The Beginning Of The End

Koi Pond
The dirt path worn smooth by the passage of many feet weaves in and out of tall, shady trees before coming to an abrupt halt at the edge of a sheer cliff. The steep rock face falls nearly a dragonslength before disappearing below the surface of the small pond tucked at its base where it continues down, making it safe for the daring of heart to attempt the jump. Trees line the cliff top, which dips and rises to offer views from various heights, and several ropeshave been tied to high branches for any who want to swing out over the sparkling water. A narrow path leads down one side of the cliff to a small rocky beach, and the opposite hillside boasts what could be a smooth, steep path, save that it leads directly to a drop-off several feet above the water. Above the path is a bucket attached to a convenient tree by a pulley - all the necessary ingredients of a mud-slide. The wind often whistles through the small valley formed by the hillside and cliff-face to join the laughter of the pond's visitors in ringing across the water's surface.
It is an autumn before dawn.

Cress moves slowly in from the StarCraft Courtyard.

Linora is stretched out on a worn blanket, fingers laced behind her neck, looking up at the predawn sky.

Honey-blond tresses, sunstreaked with platinum highlights, fall heavily down her back to just below her hips. A few long wispy pieces refuse to be tamed, often falling into her face to be brushed impatiently behind her ears. She's more or less stopped growing, a mere fingerwidth above 5' tall, and though she'll probably never be overly curvy, she's lost the childlike look she once had. Her features are regular if not actually striking, except for her eyes: palest blue, nearly white, they shine in stark contrast to the smooth, even tan that seems never to leave her skin no matter what time of Turn it happens to be.
A lightweight cotton shirt, crisp and cool, is tucked neatly into a pair of tan trousers - sleeveless, with a softly scooping neckline, dyed a soft, robin's-egg blue. The trousers, amazingly, actually seem to have been made to fit her, tailored flatteringly to waist and hips, following the lines of her legs and hemmed neatly just below her knees. On her feet she wears a pair of knotted wherhide sandals. Her hair is drawn back in a heavy runnertail at the nape of her neck with a wide blue ribbon. Spray is curled lazily on Linora's shoulder, tail wrapped around her neck, apparently dozing as usual.
Red and silver intertwine in a single loop at her shoulder, the small red tail denoting her status as StarCraft Senior Apprentice.
She is awake and looks alert.
Linora seems to be looking at you.
Linora is 16 Turns, 2 months, and 16 days old.

Cress isn't looking up at the sky as he comes walking along the path, his feet shuffling on the ground.

Linora blinks at the sound of shuffling footsteps approaching, tilting her head to see who's coming... having to squint to make out the shadowy form approaching in the dim light. "Cress?" She sits up quickly, a fond smile lighting her face, happy as always to see him.

Cress peers through the dark, trying to figure out where Lin's voice had come from. Spotting her, he comes to join her, sitting down next to her. "Hello," he mumbles, looking none too happy.

Linora's smile fades to confusion as she hears his tone and makes out his expression. "What's wrong?"

Cress pulls his knees up, placing his elbows on them, trying not to look Linora in the eyes. "Well.... You know how I said I missed my folks?" He pauses, not sure what to say next, so he waits for her answer though he knows what she'll say.

Linora nods slowly, trying to see his eyes, getting that strange feeling again that suddenly she doesn't know him. Like that day at Reaches. She chews her lip.

Cress moves again, pulling his legs up under him, to sit crosslegged. "Well..." he pauses, for quite some time, picking at the grass. Might as well come out with it. Right? "I decided to leave the craft." There! It was out. He looks at Lin out of the corner of his eye, to see her reaction, though he was sure she wouldn't be happy.

Linora sits in stunned silence for a long moment, her brain reeling as she tries to process this bit of news. Just like that? "You... what?" Her voice is nothing more than a strangled whisper, her eyes wide.

"Well... I don't feel.. right here," Cress says, tears almost coming to his eyes, seeing Lin's reaction. "And.. And.. I miss the road." He couldn't think of what else to say right now. Just that he didn't feel like he fit in at the StarCraft.

Linora swallows. Hard. She'd always known part of him missed the road, the cold places. But she'd thought... Well, maybe she'd been wrong. She hugs her knees tightly to her chest, her eyes on the ground.

Cress swallows too, reaching out a hand to touch her arm. "I, err, I'll come back to visit...." Like that was going to do anything to her mood. He just didn't know what else to say. Or do.

Linora looks up at his touch, tears filling her eyes. "Ifya want," she whispers, her lower lip trembling. Nothing makes any sense to her now. "I... " Her voice trails off, unsure what it is she wants to say. Not sure anything she says will make any difference.

Cress breaks his touch on her arm to put his own around her shoulders, not knowing what else to do. Not knowing how to explain what it was he felt, or how he'd reached his decision. "It's just that... That.. Oh, shells, I shoulda never left the caravan...."

Linora drops her face into her hands, her body trembling. Never should've left? Maybe that would have been better. If she'd never met him at all, she wouldn't be sitting here with her heart breaking.

Cress rattled now. He'd expected some reaction from her, just not this much of one. "Lin? Are you alright, Lin?" He says, squeezing her shoulders, and putting his other hand on her arm.

Linora nods. Slowly. She's not okay. But she will be. She thinks. "I just wanted t'be where you were," she whispers, looking at the ground still. She'd hoped that would be enough. But it wasn't.

Well, that wouldn't work, is Cress' first thought. She was holdbred, right? And wouldn't be happy out on the road with him. "It's just... I made the decision to leave. Get back on the road, y'know," he says, knowing the instant he said it that it wouldn't comfort her the least.

"Without me." It's not a question, really. Linora draws in on herself some more, beginning to feel numb. Decide without her. Leave without her. Does she matter that little to him?

Cress stops talking now. No words would explain why he had to leave, or make Lin feel any better. And his squeeze on her shoulders lighten too, as he suddenly feels her rejection. Now what to do? He /did/... well, love her in fact, but he wasn't /him/ without the road and open landscapes..

Maybe Linora wouldn't be happy on the road. At the moment, she's having trouble imagining being happy anywhere. Not in the Hall. Not in a Hold. Not in her heart. She can feel him leaving now, as his arm loosens around her shoulder. Not just leaving the Craft. Leaving her.

But Cress is leaving. No matter how much it hurt himself, and Linora. He just didn't belong there. After all, how many of the other appies did he talk to? Except Lin.. None of them in fact. He was unhappy at the Hall. It was that simple.

Linora pushes up onto her knees, then gets to her feet, letting Cress' arm fall from around her shoulders. The fingers of one hand nervously tug at the loose wisps of hair around her neck as she stands, looking into the pond. Focusing on the koi... she's never really looked them before... funny, that. Is this what she'll remember about this morning? "When?" Her voice is rough with unshed tears.

When? Cress hadn't thought of 'when', only that he was doing it. "I'd have to speak with Riina first," he mumbles, his eyes not focusing on anything at all. "I s'pose it might be a while 'fore I see her...." It'd certainly been a while since he'd /seen/ her last.

Linora wraps her arms around herself, shivering in spite of the now-warm morning. Her brain is beginning to feel oddly detached, though, as she concentrates on the lazily swimming koi... something strangely relaxing about it, after all. "I miss you already," she murmurs, half to herself... maybe not even loud enough for Cress to hear. Which is probably safer, because she can't tell if he feels the same way. She's beginning to wonder if she imagined that he cared about her.

Cress picks at the grass again, looking every witch way but at Lin. Seeing her this upset only made it harder to carry out his decision to leave. "I miss you too," he whispers. Yes, he heard her. I was quiet here, and sound travelled well. He just couldn't explain what it was he felt and why he'd made the decision to leave. "It's in my blood, Lin.... I can't stay in one place for this long," he attempts, hoping that she'll at least know that's the reason he's leaving, if not understanding.

"So you're saying ... what? I can't... love you?" Begun in a whisper, Linora's words are barely audible by the time she finishes speaking. She can't begin to understand the call of the road, but she certainly understands the empty feeling inside her right now. Not that it matters what he says in response... it'll take more than anything he could possibly say to change the way she feels about him. She holds herself more tightly, perhaps to keep from falling apart, her eyes still on the koi.

Say what now? Not love him? Cress certainly did not know what to say to that statement. Didn't even know how to react, so he picks more grass out of the ground, having already pick clear a large area around him. "I-I didn't say that, did I," he whispers, glancing up at her, before looking down at the bare ground in front of him again. What else could he possibly say?

Linora lets her breath out, slowly, suddenly aware she's been holding it. She /had/ said that out loud, hadn't she? She'd never dared to give words to her feelings before - stupid rule. And maybe it doesn't matter now anyhow. She turns slowly to face him, and takes a step or two closer. "Good," she whispers. "'Cause I do." She kneels down in front of where he's sitting, picking at the grass and not looking at her, and tilts her head to look at him, trying to catch his eye. Nothing to lose now.

Cress bites his lower lip, looking up to be caught by her gaze. "Lin..." he whispers, taking her hand. Even if he'd decided to leave the craft didn't mean the rules still didn't apply. At least for Linora. "I love you too.."

Linora smiles, relief washing over her in a flood, and gives his hand a squeeze. She's pretty sure the rules don't tell you how you can feel about someone. They're pretty specific, as she recalls. No handfasting, no babies. "You sure you wanna wait for me?" She's asked him before... but that was when he was waiting, too. Now he's going away - to live another kind of life, where there aren't any stupid rules. She chews her lip, half dreading his answer... but really needing to know.

"I wouldn't want you to get in trouble, Lin," Cress says, not being able to take his eyes off hers. Or get kicked out of the Hall at that. Yeah, he loves her too, which is why he doesn't make the next move. Knowing that she much more at ease in the Craft than he is. "I'll come visit.... I promise," he adds after a pause.

Linora blinks. Once. Slowly. Somehow that's not the answer she'd hoped for. Okay, so it'll prolly be another whole Turn before she can make journeyman, and it won't matter... is that such a long time to wait? Maybe it is, when there aren't rules to constrict a person. She looks away, but not fast enough to hide the tears. "Yeah," she manages to whisper, her voice hoarse. "I should prolly go study or something." Why? She's not sure anymore.

Cress sighs. Deeply, not letting go of her hand. Study, right. Of course. "Yeah," he mumbles, though still holding on to her hand. "You'll be alright.. Right?" He gives her hand a squeeze, then finally lets it go. Lets her go. "I'll come back," he mumbles, almost inaudible.

Linora can't really hear anymore, for the rushing in her ears. She looks down at her hand as it's dropped... not really able to focus her eyes on it... then takes it in her other hand, as if it might be lonely, and squeezes, tears flowing freely now. She couldn't answer that question right now anyway. She half stumbles to her feet and turns to go. Realizing even as she does so that she has not a clue where she's going.

Cress scrambles to get to his feet, not really knowing if it's to follow Lin or what. It just seemed to him that this was a bad way of departing. "Linora?" Using her full name for once, and reaching his hand out toward her again, though not taking hold of her. "We should talk later...." When they'd both had some time to think. And cool down a little.

Linora stops. Cress hasn't called her by her full name in ages, so it gets her attention. She turns to look up at him, one hand coming up to dash the tears from her cheeks. She's so turned around now, she doesn't know which end is up. He's leaving. He loves her. He doesn't want to wait for her. He wants to talk to her. It hasn't occurred to her that he might be as confused as she is, and probably won't until she's had some time to think. Right now, she's just a little bit irrational, and more talk sounds a lot like more pain to her. And she's not sure how much more pain she can take. "What for?" she whispers. Will it really help? She looks at his outstretched hand stupidly, yearning to take it and make this whole awful morning go away, and make things be like they were before. And knowing she can't.

Cress drops his hand as he sees she's not taking it. Why did they need to talk? Right now, he'd already forgotten why he'd said it, or why he felt they needed to talk. "I s'pose, there's some stuff we need to... figure out.. Before I leave." The last three words are whispered, as if he didn't really want to say them. Though he knew he had to.

Linora hadn't thought there was anything left /to/ figure out. Too heartbroken even to hope, she only nods. More out of habit than because she actually means anything by it. She takes a halting step back, then another, then turns on her heel and runs down the path toward the field.

Cress stays where he is, just staring at her as she runs off. Not saying anything, he halfway lifts a hand to wave, but thinks twice about it and lets it drop again. Swallowing hard he lets his eyes fall back to the ground.