situation on his hands and gently check the tension on the line with a partial draw and then a slow retraction of it. "So." His voice is normal (ish). Everything is normal, and never mind that whisper of the lingering trace of redness that came on far too suddenly to just be the cold. "We score for faces, bonus if it's Monaco's?" Because NOPE S'dny doesn't get a name right now. Not that D'lei hates him or anything, he said as much and meant it, but he just… doesn't want to talk about him right now. This is about D'lei! And Risali. And shooting things. (And thinking, because even if a part of his head is already decided, he is going to second guess it like whoa. Because even inside his own head… he never shuts up.) At least Garouth is capable of silence, even if - for now - the monsters make their noises as they dance, the tromp of paws, the barks and growls. Not every dancer has a partner tonight, but there is still a joining to celebrate, even if there remain mysteries to be found and secrets to be hunted. As there should be, for what a sad thing it would be to reach the end of all quests? « When you can see. » How many expanses will open to her then! How many new possibilities to be explored… and old ones to be re-visisted for new understanding. « A wing. » Garouth pictures it for her, dragons flying through the sky and casting their shadows in the wake of his. « Perhaps more, but… I will begin there. »

It is about D'lei, it has always been about D'lei - for Risali, anyway - not only in this situation, but in every situation. Quinn and Serena's happiness is second, and will always be second where Risali is concerned, because D'lei is her person, and there are only two other people alive that can claim that sort of loyalty from the goldling standing before him. So when she says, "No," with conviction, so much anger poured into one little word with so much absolution, D'lei certainly would not be wrong to wonder if the words are meant for the people she believes are hurting him. "Not everybody deserves to be happy, D'lei." Because some people, well… some people just want to watch the world burn. « I don't understand why you are picturing him without clothes, minion, or why you are so embarrassed! I bet he will take them off if you ask him. I don't have clothes. Garouth does not have clothes. I think it's funny that you wear clothes, anyway! Oh, but maybe because it's cold… That's okay! We can just build a bonfire! » Or their dragons. See, the reason why Risali came back is because he is D'lei; it's not the conclusion that Risali drew when she realized that one day Leirith would grow up and that one day she would be an honest-to-Faranth dragonrider and that one day Leirith would fly and somebody would catch that gave her pause. It was the fact that… she wasn't afraid of it being D'lei. That it made her heart beat a little faster, and sent something electric down her spine, and made her hands shake to know that she trusted him enough to - you get the point. //That was what scared her. And now she's trying really, really hard to pretend that her dragon is not projecting her thoughts to ALL OF PERN (WHATEVER, THAT'S WHAT IT FEELS LIKE, SHUT UP D'LEI), and certainly not to D'lei, and maybe he can pretend not to hear the near-hysteric, "Shut. UP, Leirith," that comes from Risali's lips as she kicks snow towards her blind dragon. The dragon merely laughs, examining her rider's reaction with curiosity, sharing the overspill of emotions with Garouth as if he might be able to help her untangle such a messy web. So there grey eyes are, intently focused on D'lei's hands as he tests out the bow, and then snapping back to attention on the piece of paper as he speaks. There's a nod of concession as she pulls up the wings of her jacket to hide her face and brings her arms up over her chest. One, two, three breaths and Risali is managing, "And Fort's. Because fuck K'vir." And… ohp. There it goes. All of that whatever it was, she doesn't want to talk about it is diminished with the sudden return of tears. Tears that Risali ignores with that same fierceness as always, as she always does, as suddenly she's turning to D'lei and WORKING THROUGH HER FEELINGS by setting up his posture with maybe-a-little-rougher-than-necessary hands. There's no hurt or agony in her expression, it's anger. And while K'vir's picture might not be up on that list of Esteemed Weyrleadership, his Dad's is, and they look enough alike to justify putting an arrow or two into the Fortian's FACE. And while Leirith's curiosity holds, she examines the images he grants to her while her dancers continue to move with his monsters. « Underachiever, » the little queen tells Garouth, but she is laughing again. And then, « I would sooner rule all! Or… well, at least more than a wing. And what would you do with this wing, anyway? »

No? D'lei tilts his head, eyes steady on Risali's despit ethe fire in them, the anger that's there for… someone. Or something? But there's definitely a someone who did it, because to Risali there are people who do not deserve to be happy. And… D'lei holds her gaze, and then… "You're right." It's quiet, a change of his statement but not a defeat. He's not giving in to her anger; he's re-considering and changing his mind, his statement, in light of her push to do so. So, who does deserve to be happy? Well… that would take serious thought, and that is not happening, because it is instead taking all of his concentration to not hear Leirith. It's cold, okay? The tips of his ears are red because they're cold, and he's definitely not smili- oh fuck, he just can't prevent himself from smiling as someone else gets told to shut up too, because that is somehow hilarious and wonderful and he loves it even as he fights to choke down the smile and pretend he actually did hear nothing at all. He's just … pleased by the bow, that's it! Tilting it up across the snow as he sights against it, aimed at the white and… then his attempts to not smile are made easy as all amusement flees at K'vir's name. Or more accurately, the emotion behind the name, which is not at all… well. What does he know of what sort of emotions are supposed to be there in successful relationships? But he looks to her, with concern in his amber eyes and a frown on his face where he was trying to smother a smile just moments before, and… he would ask her if she wants to talk about it, the words are practically there in his mouth, but before they can come out she's shoving his arms around and improving his posture. Which he accepts, just like he accepts the change in rules. "Okay." If that is what Risali wants, she shall have it! And he… will shoot, raising the bow - too small to fit comfortably in his hands, almost a toy but that's okay, and he sights along the arrow as he aims for the trees, checking his distance, feeling for the wind as best he can, and… deep breath. Ignore everything, that's how you do this. You pretend there is nothing in the world except you and your target, and you just think about the bow as an extension of yourself, your will as you draw back - breath in, arm steady, and then when you have it just so release and let the arrow fly! …and it's not nearly so simple as it sounds, because how can he ignore everything around him, the tears and fears and worry - and because this is maybe not a perfect bow for him, and certainly not one he's familiar with - but for all that the arrow flies straight and mostly true, thunking into the tree having impaled T'revs right through the eye. (The left eye. Because it can't all be right.) Garouth approves his rider's competence with a rumble, though the dash of a rabbit escaping implies that it could still be better. Still. It could also be worse! Like, Risali could already have had a mental picture of D'lei naked because of some incident in the bathing caverns. So see? It's not so bad after all. Garouth lets those emotions passed from Leirith wash along through his mind like a blush on the clouds, pink eddies of sunrise (or set) that paints the sky with its passage. « It is a kind of friendship. » The shadows swirl in, darkening aspects of pink to purple to make the sky blushes and bruises mingled, complex like the emotions that brought it there. What does it even mean? HAH. Good luck figuring that out… because you'll need it! At least wings and ruling the world are simpler than feelings. « Weyrleader proves nothing. » He shares an image of a bronze dragon, shouting in rage like… some child's tantrum. « You need not be wise or strong, only lucky. I will prove myself, and then they will follow me because they believe, not merely because their riders say I must. » That wing of dragons overhead is joined by others, flying like a wing of wings in a fractal formation. « We will soar Pern and defend it. » AS DRAGONS DO. As every instinct in that bronze body claims is his purpose, even if the thread that once fell threatens this planet no longer. Still, Garouth knows he is a defender of this world, his territory and home.

It doesn't take serious thought, not for Risali. The answer is simple, and rolls right off of the tip of her tongue (or brain, WHATEVER): D'lei. D'lei deserves to be happy. Everybody else can get stuffed. Everybody else. And while D'lei tells Risali that she is right, there's no gloating, no smiles, no expressions of victory, merely that same fire that says it wouldn't matter even if she was wrong. And mind you, Leirith is not the only one being told to shut up, because Risali catches sight of that smile, and those red ears, and it makes her blush even more, and then she's PUNCHING HIM in the arm because VIOLENCE IS ALWAYS THE ANSWER, and there's a hushed hiss of, "Shut up, D'lei," directed at him too. Even if it's… well… delayed by emotions, and soft expressions, and concern. It's also part of why she busies herself with BOSSING HIM AROUND. Because ANGER is the only way she can feel SAD and STRONG at the same time (or so we have already ESTABLISHED VIA MEMES). But she doesn't cheat, in her usual fashion. Instead, she holds her breath and waits, watching the way the rider from Monaco Bay lines up his sight and focuses on the release and - KAPOW! The splintering of wood as that arrowhead pierces right through T'rev's left eye and Risali makes a sound of approval as she wipes at her infuriating eyes (WHO EVEN NEEDS EYES ANYWAY) and punches D'lei again. Like, you know, a bro-bump. "Impressive, bronzerider," she breathes, grasping at fraying strands of dignity and hastily trying to repair them as she musters up some (lacking) swagger and exaggerates an over-confident gait as she moves right back into his space. "Buuuut, you're about to get your ass kicked by a girl." And she plucks that bow right out of his hands with a wicked smile as she turns to face the targets. And so she takes in a deep breath, aligning her arms, drawing the bow back, lining up her shot - « So there are different kinds of friendship? » Leirith inquires after Garouth, watching the colors bleed into hurt with a lack of understanding. « Is this the kind of friendship that we have? Should it please me to think about you without clothes? » THUNK. RIGHT INTO L'TON'S NOSE, A HALF MOON BAY AWAY ON A TREE. It's not where Risali intended, but… it certainly is on a face - and that's the important part. So now she can pretend like the flush on her cheeks is because of victory as shoves the bow right back into D'lei's stomach. « Because that seems silly. Though I have never understood this hug. » YEAH, that was Risali and that was K'vir and Risali really looks like the ground could just swallow her whole now, please and thank you. "Leirith, I will kill you." But Leirith merely laughs at her rider, and tells Garouth (and D'lei): « She is so fierce! » A beat, and then… her attention has moved on, to dragons in the sky and Garouth's ambtions. She is quiet a moment, and then, cheerfully. « I will help you! Though if the others do not already understand, maybe they are not worth leading. » Or chasing. Risali's just going to stare at D'lei and dare him to say something with wet eyes while she waits for him to take the bow. Definitely the cold inspiring so much red. SILLY HUMANS.

Got friends? PUNCH THEM. Got problems? SHOOT THEM WITH ARROWS. It's great! Okay, yes, the shooting with arrows is abstracted and not actually happening to the actual faces, which is probably good because there is a fair bit of collateral damage happening here. Another reason to NOT BE WEYRLEADER. You get arrows shot at you (well, your picture) even when you didn't do anything wrong. This is what happens! And D'lei shuts up for long enough to do the shooting and he grins with pleasure (and, let's be honest, a bit of surprise) at his success. "Ha." He done shot that T'revs! "And after you sabotaged the bow and everything." Because of course she did, that's what Risalis do, and she can no more change her spots than he can his stripes (or shut up, that either). But even so he grins as he hands the bow over and steps back, a "Do your worst," as if that wasn't her plan already, and… as she concentrates on the shot, his smile falls aside, concern again dominating as he watches her with a furrow in his brow and a sideways tug of his mouth. She's… Risali, with so much Risali to her, and… what does he feel about that? And… just what is going on with her and K'vir, and shut up traitorous little voice in a corner of his head, and… is she really okay? Because (even if she is beautiful)… he's still worried about her. Garouth rumbles to Leirith, the skies swirling pink to purple and back again. « I am never wearing clothes. » A pause, and then. « Unless you count straps, but those are not the same. » Humans, the only species that goes and covers up perfectly good bodies just because… then they get to uncover them? D'lei is pretending he doesn't hear, even as he looks at Risali and thinks about her (but not naked) and then he puts on the grin as her arrow thunks in, tacked to his face as solidly as that sheet now is to the tree with three points of arrows driven through it. "Evening the score, huh? Well… time to make my move." By which he means shooting an arrow. Again. It's not a very shocking move, actually, but… no you shut up, this is a serious competition. He nocks the arrow, draws back, and whoa WHAT the that is a very vivid and remarkably distracting image and while yes it may technically involve shooting something it is not at all conducive to arrows but it's too late for him to pull out and he's releasing the arrow to fly in an arch to the tree and… drive into the wood, splintering bark and not actually hitting the page at all. Close, but… no cigar. (THE CIGAR IS JUST A CIGAR. SHUT UP, FREUD.) "Okay, good strategy…" he says to Risali, with a laugh that is maybe a little forced but he is trying to make this a joke and her cleverness. "You got me on that one." Now take the bow back and MOVE ON as Garouth and Leirith move on to the far safer conversation about leadership. Well. Mostly safer. Garouth laughs, a rumble as a wing of dragons disrupts the patterns of color. « Perhaps. Or perhaps that is why they need a leader who can help make them better. »

That is just how Risali rolls. What better way is there to express affection than through liberal amounts of violence? THERE IS NOT ONE. And so, sweet, innocent bronzeriders who just wanted to get through weyrlinghood and go back home and maybe not necessarily make friends get punched, while completely innocent except for the one that is sleeping with D'lei's girl and the other one that helped create K'vir Weyrleaders get their faces SABOTAGED. BY ARROWS. And why? Simply because they exist in Risali's world. WOE. THE LAND OF SHREWS. "Don't let it go to your head, pretty boy. I'm still going to kick your ass." So when Risali has that bow back in her hands, do her worst she does - or rather, Leirith does, by projecting things that make Risali want to die. THIS IS HELPING D'LEI, RIGHT? SHE IS HELPING HIM WIN! IT'S SABOTAGE. « I am never wearing clothes either! Which is why I don't understand my minion's embarrassment. Maybe she just doesn't realize that it's okay not to have on clothes! Maybe your minion can help her. Or… they can help each other, because he's in clothes too! Which is silly. Nobody should be in clothes. And then they can hug. » Uuuuugh. And there D'lei goes, making THREATS HE CAN'T KEEP (because Leirith) and - oh Faranth. He is trying to make a joke out of it, and make it light-hearted, and maybe Risali thinks he's laughing at her because suddenly her eyes are suspiciously bright again and she's hissing out, "Nice move, bronzerider." A beat, and then, "It was my first time. Shut up, D'lei," as she jerks the bow back out of his hands. "We can't all be roguishly handsome, dashing bronzeriders oozing experience." She doesn't even bother trying to aim, she just applies arrow to bow, pulls, and lets loose. THUNK. Hers goes right into the tree as well, just above the paper, before she's shoving the bow back at the bronzerider. SO FAR THEY ARE EVEN. And then, as if to deflect from the fact that she is totally not upset from anger, or humiliation, or a combination thereof, she says, "What was your name, D'lei? Before you became a dragonrider." Is that too personal? TOO BAD. HE JUST SAW SOMETHING THAT MAKES HER WANT TO DIE, HE CAN DEAL WITH IT. Leirith, on the other hand is considering Garouth's observation and shifting her body against his as her dancers take on the colors in the sky before and move like the dragons in Garouth's sky. « My Risali says that with great …somethingsomething… comes great responsibility! But I think you will be great, Garouth. I will not follow you, because me and my minion are too fierce, but I will be your ally! We will be equals. » COME AND GET THE BOW, STUPID BRONZER.

There's a blink and - oh shit that is not de-escalation via humour, that is kind of the opposite in fact. That is escalation, and D'lei's face goes straight through confused to apologetic as Risali takes the bow. "…sorry," he says, quiet but meaning it, and then he shuts up as Risali shoots (huh, not him, that's a surprise) the tree. « Perhaps it is like oil. » Okay, so Garouth didn't shut up, but maybe he'll actually be helpful? « If they do not wear it, their hide will fall off. See how it turns red? » That thing the humans call blushing that is definitely like itchy ears and cheeks. D'lei remains shut up until the arrow thunks in, taking the bow quietly. "Dashiel," he answers, because he was at least asked, and then he does keep talking but only to offer personal details like they're some kind of peace offering. "From Tasha and D'ran. And my ma's grandfather, Lianiel." Then he takes a breath and draws back on the bow, and while a part of him wants to fail and give her that victory, he's unwilling to actually throw it on purpose, and so… he does aim, but he's not sure if he's pleased or not when it thunks into Al'dru's chin, the worst beard ever. D'lei nods, but gives it no further acknowledgment besides offering the bow back to Risali. « I wish to be responsible. » Garouth rumbles, curling his neck in around the growing gold. « Perhaps that will make me great. Perhaps… I must find my way to be great before I have the chance. » The clouds swirl apart as Leirith's dancers take on their colors, letting them carry that pattern forward. « We can both be great. » Two gleams of light fly, neck to neck, and the shadow-wing - and all the rest of the shadows - follow behind.

Definitely escalation - but if only because this is Risali and her default mode is ANGRY. "It's okay," she tells D'lei softly, and she means it. Leirith was the one sharing things better left in the recesses of her mind, not D'lei. And while Risali keeps grey eyes on that piece of paper, she listens, waiting until he's in form to let her eyes watch him the way he was watching her only moments before - without her knowledge. And what is it? She can't place it, but there is just something about him that she can't get away from. And she doesn't want to. And so when he's looking at her again, she's smiling - muted, sad, almost, but smiling. "I like Dashiel." And when Risali reaches out to take the bow back from him, she catches his hand in hers and gives it a squeeze, staring for maybe too long, holding for even longer, before she retreats to retrieve a new arrow and draws. "If Quinn saw us together, and told you that she was jealous, what would you do?" It's a quiet question, and as soon as it's asked, Risali lets that arrow fly. THUMP! RIGHT INTO TH'ERO'S FACE! BOOM BABY. And despite the fact that Risali has been wanting to strike that face this entire time, she holds off on celebrating in order to turn grey eyes back onto D'lei and watch his face for an answer. But then there is Leirith, whose dancers disperse throughout the forest all of a sudden, as if they are looking for something and intent to find it within Garouth's shadows. « We are both great, » she tells him then, upbeat, cheerful, innocent. The dancers still their movements to watch the gleams of light fly by, and then they're dancing again, searching. « But I will help you find what you think will make you even more so. »

D'lei nods to Risali's pardon, but he still keeps his silence until she actually asks him the question. He does know how to be quiet. Sometimes. When he has enough motivation to do it. "Yeah?" he says to her like of his old name, and there's a faint smile to answer hers as he nods. That piece of information is filed away, tucked into a mental cabinet that… he's not sure what he's doing with, to be honest. What does it matter what makes Risali happy… except insofar as it makes him happy when she is, of course. Which is definitely a reason, and may in fact be the only one he has, but still leaves him feeling like he should have a better one. Because… yeah, he doesn't even have a why. Just because. His eyes go down to her hand on his as it lingers there, almost… puzzled by it. What does it mean? He just doesn't know. It makes him happy, because… it does, she doesn't hate him and he can keep figuring this out and be happy, but… still. He looks up again, because he has the time for it, time to study her face and find her eyes, seek them to see if there's any more understanding to be had there… but he finds mystery, instead; enough to keep his attention on Risali as she shoots, watching her instead of the target. His eyes are still there as she looks back to him again, not yet seeing her success because… he's focused on her question. "…tell her that you're my friend. That I'll be spending time with you, but I still want to spend time with her, too." A wry tug of his mouth. "It's what I said about Serena, more or less." Which is why such a ready answer came to mind, and why he can follow it up with, "Didn't work out so well, though." So DON'T TAKE HIS ADVICE. He may be a dashing bronzerider or something, but that does not mean he is actually competent at relationships. It just means he has this bronze lump named Garouth, whose forest extends for the dancers to explore - and the winds follow them, curious to watch and see where they will end up, what they will do and find among the bare branches and the dry leaves of the forest floor that the breezes stir into little swirls along the way. « There is always a greater to become. Only a fool thinks he is best. » But there is still affection and pride, because good is still good even if it can be better, and Leirith (and Garouth) are good… and, yes, even great.

It gets a little strange when things that make other people happy start to make you happy - and outside of family, those people for Risali are K'vir, and Calisi, and now, inexplicably, D'lei. They are confusing, these… feelings. All of them, even the ones she doesn't want to acknowledge, and the ones she cannot quite figure out. She doesn't want to think about it right now, so Risali closes her eyes against the thoughts and focuses on D'lei's voice instead, anchoring herself to that, to him, as she compartmentalizes things that she will re-examine later, when she is alone, and Leirith is asleep. For now, when she opens her eyes again, there's too much emotion for any one of them to really be read, and suddenly she's dropping her bow into the snow, and stepping over it, and pulling D'lei back down into a hug that he probably shouldn't trust because hugs are just clever ways to HIDE YOUR FACE and she crushes her tiny frame against his again. There's a long moment when she says nothing, she simply holds on tight, drawing from him whatever it is that she needs, trying to give back some of whatever he needs to him, and then her voice is shaky when she breathes out, "I win," against his hair. Because LET US NOT FORGET THAT THERE IS A GAME AFOOT. Risali has certainly not. « You are perfect to me, Garouth! » And there it is, her dancers have found it: the real Leirith, hiding in the shadows, jumping out in a costume of shadows, and a mask that curls into different faces - horrible, and beautiful, almost sheer, as if there's something to be seen underneath without ever really showing what it is. And then they are chasing her, and she is chasing them, and perhaps this, in her mind, is what she thinks of Garouth's strength - even if he cannot figure it out. « I don't want you to change, but I will help you to be better, if that is what you want to be. And you will help me! » Because she certainly doesn't want to be left behind.

What are feelings even? D'lei doesn't know. He only has this answer for Risali because he was already (more or less) there and can copy from the cheat sheet of his memories. Other answers? Ha. He's got none of those! Not until he's shoved up against the questions and it's answer-or… crash into a thousand feeling-pieces? D'lei's eyes are on Risali's as they open again, still not having seen that arrow flown to its target. In the game of … (love?) … feels, Risali makes the move to him, and his questioning look finds no answer in her eyes - but her arms, oh, they make their demand in the hug that pulls him down, his surprise in a moment's tensing before he relaxes into it - and through relaxation to tensed again in a different way, as he curls his arms down around her to not only accept this hug but return it. Because in this game of… arrows? D'lei turns his head to actually look at the target, shifting against Risali to see… "So you do." A smile, not that she can see that, and he turns his head back to her to touch his lips softly to her hair. Against the edge, and… that's how he falls, with a kiss to her hair and then a turn of his head to lean in with his cheek. And… he can't keep his mouth shut, because this is D'lei, and that arrow-shot face that gave her the victory was Th'ero, which means… "What are you going to say to him?" Because while he may not know what happened, it is clear that something happened with her K'vir. And… it's a moment later that he adds, soft with a firm squeeze of his arms to go with it, "You don't have to tell me." Yet he's here. He asked. And he does want to know, but only if she wants to tell him, because in the competing mish-mash of desires some of them are more important than others. Just like some (one) dancers are wilder than the rest, shifting masks as the wind carries away plumes of smoke that are the fragments of her old ones, or at least their memories as the Leirith's-dancers and the Leirith-dancer chase and are chased, back and forth and through the forest. « I am Garouth. » It's more than just a word, in his mind; it's all of his mind, and all the dragon beside, his whole sense of self. « I do not want to change, only to be… more Garouth. The best Garouth. » BESTEST WOLF. « And you… » The wind curls around her and her dancers alike, tugging at their costumes with a swirl cobwebs and leaves to transform into faerie regalia, into strange outfits and new ones and whatever she wants in their cycle, the winds sweeping with that force of transformation that she controls. « …the best Leirith. »

Stupid, that's what feelings are. They are stupid, no good, extremely contagious and annoyingly complicated, stupid things. They make perfectly reasonable and perfectly strong women cry, and they make perfectly good bronzeriders make painful expressions that make Risali feel more of those stupid things, only worse, because she can't fix it. And she wants to. She wants to take all of D'lei's hurt and all of D'lei's confusion, and she wants to turn it into her own, so that he's left with that stupid smile he always has right before she tells him to shut up. And sometimes even after. She doesn't shy away from D'lei's affection, in much the same way he never seems to shy away from hers, and she doesn't shy away from his question, either, though it takes her one small eternity to finally answer him. "That you are my person, too, and he doesn't get to take that - you - away from me." And she squeezes him, just a little tighter, because she will always tell him, even if her pride sometimes is too damn stubborn for her to say the words properly; even if sometimes she's better at distraction than conversation (though maybe that's just because she has come to realize that there are times when words are of little comfort, adding more stress than relief and giving rise to the potential for terrible misunderstandings); even if, sometimes, saying the words means he's going to know that she's crying. "And that you make me happy, and he doesn't get to take that away from me, either." Like she has never taken Bethari away from K'vir, or Sharaza, and she never will. But this is not about Risali, or even K'vir. This is about D'lei, and Risali pulls back reluctantly, hands on his face again as grey eyes search for that same thing she never seems to find, and then she presses a kiss to his chin before she moves away. And what is she doing? She is grabbing one arrow, leaving her bow abandoned, and pushing it into D'lei's hands. And then she's leading him over to the tree, where skewered weyrleaders await, as she rebuilds that strength again, and whispers, "Want to do it alone, or together?" STAB S'DNY, SHE MEANS. Because the game can't possibly be over yet. Leirith dances with the wind, lets it change her, and knows that this is important somehow, though she is too young to understand why. But she lets it happen, watching with amusement as fantastic and whimsical costumes become her dancer's and dancing dcor - and then, « I love you, Garouth. » And somehow that feels more important to the queen this time too, though she doesn't understand it. « And maybe I will not always be there to find the best Garouths you can be, but I will always be here to remind you of that. » That she loves him, she means. Maybe Risali's emotions are bleeding into her own. Or maybe she's just… growing more aware.

And the worst part of it is that even if Risali did find a way to take all those hurts and aches away into her own self, D'lei still wouldn't be happy, because then he'd look all concerned and worried for her instead. Because FEELINGS. And inter-personal connections. And hugs. So much hugs, and D'lei seems content to spend that eternity in one. What better place to spend it? There's warmth and closeness, and while that question hangs open he said himself that she doesn't need to answer it. But she does, just like he has all those questions that he didn't have to answer. It just takes time to find the words, because words are hard sometimes and that's part of why D'lei produces so many of them, just in the hopes that somewhere in that burble of verbiage he'll find the right ones. And then Risali finds hers, and he listens. As he does, his face… well, she can't see it, really. But there's the small shift of his cheek, the way it draws firmer relative to jaw, the way his head tilts in just a little further and he draws a slow breath to his lungs that expands them in time for her squeeze to push that air back out of him, breath stirring her hair as his own hug answers her, the contact of touch saying what words… can attempt, but can also get confused on the way to and come out all wrong because they have too many meanings all at once. And she didn't listen when he told her how badly trying that same answer worked for him, and he's glad for it because… well. He believes it's the right answer, that's why he did it even if it didn't actually work, and so he wants it to be the one she believes in… and he wants it to work. And as she draws back she can see the smile, the soft curve of lips and the way his eyes are intent and just a little sad but still focused on those grey, meeting them until her head ducks to kiss his chin and knock his mouth open to let some stupid words come out. "I like it when you're happy." Which is obvious and trite and earnest and it's like he doesn't even know how stupid it is because he's too busy looking at her instead. FEELINGS. Can't look away or you might miss one, whether it's an emotion or a costume-change for those dancers that hints at all the possiblities that Might Become. They're all Leirith, because of course they are, but even so… « And I… I love you. » A swirl of white around her dancer, an elegant gown - and then that's marked by a spray of blood that soaks through the fabric, staining it a brilliant scarlet. What does it mean? The bronze is uncertain, his space of possibilities… showing too many options. If the prey veers here or there, his pack can descend and take it, but there are so many options where it escapes, or turns and kicks with sharpened hooves… but for all that, he wants to believe. « You will chase me down to tell me. » Because she'll chase him, and she'll remind him, and maybe, just maybe, Garouth wants to be pursued sometimes, to have someone who looks for him instead of just waiting for him to show up and sweep her away. Someone to tug him along… as D'lei's other hand curls to Risali's as the one curls around that arrow. He glances to it as she leads him to the tree, then looks to that page of Weyrleaders. T'revs and L'ton and Al'dru, collateral damage to Th'ero (who's only a stand-in anyhow)… and then there among them is S'dny, still unmarked by the slings and arrows that are the vengeance for his outrageous fortune. D'lei stands there, staring at the face and photocopied eyes of a man that he told he wanted to be friends, that he's trusted… and he lifts up the arrow, touching its point to the page, to the tip of S'dny's nose. "I don't hate you," he says to the carbon-copy effigy, and draws back the arrow in his hand. "…but fuck you." It's almost a whisper, low and harsh as the anger that he can't show, doesn't even want to feel (except when he does want it, wants to just give in to the rage that he pushes down instead) comes out in a blow that tears the paper and drives that arrow deep into the trunk with enough force to crack the shaft… or maybe that was from the clench of his fist around it, for it sags when he forces his fingers to uncurl and fall away, eyes still staring at S'dny's face, now impaled.

It is obvious, and it is trite, and it is earnest - but it earns D'lei another smile from Risali anyway, as her eyes jump up to his again despite the tears, and she whispers a gently issued, "I like it when you're happy, too. Now, shut up, Dashiel." There is no lacking affection in the way she says that familiar phrase, or his given name, then she moves away, to retrieve arrows, to place them into his hand, and lead him to a tree where he can FUCK DAT S'DNY UP. Leirith allows it again, the transformation, and she spins as blood soaks into her dress, smearing it on her own hands to run across her neck, and the unmasked parts of her face, and the decorations in her hair - and there's amusement, as if she sensed his hesitance in telling her he loved her too, and was unoffended by it. « Always, » she tells him, and the dancer takes off, the drums of her voice picking up a tempo as she starts her hunt. She will start now, here, chasing his shadow monsters in a way she cannot yet do without her eyes. « And I will always find you, Garouth. Every Garouth that you have been and will be. I will find you. » There is nowhere he can hide from her! And her dancers join in the fray of the hunt, keeping the outfits that Garouth has dressed them in as they howl to the moon and invite the darkness in the shadows to play. Risali keeps D'lei's free hand in hers, twining her fingers with his, holding even tighter when he speaks those words, and drives that arrow home, and somehow she feels the impact too, even if it's not her body behind so much force. For a moment, Risali is silent, a sentinel at his side, bearing witness to the quasi-violence and his anger until… yeah. The weyrling lifts her free hand, points it towards S'dny impaled paper, and gives him the middle finger. But she doesn't say anything, she just holds that pose for maybe a second longer than what might be bordering on ridiculous, and then she's blinking grey eyes back to amber. She doesn't have anything to dip her fingers in and paint their faces with, but it doesn't stop her from moving on to the next step in Fuck Everybody Else: "Now we dance," she whispers, and fingers push up his arms as she steps into his space, rolling forearms over his shoulders as fingers lock behind his neck and she jumps. It doesn't matter if he catches her (though she trusts him to do so), because she's got enough strength (and is lacking in enough weight) to hold herself against him, legs coming around his waist to settle. She presses her forehead to his, eyes closed, sharing his space with hands on his jaw, thumbs pushing along it - and then she's laughing, as Leirith's drums pick up. "Well, you're going to dance, anyway. I'm going to sing." And HE will have to do ALL OF THE WORK. Unless he casts her off, of course. Then she will still laugh, and they will dance a different way.

Shutting up and fucking up! The two essential parts of… well… the now. The eternal now, the moment that they are in and cannot climb out of because no matter how far they climb it will still be now, just a new one built on the yesterday and still waiting to become tomorrow. The riders may talk about how dragons are stuck in the present, but they are too, here in the moment that they can never escape except through fleeting memory and distant dreams. D'lei cannot escape S'dny, cannot escape Quinn, because they are his past and will again be his future, but here, now, he has spoken what he will likely never actually say to Monaco's Weyrleader (or… at least not in those words, and almost certainly not with the stabby arrow part), and now the effigy of that bronze's human is dead (even if the human himself is alive and well but not here) - and flipped off as well, the solidarity of no really this sucks that says that even decent people can be assholes whether they mean it or not. Things happen, and it's not all carnival lights and gentle breezes. Sometimes the dancers are covered in blood, and the wind carries the scents of monsters that hide through the forest, not because they are afraid but because they want to make her search for them - and when she draws near to them… « Always Leirith. » …they will run, teaching her all the tricks that cunning prey uses to escape by being that prey and showing her how to double back, how to ford a stream, how to cross another's trail and confuse the tracks until she finds them, sooner or later, one beast or another as she seeks them all. D'lei turns to Risali, as if jolted from that haze by her voice, there, and then… he laughs, turning his body toward her and then catching, arms around and under her for a support to balance her arms and legs around him as he leans his forehead to hers and says, low but intent, "Sing so they hear you." The birds in the trees! And… maybe even a few of the nearer cottages, but the point is that D'lei wants to hear this, to have music that fills him (like the throb of Leirith's bass), and he wants to dance with stomping feet and spins until his legs give out and he falls over with Risali. And then he wants to laugh without his breath and pant until he can stand, and then…. well. Then, he'll be ready to go back and face Xanadu and his life as a re-tread weyrling facing whatever punishment he may have for abandoning duties for a wild chase through Emerald skies after a moon who's turned her face away. But then, after they dance, he won't care, because today is a new day and he is here, in this moment, and he will carry it with him afterward for as long as he may live.


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