Second Impressions: Fire Bad

January 19, 2017:

After a cat nap, Jhiao and Nerina argue over a campfire. Unsurprisingly the leopard wins.

New York Campgrounds

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The young flautist's leopard-induced nap comes to an early and abrupt end as Nerina jolts awake atop her impromptu cat-hair pillow. She blinks her eyes heavily and grunts as she looks to the fire. It's dwindled almost to embers but only from lack of fuel - the night is still young.

Looking down at the spotted cat in her lap, she checks its face and chest to see if she might have woken it too.

Merina's feline blanket stirs and chuffs a bit annoyedly at the sudden physical disturbance. She turns her head, looking at the person only mildly disgruntled, and shifts to allow Merina more freedom of movement. But attempts to add fuel to the fire will find themselves rebuffed. In spite of everything, the cat is very clear about this: fire bad.

<Sorry,>" the girl offers apologetically before she works to untangle herself from the leopard. The larger animal gets a mollifying pet before she stands up and tries to do just that. Nerina furrows her brow when the leopard intervenes. "Nyet, <without a good fire I'll freeze out here - literally.>"

The cat accepts the apology given, but she continues to do what she can to prevent Merina from refueling or reigniting the fire. She has already proven that she can - and will - keep the woman warm. And in her mind, fire is bad, especially out in the woods. The woods are, even after these years, her home. OK, not really these woods. But still! She's being pretty resistant, but all without actually making any attempt to hurt Merina.

Nerina's lips crease into a frown as the leopard keeps getting in between her and the kindling, then her and the fire. Her hand tightens its grip on a branch as she weighs her options and perhaps realizes what she's in conflict with.

Her free hand flicks out to the side and the fishwife jabs emphatically towards her lean-to, beckoning the animal out of her way.

The leopard eyes Merina with that amber gaze, and plants herself firmly, shaking her head. She lifts a forepaw, pressing it against her chest, and then points that paw right at Merina. There is a soulful depth to that gaze, as if willing the two-foot to understand her in spite of their language difficulties. So far, she has only heard one language from Merina, and it is one she does not know. But she of all creatures knows that communication can - and does - transcend language.

Two blue eyes narrow as they stare into amber. Nerina peers deeper into the leopard's gaze than before, suspicious but still set in her aims. "If you understand anything, move. I need that fire," she instructs firmly, this time trying English.

Those amber eyes widen as English is offered. She nods her head, meeting the gaze again, and then pads out of the way … and right back into the way. She proves she understands, but she's not in favor of the fire. Instead, she pads forward and headbuts Merina again, then tries to push her towards something … something oddly past the campsite.

The small blonde stumbles back and casts the leopard a glare as the brief window to stoke her campfire disappears. She backpedals grudingly and crouches a little lower as she moves, warier than ever of the intelligent cat and likewise blind to whatever might be behind her.

"<So much for our friendly cuddle,>" she grumbles back in her native tongue.

The leopard is very friend, and very cuddly. But she doesn't understand Russian, so she can't reassure the other woman. She can only gently but insistently guide her through the forest. It'll be at least fifteen minutes of walking in the dark, but she's very capable and careful. And she leads Merina … to a tree. It's one tree out of hundreds. But this tree she climbs, leaping up and scrambling to reach a branch, and then another, and another. And then she leaps back down, a leather satchel clasped in her jaw. And meets Merina's gaze again.

It's not a trek the wayward fishwife makes lightly and it's her turn to resist the leopard's movement as the light of her fire begins to fade from sight.

"Make this quick," She instructs tersely before finally relenting and letting the feline lead. Reaching under the hem of her hoodie, the blonde digs around under her insulation to fiddle with… something, then pulls her hand back out and briskly straightens her interleaved layers of clothes. Diving back into an outer pocket, she fishes out her flashlight and gives it enough cranks to illuminate the path in front of them.

As the walk through the dark drags on, Nerina bites on her thumb and her eyes dart impatiently. The cold has already done its work sapping the vibrant color from her features and the fishwife is shivering within her cotton cocoon by the time the leopard finally stops.

She stares back at length when the animal returns with a satchel. "That's it?" she deadpans, tucking her arms close to her sides for warmth.

Then the leopard nods again, and drops the satchel. Then drops to the ground. There are painful growls and yips, popping, twisting, contorting. It looks a bit like a seizure and a heart attack all rolled into one. It looks and feels agonizing. And it takes almost a minute as the cat thrashes about, twisting and writhing. Bones reshaping, realigning. Tendons. Muscles. Fur receding into skin. A wealth of ebony hair spilling from a head that reshapes itself.

And then there isn't a leopard. There's a naked Chinese girl, herself even smaller than the blonde Russian. And she stretches her neck and jaw. "Please pardon. Leopard jaw cannot make words. But fire bad in forest, untended." A strong Chinese accent, but her diction is pretty good, clean enough to be understood.

Nerina takes a half step back and furrows her brow in concern as the leopard writhes before her. Then her eyes widen steadily as she begins to change until the flautist is staring intensely at the naked girl crouched before her. "Imitator," she murmurs, her Russian landing on a homophone. Schooling her expression back to a more narrow-eyed neutral she regards the shapeshifter freshly and offers the ghost of a frown. "All of this walking to show me that? You could have carried your bag back alone. And there is nothing wrong with my fire."

"Everything wrong with a fire left unattended in the forest, which you have done twice." The Chinese female responds. She isn't crouching anymore; the writhing took care of that a good while ago. At this point she is sprawled out on her side on the undergrowth, though she is now working on fetching up clothing from within the satchel, starting to dress herself. Her movements are unhurried, and there's no sign of actual modesty or shame; She just does this by rote, as if it is expected.

"I bade you come this way with me to prevent you re-igniting the fire. It is unnecessary." the young woman admits. She can tell the two-leg is bothered, even angry with her. But as long as the Russian is not threatening or aggressive, she can and will live with that. She's rather low-key and calm about matters. "I already proved I could keep you warm."

"Wrong," Nerina rebuffs, shoving her hands smartly into the front pocket of her hoodie. "The night gets colder and if you left me without a fire I would freeze. And maybe your fur can cook food too, da?"

"I know how to make a fire that does not burn down a forest in winter," she concludes firmly as she turns back towards the direction of the distant campsite. The flautist peeks over her shoulder, silhouetted by the beam of her flashlight striking the trees ahead of her. "Follow me if you care."

Turning away, Nerina begins the long trek back to her campground in the cold and in the dark, leaving the shapeshifter to catch up.

"I would not leave you, and I would not allow you to freeze." Jhiao responds. "And if you light the fire and stay with it, watch it, I would not have insisted on putting it out." She does her best to make clear her objection to the matter.

"The wise do not build a fire and leave it untended at any time." She's really firm about this. Jhiao does slip on some sandals - just sandals, not boots - and then stands, ready to follow the other woman, her satchel going up over her shoulder and neck to rest firmly in place.

"You were much friendlier to me when I walked on four, rather than two. You do not like two-foots?" the shapeshifter inquires.

"I do not like long, cold walks," Nerina replies tersely, letting Jhiao infer what she will for an answer. "And I like speaking Russian more. <It is more comfortable for me.>" Sweeping the flashlight ahead of herself, the blonde loosely follows the same trail cut from the campsite, but moving more slowly to keep her bearings. The shapeshifter following her might notice the broken branches and other signs of disturbance from Nerina's earlier passage.

"I am afraid that Russian is one of the two-foot tongues I have not yet managed to learn. I would be happy to do my best to learn, if you feel up to teaching." Jhiao offers softly. She continues following along. She has no need of the flashlight. "As I can see and smell the trail better, would you like me to lead the way back?" she offers, stepping up closer.

"<That is half of the point, yes,>" Nerina agrees before nodding to the shapeshifter's other question and flicking her flashlight the gesture her forward. "Do you plan to sleep with me when we get back?"

"That would be your choice. I would certainly not mind. I did offer to keep you warm, after all." Jhiao answers, as she moves ahead and leads the way back to the campsite. She doesn't want nor does she need the flashlight, apparently. One thing Nerina may have noticed is that even her human form has amber-irised eyes. And they glint in her bipedal form as they did her quadripedal shape. "I get the impression that you enjoy speaking in Russian in order not to communicate with me. Specifically wishing not to be understood."

The flautist grins quietly to herself at Jhiao's observation. "First lesson in Russki: vospriimchivyy, perceptive." Whether or not the shapeshifter needs a flashlight, Nerina keeps it on to light her own path. "I did not come out here to make friends."

"And does that mean you would prefer that I leave you alone?" Jhiao inquires. "I felt that you welcomed my presence, before. But if that is not the case, I will not impose where I am unwanted. All beings are entitled to their own alone times, as they wish and require. How else may they seek Unity of Self?"

Nerina raises an eyebrow as she ducks a low branch, once more cherry picking her question. "''Unity of Self''?"

What follows is a short paragraph in Cantonese. Then Jhiao shakes ehr head slightly. "My apologies. It is a poor English translation of a term originally conceived in Mandarin. The unity of oneself with what is within, and what is without. The world, the universe. I do not suppose that is much clearer?" Still, she leads the way, making no more noise in her movements on two feet than she did on four.

"…" Nerina shakes her head silently, the sound of her boots and the sloshing of her thermos the only noises between them. Slipping a hand back out of her pocket she bites her thumb again in quiet thought.

"I am not seeking Unity of Self," she eventually replies.

"So you do not entirely mind if I remain?" Jhiao inquires, as they reach the campsite. She gestures towards Nerina's earlier seat. "I could smell your supplies, earlier." She still can, if not quite as well. "If you would like, I would be happy to go hunting for something more to eat, while you get your cooking fire stoked."

As they return to the clearing, Nerina walks over to her lean-to and crouches before the remains of her fire, drawing what lingering heat she can while observing its health. She looks back up at the offer and a small flicker of light from a dieing ember casts a shadow that almost looks like a small smile. "That I do not mind."

"By the way. My teacher gave me a two-foot name. I am called Jhiao. Li Jhiao Ting, as my teacher would have introduced me." the shapeshifter explains. Then she pads around and lays her satchel down close to the lean-to, and then begins peeling off the very clothes she just put on earlier. She lays them down on her satchel, and then kneels on the cold ground, as her body twists and writhes, popping, snapping, crunching and twisting until she is the leopard once more. Then she offers the other woman a nod, and lopes off into the darkness. A hunting she will go, apparently.

"Nerina Rosso," the blonde replies, her Russian accent smoothly exchanged for the Italian lilt of her name's heritage. She grabs a small stick to rake the campfire embers before grabbing a small pile of brush she'd gathered earlier to rekindle it, sparing Jhiao only an idle glance as the shapeshifter undresses again. With her expression out of sight she grimaces quietly at the sounds of her transformation and bites again at her thumb.

As the transformed leopard departs, she offers a parting remark - though her even tone makes it difficult to tell genuine care from sarcasm. "Don't freeze!"

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