Not a Just Walk in the Park

Xanadu Weyr - The Hollow


This part of the woods has opened up into what would normally be called a clearing. Rather than an open piece of land and a view of the sky, however, the center of this area appears to have been wholly occupied by one of the largest trees in the forest. It stands before you, ancient and massive, it's branches reaching up nearly one hundred and fifty feet into the air and its base measuring nearly as far around. The ground leading up to it is mounded and misshapen from the tree's massive root system. At one point, the tree appears to have merged with another, and a hole large enough for two grown men to stand inside of now resides on one side of this giant, arboreal creation. The inside of the hollow is smooth and free of disease or fungus, giving testament to the tree's ancient health and vitality.

It is not the biggest tree on Pern by any stretch; any number of Skybrooms come far closer to touching the heavens with their staggering height. It may not be the oldest deciduous mass on the continent, either. It is simply a tree. But in that respect, it seems to be the very item the universe had in mind when it first conceived of the thing. Its bark is rough in some places and smooth in others, colors radiating from deeper brown at the base to a smoky dust color as the trunk continues upwards. Branches both small and large reach outwards and upwards, too numerous to count, the lowest of them hanging a mere six or seven feet from the ground. Around the tree is a halo of light, shimmering in dozens of shades of green and yellow to reflect the thousands of leaves above. Lean up against it. Sit beneath its branches, within its hollow. Perhaps the tree would welcome the company, after such a long time on this earth. If one was careful, they could probably climb up into the tree a great distance

Dinnertime has the Weyr's offices closing for the day, thus setting the juniors free from the endless paperwork and the claustrophobic confines of stone walls. It's not unusual for one of the weyrwomen to bypass the crowded caverns and skip the noisy meal to take advantage of the near-quiet of outlying areas. Tonight, however is different. The fine weather sees folks out and about all over the place and so Thea is here instead, where few venture. Perhaps just walking, perhaps with a purpose, whichever, she's been out here for quite awhile by the look of her. Having not bothered to change from office dress, her blouse and mid-calf skirt of deep claret has a fair amount of seeds clinging to it, her neat coil of hair has strands slipped from it to tickle face and neck. So perhaps not sensible to come this far alone, she has at least done two things right: She is wearing sturdy hide boots and has a skin of water, the strap looped over her shoulder. She's paused beside this tree with an uncertain glance about in the near-twilight. "Shards." It's a quiet mutter of dismay.

In the coming gloom, the Hollow of Arbori Prime stands as a mass of shadows against the light, the setting sun's last attempts at illumination easily fended off by the ageless branches of the colossal tree. Night birds begin their drowsy song and the occasional distant cry of an animal serves as a constant reminder; however serene this place may be, here there be monsters… As the last few wisps of daylight are driven back, that quiet flute reaches the area, steadily drawing closer.

With one last look cast towards the darkening sky, Thea steps around the base of that great tree, keeping a wary eye to the shadows of the underbrush while seeking a branch low enough… ah there! She leaps, grabs and is in the process of pulling herself up when the sound of notes reach her. Familiar the sound, but how far away? Best be safe. And so she is bracing a foot against the bark for purchase, levering herself up to throw one leg over. Not such an easy thing to do in a long skirt, but she manages. Now she's hanging upside down with one leg over the branch. Her arms tense to pull herself from a hanging upside down position as all the while she's watching for… things in the shadows. And listening for the sound of that flute, trying to discern the direction and distance.

Closer still does the flute come, not more than 100 yards from Thea's position now…and that's when the bushes behind her rustle with movement, an aggravated little snarl coming from them. The rustling comes closer with greater speed then the flutist, and it's mere moments before something small bursts from the foliage behind her, sniffing the air carefully. There's the very clear sound of a stomach gurgling and then a somewhat forlorn sounding hiss. A firelizard most likely.

Rustling, snarling, hissing. Not the sort of sounds one wants to hear in the deep woods at dusk. And certainly not while hanging upside down and defenseless from a tree branch. Thea's not waiting to find out what is coming. before her head even turns, she's kicking her leg back off from that branch and dropping back to the base of the tree. Her plan to face whatever's oncoming with her back to the tree and her knife. A plan that goes awry thanks to the skirt. While one hand drops to her dangling leg, managing to draw her bootknife, the other leg is kicking off the branch, but the skirt hangs on something and there's the sound of fabric tearing as she falls, landing on her shoulder rather than her feet.

It's an eerie counterpart, the flute music in the air with the low hiss of … whatever it is on the ground. And that's when something much better starts in from the other direction. The last of the flute music reaches the clearing as something the size of a cannonball blows through the air from the south, flapping wings and needle teeth in the fading day. It buzzes whatever is on the ground, vanishing into the ground beyond it with an angry warble of noise, strangely familiar. Then the larger thing arrives, a mass of shadows and anger that stalks out of the trees. It ghosts in front of the tree, a breeze past Thea's face, smelling strangely of pine and spice, and of warm soil.

Whatever it is, or they are remains a mystery to Thea, for in falling like that she has knocked the breath out of herself and jarred her head enough to be quite dazed. There's the presence of mind to keep that knife pointed towards… well, away from her should whatever it is pounce, but that's all she can do. All the rest of her effort is in breathing, or trying to draw air back into her lungs. It's a painful effort that does nothing to help her head for the air is too slow in coming and her lids flutter closed in spite of her best effort to keep them open. Her fingers lose their grip on that knife, it falls with a small thud and her arm follows.

Something whistles through the air like a whirlwind on a leash and whatever is on the ground rasps out a cry of pain and rustles off into the bushes again. Then, very quietly, the form kneels down next to Thea. Once again, that smell of things wild and alive, leaves and river stones is there, and very gentle fingers brush Thea's face. "Thea," Tenebrous whispers. "Thea, open your eyes for me." Those fingers brush over her cheeks, patting them gently, and then strong, capable hands begin arranging her body into a flat position on the ground. More fingers touch her neck, checking for a pulse and any off-normal bulges. "Thea, come on…open your eyes, it's ok."

Thea’'s eyes blink open, confusion in the clear green as she focuses on the pattern of leaves against a backdrop of faint stars. They shift towards the voice, sharpen with recognition and remembering. "What was that thing- things?" A faint wrinkle forms on her brow as she asks the question. "Tenebrous." Not a question. "Heard your recorder." She draws a deep breath, then winces as her shoulder moves. "Upside down is no way to leave a tree." A faint smirk follows that and she's stirring in preparation to sitting up.

Tenebrous nods slowly. "Having done it several times, I assure you, no…it's not the right way. Gravity seems a somewhat impartial mistress in the matter though." One hand gently begins to probe that injured shoulder. "Lay still for a moment." He mutters something under his breath and then reaches into his satchel. "Preserve," he murmurs in a strange voice, before pulling his hand out. In the dimness, three small objects can be seen in his hand. He clenches his fist in one quick movement and then swiftly opens it as a small billow of flame erupts. Two small chunks of mineral rest in that hand next to a burning ball of white about the size of a golf-ball. The fire is pure and golden, and puts off little heat. "How do you feel?" He pulls his hood away from his face to look down upon her, worry written all over his features.

Thea complies with the command, abandoning her attempt to rise for the time being. There's a wince or two as her checks her shoulder. She watches with some wonder the flame he produces, "what on Pern is that?" Her eyes shift from the palm of is hand to his face as the hood comes off. "I feel… sore when I take a deep breath and my shoulder hurts, otherwise fine." Her eyes rove what she can see of the clearing in that golden light. "What happened? Those noises…?" Still awaiting an answer.

Tenebrous looks at Thea's face for a long moment before murmuring, "Most likely a bruised shoulder. I don't think there's enough swelling for it to be dislocated." He glances over at his hand. "Two minerals react when rubbed together. They produce a spark, which lights the third item, which is basically cotton soaked into a ball and bound with thread." He lets the minerals slip out from between his fingers and then closes his hand around the flaming ball, extinguishing the light. "Thank you," he says quietly, though he's clearly not talking to Thea. The fire, perhaps? Then he sighs. "I'm honestly not sure what it was. I can't ever get a good look at them, and they don't hang around often enough for me to produce light. They're small, about three times the size of a fire lizard, but they're quite capable of harm if you're not careful."

If Thea's puzzled by the long look he gives her, she doesn't show it. Rather she blinks at his explanation of the minerals, "Why mess with all that instead of a glow or a hand torch? We have plenty." His thanks to the fire, if that's what it is, has her giving him an odd stare but again no comment. His answer about the creature has her thoughtful, "Huh. I thought it was a feline. Maybe it was a whersport?" She flexes her shoulder then asks, "May I get up now? I'm fine, really." Since he is, after all, the one who told her not to move.

Tenebrous nods, putting the chemical starters and the fireball back into his satchel. Then he murmurs, "Sit up slowly and try not to move your shoulder too much." He slips his hand around her back, assisting with quiet strength. "Thea, why in the world were you out here this late? Is everything ok?"

Thea sits slowly, then shifts to get her feet under her, keeping her shoulder as still as she can. "I was really just going for a walk to get way from all the people out tonight." She flashes him what can only be an embarrassed look, her voice sheepish, "Got lost." Her turn to peer at him, "Yeah, everything is all right with me, how about you?" She drops her head to examine the rent in her skirt. "I've been worried about you since you left the Infirmary."

Tenebrous shakes his head a little. "I'd say you shouldn't worry about me, Thea, but…" He swallows and gives her hand a little squeeze. "If you feel the same way about me that I do you…" He laughs a little nervously. "Balls and branches, why do I always have these revelations during situations like this?" He shakes his head and looks at the rider beside him. "I would have gone out of my 'Held together with bird dropping and tape' mind if I would have seen you go over the waterfall," he blurts. Then he shakes his head. "Come on…let's get you back to Xanadu. I want to take a closer look at your shoulder."

Thea blinks at Tenebrous, "Feel about-" Her eyes flick down to her hand when he squeezes it then back to him as he speaks about the falls. She's hmming to herself at that even as she nods in reply to his comment about seeing to her shoulder. "Yeah, it's dark and Seryth's been asking what happened." She's shifting her feet, trying to rise. "You, ah… feeling less trapped now, right?" She's not able to really read his facial expression in the dark, but listens rather, to his voice as he speaks.

Tenebrous chuckles a little, nodding back to the south. "I'm …tempted to tell you that I'm fine, but you'd know I was lying. Walk with me, come on." He nudges her gently. "I'm broken, Thea, but things are changing, and it makes it easier to put pieces together…" He swallows once. "It's lonely, and it's ok. Learning where the lines are." He snorts. "There's a ton of other things you're not supposed to do to people that are your friends, as it turns out. Kissing them's just the beginning."

Thea stands, looks down at her calf to thigh rip in her skirt. "Shards, this was my favorite, too." There's a brief pause, "Though there's at least on person I know who's gonna tell me it's an improvement." She moves carefully in the dark as he nudges, allowing him to chose the way. She is silent as he speaks, nodding with a simple, "Yes, I would know." She glances aside at him, "Needn't be lonely all the time. Come visit anytime." He speaks about friends. She smiles, while her tone is nothing but rueful as she retorts, "Other things like… pinching them?" A dry chuckle escapes her lips, "We're all learning how to treat our friends, Tenebrous, a process that will go on lifelong, I'm thinking."

Tenebrous smirks. "Actually, it turns out that pinching is one of the things that friends do to one another, as long as it's not on the butt or the nipple, but I'm just going to play it safe, and not." He shakes his head and helps maneuver her through more shallow areas of the wood. "I finally…figured out what Master Fraille was talking about, you know. I asked one of the dolphin handlers up at Rubicon what a crush was…"

Thea nearly stumbles at that, "The n-" She gives a shout of laughter, quickly stifled, but turns dancing eyes towards him. "You know, you have an endearing way of saying just what's on you mind." She shakes her head, returning her attention to the trail. "Oh, ya did, huh?" The laugh leaves her voice and it's more of a careful note as she asks, "And what did you learn?"

Tenebrous sighs and shakes his head. "She was right." There's no change in his voice, no trip of emotion or neutrality. "Most of the things that you're not supposed to do with your friends are things that I wouldn't mind doing with you, Thea. Hugging someone, or spending a night looking up at the sky, or falling asleep together, or a hundred other things." He gives her hand a little squeeze again. "But I don't know what to do with that. I know it's good…that it would be wonderful, just like the way I felt when you held my hand, but…" He shrugs with one shoulder. "I don't know where to go with it. What to do with it. And I think you do, and I think you need it, and I can't give it to you." You can almost hear the blush in the darkness. "And, unless I mistake Seryth's words…you've already got it." There's no awkwardness at that admission. Simply truth, content and steady.

Thea stops right there in the path as he says those words, her head down and eyes on their hands. Her voice is low, full of regret, "I never meant for you to have to deal with any of this, Tenebrous. You just needed a friend and were so… lost." She peers up at him, "I'm sorry that I can't tell you what to do about it." He may not sound awkward, but she is distressed for him, "I love a man and he loves me. He did for me what I tried to do for you." She lifts a finger, tapping his chest, "He entered my prison. He was there, was my strength while I put the broken pieces back together." Her finger remains there on his chest, forgotten while she stares off unseeing through the dark trees. Her voice takes on a note of wonder, "And I did the same for him, not even knowing it." She turns her head back towards him, "There are many people who are broken and it takes Turns for them to put the pieces back together."

Tenebrous smiles. "Yes, but not everyone ends up with their savior, Thea. He's fortunate, and so are you. Don't apologize." He smiles wryly in the darkness. "I don't know what to do with half of it, Thea. One day down the road, once I figure out what all of this is, I might be envious. But right now, all I am is glad that you're ok." There's nothing but sincerity in his tone.

Thea lowers her hand, turns and begins walking once again, "I had help from others along the way, too, Tenebrous. Friends here, R’owan, Sigam - the dragonhealer that chased you, he spent hours talking and listening to me while we were in Ista's prison - all of them had a part at different times. You need other people too, Tenebrous." She's quietly thoughtful, shaking her head about the what to do with half of it, "Time, will help? Maybe." She shrugs with a bewildered sort of being unsure, "I'm sorry." And there's a wealth of kindness and sorrow for him in the words.

Tenebrous breaths a bit of laughter again. "Yeah. Me too, I think. But it is what it is…" He inhales slowly and then murmurs, "I've been…offered a position at Rubicon, Thea. I don't know if I've told you, but…it was an offer of some permanency."

Thea glances his way, a searching sort of look as she notes, "You seemed to do well there before." She continues towards the Weyr, "Will you be alright being so far away from your forests?" She turns a full look on him, "Have you decided to go?"

Tenebrous shrugs. "I don't know, Thea. I honestly don't know. It's a … tempting offer. But it's far from everything I know. It's only a two day run for me anyway, and…maybe one day, when I'm a little braver, I'll ask you for a ride again." His hand shakes for a moment. "One of the apprentices…Phylicia. She approached me about mentoring her in Forestry…she said several others had sent her after me, rather than Master Fraille…"

Thea listens, nodding. "Hard to mentor her from Rubicon. She's not gonna want to leave M'nol. And if Master Fraille is at Healer Hall, well… that's out. Phylicia just got back." There's a wince when he mentions riding Seryth. "Can fly straight without Betweening in a few hours, ya know. Wouldn't mind giving you a ride that way. Seryth likes the chance to stretch her wings."

Tenebrous sighs. "I need to get over that one of these days too." As the two of them clear the forested areas and start towards the Infirmary, Tenebrous murmurs, "Master Fraille says I need to have a conversation with the Sr. Weyrwoman about my apprenticeship…something about diplomatic inconvenience." He shivers a little. "I was…wondering if you would…maybe come with me."

Thea sends Tenebrous a blank look, "Come with? But.. but… I don't know anything about-" She's shaking her head, "Well see." She slows, her steps faltering, "I'm… tired." One hand lifts towards the back of her head, there's a wince. "Think I hit it harder than I realized." She's looking towards the infirmary, intends to go there, but her feet remain rooted where she is. "You know, I'm glad I had that document signed, because I'm not staying there tonight!"

Tenebrous chuckles. "Fair enough. Can I take you somewhere else? Perhaps back to your Weyr? Seryth will certainly keep an eye on you, won't she?"

Thea nods in relief, "D'had is there, too. He's Search and Rescue trained, so I'll be well taken care of." It's with relief she turns away from the Infirmary. "My place." The walk is not so very long since they are close to the forest still. And Thea s quiet for the rest of it, likely concentrating on staying upright.

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