This is very much unfamiliar territory, even to Rayathess and his eyes scan the land around them warily, always guarded and alert despite the outwards appearance of calmness. His posture stiffens in the saddle and his stallion sidesteps nervously as it picks up on its rider’s change in mood and the sudden tension in his legs. Calming the runner, Rayathess will then glare at Hazelon. “Not all holdless are monsters.” he remarks coldly to the young teen and when he dismounts, there’s a smirk from the young man. “Thought you said you could ride,” he drawls, unable to resist a slight jab at Hazelon. He’ll stay mounted, nudging his stallion into a slow paced walk until they’re closer to the trees. Only then will he dismount, his hands holding firm to the reins and keeping himself a pace or two behind Hazelon. “Figured as much.” he snorts. “So we’ll see how far we can get with the runners… and hope the camp isn’t buried too deep.” Or worse. Rayathess doesn’t seem keen on leaving their runners behind either. Only fools would leave such things about with possible holdless camps in the area.

“No. But from what I remember of her….” Hazelon does not finish his statement, allowing it instead to trail off, distracted as he becomes by watching the trees for signs of passing. The jab about riding is allowed to pass, perhaps he had bragged a bit. Pride is not one of his flaws. While Rayathess might not put words to what they are thinking, Hazelon will. “We might have to leave them,” and he yanks on the reins of his runner, “if it is too deep, and the chances of us gettin’ them back is slim if the holdless find them. They’re too valuable.” Out here away from the weyr and his act a change has come over Hazelon. His steps are freer, wider. Though he walks warily, there is also a slight increase to the bounce in his step. Eyes on the loam he walks, pausing occasionally to scan the ground more thoroughly then before.

Rayathess keeps his voice low but it does not mask his stubbornness or the fact that his opinion of Lyreh is biased. Love can blind and in his case, it certainly made him blind and deaf until recently. Even now, some feelings remain though he’s let the young woman go. Not that he betrays that much to Hazelon. “… she has her issues. As we all do.” he mutters. “We’re not leaving the runners.” That seems final. Rayathess doesn’t want them lost or stolen and he’s not about to make it next to impossible for them to make an escape — if needed. He nods, “Exactly. Too valuable. Too difficult to explain to Journeyman Garan as well.” And it’s a long, long way back on foot to Fort Weyr! Luckily for them, the woods don’t crowd too closely and while it makes progress slow at times, it’s possible to pick a path through the underbrush. Rayathess is keeping a very careful eye on the forest around them, his movements slow and cautious and ever watchful. Even so, he’ll notice the change in Hazelon and his smirk returns. “Feeling at home?” he drawls, jabbing at the young teen again.

And there is little enough lost between Hazelon and those who he has so willingly sundered himself from. “Screw you.” He’ll reply to Rayathess, the apprentice having called to attention the freeness of his walk. Inwards he’ll pull again, just a little, though not enough to impede himself as he pushes through the forests. “Someone has been here.” Holding the runner aside he spreads the bushes, showing a deep footprint in the mud.

Rayathess just looks smug when Hazelon rises to the bait and if they weren’t currently tromping through unfamiliar forests, he may have continued to heckle the youth in an effort to crack through those masks and control. Luckily for both of them, he’s distracted with keeping an eye on their surroundings and watching where he leads his runner, less the stallion misstep and tumble. At Hazelon’s call, Rayathess will carefully make his way to the youth’s side, not caring how close he stands to him as he crouches down to inspect it and cautiously so as not to disturb too much of the ground or the print itself. “… not long ago either. We must be close. Do you… see any of the signs?” Signs of concealment. Those in charge of the camps, maybe Laris himself, came up with a good system and method of cloaking. Melting into the forest and making it nigh on impossible to see until you’ve all but blundered into it. If one was (un)lucky enough to pass by the sentries. Somehow Rayathess doubts Lyreh is with folks capable of such things.

For once Hazelon won’t flinch when Rayathess draws near. Old habits of show-no-weakness have kicked firmly into play, and the quiet mouse which Hazelon is at the weyr are not at all in evidence. He bends downwards to kneel upon the floor and use that vantage point to stare out into the forest. “I’d be bettin’ my life this was your holdless. Cover,” he pats the nearby tree, “water,” gestures towards the stream winding nearby, “and food. You can be seein’ the marks of prey to be hunted.” Abruptly he stands again and knocks soft mud from his knees. “We need to be splittin’ up. You still be knowin’ how to whistle?” When he turns spare inches are all that separate them, inches and height.

“She’s got a name,” Rayathess growls under his breath, his eyes still studying the print before following where Hazelon pats the nearby tree and then gestures to the stream. He’s coming to the very same conclusions. “But you’re right. If there’s a camp, it’s nearby.” Conditions are ideal. However, he’s not wanting to proverbially walk right in through the door. Standing, he is not even aware of how close they stand, how they almost match in height but Hazelon’s suggestion of splitting up brings a scowl to his features. “Not sure if I like that…” he begins to protest, only to dart a look about the underbrush and the trees around them. Yet what choice do they have? With the runners, they’re limited on movement. Lyreh may not enjoy an “audience” either. “Haven’t forgotten how to whistle or the whistles. If we’re splitting up, where’s your intended path?” he asks, voice pitched low and perhaps the first time the young man has given Hazelon a shred of trust.

“Heh.” The grunt is all the reply that Rayathess growl receives from Hazelon. He hasn’t waited for the senior apprentice to agree to his plan, he simply starts walking off into the brush. “You’ll be seein’ me. Or perhpas not if you’re right about your holdless bein’ harmless.” The runner makes it difficult for him to disappear into the brush, but other then the sounds of the moving runner, Hazelon does seem to disappear. Dark hair and clothing blend into the shadows under the trees seamlessly. Even the small bronze firelizard takes flight and disappears into the bushes.

Rayathess takes a step forwards in protest when Hazelon starts walking off into the brush, but he’s not about to shout out to the young teen and draw whoever else is here down on them. He curses under his breath, but says nothing to bring Hazelon back and will watch as he disappears, runner and all, from view. Lifting his head up, he will stand there for a moment in silence, the sounds of the forest and his runner cropping grass the only noise around him. Then… one, two, three firelizards, one green and two browns, pop out from Between and perch nearby, with the green settling possessively to his shoulders. He has to keep his hold on the reins to keep the stallion from spooking, though the runner soon calms again and returns to his grazing. “You two,” he murmurs to the browns. “Scout.” With a flurry of wings, they’re off. To the green, he scratches her under the chin until she’s crooning happily. “Go to Ezra, Cervena. Stay with him.” Spreading her wings, she will soar off and vanish as well and Rayathess is alone again. Which suits him just fine. Glancing back to the spot where Hazelon had disappeared, he begins to pick his path forwards and parallel to where he suspects the young teen may have gone. His steps are slow, cautious and wary and his eyes scan the area constantly. It can’t be much farther now and he strains his ears to any sound that may hint at the presence of others. Last thing he wants to do is blunder right into the heart of a camp, Lyreh present or no.

It doesn’t take Hazelon more than a spare dozen yards into the undergrowth to realize that bringing the runner along simply isn’t going to work. The noise is too loud, and each time a branch cracks as she brushes past causes the teen to twitch and look around warily, as if something might pop out from the trees. “You’ll be havin’ to stay here, and the Stonehaven will simply have to be content if this fools mission of his gets you stolen.” Leading the runner close to the river he ties her loosely where she can reach both food and water. Back into the forest he fades, using his smaller stature to move almost silently through the bushes. Wariness has become his watchword. Step after step he takes till a broken bit of tree not caused by his runner catches his eye. Something has been here. Staying upon the ground seems foolish, so he casts his glance upwards and into the tree, evaluating. A soft hiss reaches his years and he casts about to find his baby bronze sitting upon a branch in reach. Without a second thought Hazelon shimmies up and into the tree, using his better vantage point and camouflage to seek out what can be seen.

Rayathess continues along his own path, sticking to wider spaces despite it making him easily seen and open to any sort of attack. Despite his earlier claims of keeping the runners close, even he cannot keep his at his side much longer. Yet just as he resigned to letting the reins go, leaving the stallion by a small pool of water, there is sound and movement and the young man turns slowly, his posture settling into a readied stance to either go on the defensive or offensive. Neither is required, however, as it’s just Lyreh who steps out from the trees, her bow held down and the arrow not quite notched properly to be a threat. The two stare at each other silently for a few tense seconds and it’s Rayathess who approaches first, hands lifting slightly with his palms facing up and outwards. Nothing to fear from him and he doesn’t seem to fear anything from her. “… so you hunted me down, just for this? To talk?” Lyreh’s voice can be heard drifting, sarcasm and dry humor apparent even in the muffled sounds. Rayathess is talking as well and for the most part they seem at a standoff though civil. For now.

Lyreh’s companions are also out and about. Three of them, in various places in the woods. Each carries a bow and quiver, and one even has an old ragtag sword that’s seen better days but he still carries with pride. When Rayathess moves forward to speak to Lyreh, the other three fan out around them, moving with silent stealth through the woods, each choosing a spot within which to settle and listen and watch. One takes to the trees, another finds a crevice in a pile of stones, and the third crouches in some brush. They are silent right now, but all three are eying Rayathess - and his runner. That’s one /fine/ stallion. Easily worth a life, especially a Harper traitor’s.

It is the rustle of voices which finally catches Hazelon’s ear. He directs his eyes to the brief flashes of unfamiliar colour he notices between the branches. Eyes travel wider till they pick out two other bits of movement closer to him. Unease strings itself into his stomach. As silently as possible he drops out of the tree then begins to ghost towards the closest of those bits of movement, using every skill he learned in the camps to move silently. His own bow is held at the ready in his hands, ready to send out an arrow should it be necessary. Inwardly he curses Rayathess. This was a stupid idea.

Of course it was a stupid idea, but when Rayathess gets an idea he stubbornly sticks to it! To him, all he wants is a quick word with Lyreh. All of this done for that project of his, the one that should secure him his Journeyman status. Yet is it worth it? It is to him. He may not think so in a few moments. Lyreh continues to talk, all brash and harsh words, sarcastic jabs and yet she does not walk away from him and Rayathess does not rise to the bait. He is, however, too focused on their conversation to realize how quiet the forest is. He should have remained on alert and he should have listened to Hazelon’s point about leaving the runners behind. They could have left them at the Hold and proceeded on foot. It would have added more time… but it’s too late now. “I think you’re insane to be doing this, Raya. There’s folks who won’t want their names forever inked to that past…” Lyreh warns, in an ironic echoing of the similar ones Ezra tried to point out. Rayathess does not heed them. Of course he wouldn’t! So their talk continues and the noose begins to tighten further.

Surrounding the clearing, the realization comes to the watchers one at a time. Setha. It’s /Setha/. A /Harper/ and with that /runner/. Anger and bitterness and greed rise in all three of them, almost simultaneously. The one that Hazelon is sneaking upon (the one in the bushes) has his bow, notches an arrow and begins to raise it. What does Hazelon do? At the same time, one of the others is also rising his bow from in the trees, and the other in the rocks is still considering what to do. Without communication between all three, nothing is planned, nothing is structured, all three are independent. And dangerous. And heedless of Lyreh. They want Setha’s runner and they’d love to kill him. The traitor. /Traitor/. In their sights.

S*it. Hazelon crouches down, nearby the man who is raising his bow. He bites his lip, the pressure enough to begin to draw blood from it. What should he do? Whistle and alert Rayathess that he is in danger? Attempt to take down the man larger than him? Or should he just wait? Bitterness takes a moment to crawl through his mind- a touch of envy for everything that Rayathess has that Hazelon is denied. Home, family, a pathway out of drudgery, skill in something other than menial work… or murder. It would be easy, simple. It wasn’t like he hadn’t stood by and watched another be killed before. Just stay silent, watch. The holdless would most likely welcome him if he did nothing. Especially with the gift of the runner to hand off as an entrance gift. And if he was convincing enough… perhaps he could even make it look like he had died also, so that journeyman wouldn’t come looking for him.

Seconds tick by as his eyes bore a hole into the hands upon the bow that is slowly being raised to shoot at Rayathess. A soft hiss from above distracts him for just a moment, there sits the ugly little firelizard, pockmarks and discoloration apparent. A hint of guilt, the old worn guilt that eats at him surges back up. But what about Ezra? Who had done nothing to deserve the murder of his family, and now to lose his older brother. One of the few who had shown the former-holdless brat any amount real concern not tied with the completion of some duty or another. His hands tighten around the bow in his hands. No. He couldn’t become like his parents, like the murders who had taught him how to use the bow in his hands. He licks the blood from his lip, only just now realizing that he had drawn it. He draws an arrow out of his pack and puts it to the string. Rising swiftly, knowing he only has one shot, he’ll lose, and send a hope skyward that perhaps he isn’t too late.

Rayathess can’t be oblivious forever and the alarm from his scouting firelizards suddenly starts to seep through his focus on Lyreh and their discussion and by then it’s already too late. Suspicious, he levels her with a look and when she seems to twitch under his gaze, her head tilting just enough towards the trees he realizes then that they are not alone and never have been. She went against her word and yet there is no time for him to even begin to process the implications behind that. “… what have you done?” he accuses her instead, already beginning to take a step backwards, back towards his runner and he would not have turned his back if it weren’t for the shriek of alarm from his firelizards, including Cervena when she returns with Cala and darts into the trees when she and Raya’s two browns sense danger and threat. By the time Hazelon has made his choice and lets that arrow fly towards the one concealed bowman, Rayathess is half turned and in a blink of an eye everything dissolves into chaos. The holdless who had aimed for the Harper still has time to fire, but his aim is thrown off when he winds up fired at himself and it strikes Rayathess in the back of his shoulder. With a startled and pained yell, he falls forwards, his cheek grazing the ground as he’s momentarily stunned and blinded by the injury. In the same breath, Lyreh has notched her bow but is now aiming at the trees, while shouting at whoever is in them to stand down. ‘Them’ being the men she’s been camped with, as she has no idea Hazelon is there and the one who triggered the start.

Another arrow flies, but thunks into the ground not far from Rayathess’ side and realizing the danger he’s in, he’ll grit his teeth and force himself to move, to drag himself to his feet despite his wounded shoulder and the pain lancing through him and lurch forwards. His runner has begun to spook and he barely manages to grab the reins and haul himself up clumsily before the stallion becomes too unruly to handle. It has the unfortunate downfall, however, of making him a larger and easier target but Rayathess isn’t thinking clearly beyond his need to escape. He has no time to think of where Hazelon has gone and even as his mind clouds with pain and panic, he can only hope the teen has got away and has not fallen into the trap as well. If he only knew…

In the clearing, the one who shot Rayathess with the first arrow finds himself shot in the neck. Gurgling, he drops his bow and grabs instinctively for the arrow even as he falls to earth. It will not be a pleasant end. In the trees, the second man turns, sees Hazelon, and lets an arrow fly towards him. Lyreh is ignored. That is /Setha/ and his runner is worth many, many marks. Drawing another arrow, he shoots towards Rayathess, now mounted, lodging itself in his outer thigh. At the same time, the one in the stones, with a less better shot, aims for Rayathess as well, but only manages to graze his hip as the runner moves and throws off his aim.

The arrow grazes past Hazelon, tearing his shirt but not leaving a mark. His feet are settled and he points his arrow right towards Rayathess, though his target is not him. No, it is the man behind Rayathess who is in his sights. Coolness has washed over Hazelon, a focusing of purpose as the chaos engulfs him. He might not even notice if one of those arrows hits him. Instead he’ll draw back the string and let it fly, hopefully right past Raya and into the man shooting at the harper apprentice. His eyes meet with Lyreh’s for just a scant second, recognition flaring for a moment before he has to focus again. There are arrows flying everywhere, and a third man to be taken down.

Rayathess cries out again in a grunted yell when another arrow finds its mark and lodges itself into his outer thigh and just above his knee and he jerks against the saddle, tilting but managing to stay on. The abrupt movement spurs the stallion on however and the next arrow brings lancing pain to his hip and then he’s gone and out of sight as the runner follows a blind path out to the open ground. Rayathess has enough sense left to him to lean forwards and as flat as he can manage to avoid being brained on a tree branch (or worse) and already his mind is slipping into a thick haze of pain and adrenaline as they make their escape. Pain that Ezra will feel through Cervena and Cala, each lancing bolt and searing jolt as the one arrow strikes home and the other clips, sensations to haunt him later. Pain and fear and anger and betrayal, the latter of which is towards Lyreh and those men and not towards Hazelon. Betrayal that could easily be misunderstood from the firelizards and from the view of what looks to be Hazelon taking aim at Rayathess before he’s fled when it’s anything of the sort…

Back in the forests, with more of the men falling, Lyreh will shout out again. “Enough! Fools, lower your weapons!” Her features twisted into a snarl, she’ll fire a warning shot at one of the few remaining men alive, the bolt hitting a tree by his shoulder. The next warning one is for Hazelon and it too will miss its mark but when she clues in that he is NOT supposed to be there, she’ll quickly draw another. “Who are you?” she demands, eyes narrowing in suspicion and cheeks flushed with anger, eyes bright with adrenaline. It’s only after a few breaths that recognition begins to seep in and she keeps her arrow trained on the young teen. “… Hazelon?”

Continued in Caught Between...
Mid-Scene Log from Ezra's POV and tie-in to Caught Between — Helpless Witness**//