Felines in the Forest

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.

Oppressive. Ominous. Silent. The afternoon summer sun rules, a lord supreme in a kingdom of searing heat. The forest no longer holds its breath in wait for rain; it has stopped breathing altogether. Trees stand motionless with not a breath of a breeze to stir them, their wizened leaves are green, but its a faded khaki, papered texture. The normal sounds are noticeably absent as Thea paces the trail, uneasiness plain on her face as she moves. The only sound is the sharp crunch of yellowed grasses underfoot that protest when stepped on. Here and there she tests a shrub, flexing a branch here, crumbling a leaf there.

It's a mark of things that have transpired, the weather being the way it is, that might tip Thea off to the fact that she's not alone. But for how long? Was it the way the leaves, some 50 feet back from the trail, rustled in the non-existent wind, or the trill of a daybird, disturbed by something. In either case, Something is there, just beyond the green veil of the forest itself, waiting and watching, silent but for the swiftness of its passage.

Thea isn't all that unaware; senses heightened by the odd weather, the threat of tinder-dry forests now daily included in sweeps that she still isn't allowed to join. Growing up in a mountain hold she is not unfamiliar with woodcraft. Shriveled undergrowth is not quite as good at camouflaging the hidden, perhaps. And so it is with that barely-heard rustle and cry she is alert and straightening, her eyes sharply scanning the area. She inhales the sharp scent of dead vegetation, noting there's no smoke, no felines. But she sees nothing and moves on, reaches the huge tree, she tilts her head back to assess its condition, her expression is grave.

"Arbori Prime is immortal," comes that quiet, almost deep voice, almost rattling the leaves as it echoes. There's a quiet rustle in the leaves before two fire-lizards flap lazily into the clearing. Truth and Reconciliation both settle on low branches, still and alert, and it's only then that Tenebrous bleeds into view, off to one side of the small hollow. "Its roots go deep, its branches tall. It is in no danger, I think." He makes no movement at all, a wraith at the edge of his camoflauge, face hidden completely by that hood. It…can't be cool under that coat. "The forest suffers, but it has known this sufferage before. It will survive, as it always does."

Thea isn't expecting anyone here from the way she startles, her slight jump and turn has her back against the tree, its bark digging into her back. She knows that voice, expecting him from somewhere she isn't looking, so her eyes scan the desiccated underbrush until he's in view. "Tenebrous." Well, its a greeting of a sort. She eyes that hooded figure warily, her voice slightly hoarse as she answers, "It's too dry." She swallows, "I'm more concerned about survival of the Weyr than the forest at the moment."

Tenebrous looks at Thea for a long moment before murmuring, "We both have our priorities, I suppose…" He shrugs slightly. "The last two times I've seen you here, in this place, you were…unwell. Perhaps the third time's a charm." He makes a little gesture with one hand to the two little flits in the tree before turning a little and preparing to bleed back into the forest. "Take care," he warns quietly. "The heat has affected more than the forests this summer. There are fouler things about than the lash of the sun right now…"

"Indeed we do indeed have our priorities. Mine is with the people of the Weyr and yours? I suppose is with the plants, although I think they can take care of themselves well enough. But perhaps you need them more than they need you." Thea's voice is back to normal, the words quietly spoken despite the quicker breath she needs to form them. She frowns slightly as his words, "I wasn't unwell last time I was here. I was… " Frightened? Upset? She leaves it unfinished with a shake of her head, making no move to stop him as he prepares to go, the same wary gaze follows him as he moves off. "Fouler things?" Her voice sharpens a touch, "What…things?"

Tenebrous laughs quietly, stepping into the forest, but it's more of that mirthless noise, without joy. Not like the Yokohama. When he turns, it's a little eerie, only seeing his hood through the trees. "Oh, you're quite right. I need the plants a great deal more than they need me, seeing as how they don't." Then his voice firms, losing any hint of levity. "The felines have moved further into Xanadu's territory than I think people have anticipated…" He sighs a little. "I've been gone for some time, or I might have noticed it sooner, but…so it is. My apprentice and I were down, in The Clutch not long ago. There are tracks. Several, and fresh." Then that hood vanishes, with only Tenebrous words to linger. "Be aware, Thea."

It isn't the mention of felines that causes the shiver that runs down Thea's spine - it's the laughter. She presses her lips together, eyes darken with unvoiced thought. "Have you sent word-?" But then he's moving into the trees and she half-growls frustration. She tilts an eye up to the firelizards on that branch above her with a grim sort of smile, "You two can, rub off some firelizardly cheer on him and get him to quit acting so creepy anytime, you know." Shifting against the tree, she eyes the trees as she listens for any more sounds he might make out there. She's wasting her time; he can be silent when he wants and she knows it. He's still there, she's fairly certain since the firelizards have made no move to follow him. "Why did you do it?" Her question is low-pitched, assuming he's close enough to hear her.

It's actually a few moments before Tenebrous returns, making no effort to be silent. As he emerges from the wood once more, he brushes his hood back from his face, revealing that new, almost strange tan, and those even, closed-off blue eyes. "Alright," he sighs heavily, opening the long coat at his front and stripping it from his person. The sleeveless cotton tunic beneath is clean and sturdy, if a bit marked by sweat around his chest. It gets folded over one arm before he pulls his bladder of water from his undersatchel and dribbles some of it down the back of his neck. "Why…did I do what?"

Whether he sent word about the felines or not, Thea will also be seeing the Weyrleaders upon her return to the Weyr. She turns to go with a slight shake of her head, but the dry rustle of leaves arrests her. She turns back, her eyes as flat as moss rather than the clear green they normally are as she meet his. Unsmiling she lifts her chin even though she's taking a slight step backwards as her words come out with a small rush, "Why did you give D'had that necklace?" There's a flash of something in her eyes, not anger if he's good at reading people. One hand reaches for the tree behind her, the fingers that grip the bark tremble slightly.

Tenebrous blinks once when that question hits him, and then he leans against a tree of his own, letting his jacket fall to the ground with an incredulous shake of his head. "I could have sworn I said, 'Be careful,'" he mutters. Then he takes a drink from his water bladder before raising his voice a little. "Wait…wait, yes, that's exactly what I said." He turns to eye Thea, his face a little weary. "It wasn't mind to hold onto any longer, Thea," Tenebrous offers quietly. "I thought maybe I'd keep it, at one point, but…" He spreads his hands before bending down and picking his jacket up. "It was part of something that was precious to you, once. Given how our conversation at Rubicon went, I didn't know if I had any right to hold onto it anymore. I figured that, if anyone would know if or when it was right to give it to you, to use it for something…it would be your Weyrmate." He looks almost helpless. "That's really all there is to it." His hands fall back against his thighs, slack and tired.

The words spoken seem to make little sense by the look on Thea's face. Rather than puzzlement, it is unease on her face and in her voice as she replies, "It was never something precious to me. And it was never mine. But that's beside the point." She takes a deep, steadying breath, "I asked you to give it to some pretty girl, but you," her breath out is shaky, "gave it to him." Slightly incredulous, "I think you knew I never wanted it back. I was pretty clear about that." His helplessness, tiredness simply isn't noticed, for she's fighting to swallow the fear in her eyes and failing. "What are you playing at?"
"I think the only thing we've established about what I know, regarding you, is that I don't know." He spreads his hands again before bending down to pick his jacket up. "I don't know you, Thea. Not now, anyway." He starts to shrugs the coat back on. "I warned him that you might not want to see it. I warned him to be careful with it. Twice." The hood gets pulled up then, but he leaves some portion of his face visible. "I have small reminders of the people that I've loved, Thea. Despite whatever might have happened, I like to remember that part. I guess I thought you might want to as well, one day. I was wrong. What do you want from me?"

"Maybe you don't know, but I couldn't have asked more clearly for you to take it away." Thea stubbornly insists, "He didn't show it to me; I found it and asked him where he got it." Her tone isn't angry, her expression is fearful and confused instead. "If you knew it might upset me, why you didn't just send it in a package to me…" She shakes her head, leaving the thought unfinished. "We talked for many hours while I was in that cave of yours and of all the things I told you, you couldn't understand why I made the choices I did. Why I'd choose D'had…" She takes a step away from the tree, backing away across the clearing, her voice is shaking, "I don't want anything from you. I’m frightened-" And with that she twists away and bolts down the path, the thudding of her footsteps fading away, leaving the clearing silent once more.

"You weren't supposed to…" Then Tenebrous sighs as she bolts. "…see it so soon," he finishes lamely. He leans back against the tree again. "No, I understand exactly why you made the choices that you did. I just don't agree with them," he mutters. Then he's looking up at Arbori Prime and the Flits. "Follow her. Make sure she doesn't do anything else colossally stupid in the woods, but otherwise, stay out of her hair." He bleeds back into the forest, silent. "Chasing her is someone else's responsibility now…"

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