Ron looked up at the branches as they waved in the breeze. One thing he noticed was the slight differences in climate and temperature, the sense of a unique environment against the rest of the surrounding territory. It was cooler as they went further in, and beneath his bare feet, the moss grew damp and soothing.
‘Do you like the name of Ron Brandywood?’ Fionnuala said.
He looked over his shoulder and shrugged, but he narrowed his eyes.
‘It has a pleasing ring to it, but what choice do ah have?’ he said.
She chuckled and increased her pace until she stood alongside him.
‘You can be anyone you wish to be,’ she said.
He glanced up at her, felt a slow twist of consternation which came from nowhere.
‘When you’re drowning, you cling to the log which is in reach,’ he said.
Fionnuala kept her expression neutral as she gestured towards him with her right hand.
‘Are you drowning?’ she said.
He grunted, trying to shift the tension in his stomach away with a breath.
‘It’s the only game around,’ he said.
She tilted her head to the right, and her hair fell away in a shimmering cascade.
‘What if they rigged it?’ she said.
He chuckled and shook his head; the tension spreading across his stomach and upwards to his chest.
‘You assume that ah am playing at all,’ he said.
She stayed where she was, eyes luminous with an intense interest.
‘No, but imagine this was a game that you played, with so much focus you couldn’t tell if it were real or not,’ she said.
He shook his head as the tension rose. There was a flutter in the tips of his fingers. A tight band slipped around his chest, under his armpits, and pulled for a second.
‘This feels strange,’ he said.
Fionnuala gave a slow nod as she raised her hand.
‘Now stay with it, that feeling,’ she said.
He felt perspiration mingling in the roots of his hair, a crude rush of power which galvanised his limbs, an unobserved instinct rooting to the surface. New growth of an older form, he articulated to himself.
‘Feels like ah am trapped,’ he said.
Fionnuala glanced at the trees around her as she raised her hand higher.
‘Stay there, it will make what happens easier for you,’ she said.
He opened his mouth to ask, but there was a sharp scent in his nose. It was the green of the forest, its blood as something came to him, a herald on each breath and it was cooling to his sinuses. Ron’s mouth was dry, but he tasted moisture on his lips, then his tongue. Nothing about this was familiar, but it was not unwelcome.
‘Who is this, Fi?’ he said.
There was no intoxication to this state, Ron felt. His alarm faded as he maintained the same coiled strength in his legs and abdomen, but there was the unspoken invitation of whatever was asking to speak to him.
‘They’re speaking to you in their language, Ron, listen,’ she said.
He took in more of the sap on his next breath.
‘They tried linguistics on me, it didn’t take,’ Ron said.
She shook her head.
‘This isn’t linguistics, Ron,’ she said.
He listened to the background murmur of the forest, but found nothing in it to guide him. Ron looked at Fionnuala with a polite confusion as she pointed to her nose.
‘They don’t speak in words, just breathe with them, Ron,’ she said.
Inhaling opened him up, like a blank journal having its pages turned for the first time.
He could feel the relative languidness of them compared to his thoughts, but there was a cool bank of power which floated at the edges of his thoughts.
‘Ah never spoke to plants, someone would’ve thought to mention it,’ he said.
Fionnuala laughed, a pleasant musical sound which rose and took flight in the twinkling dark of the day.
‘You are now,’ she said.
They were slower to converse, which meant he had a moment to process each inhalation and realised there was some inhibition which prevented the fullest expression of his will.
‘Ah smoked,’ he said.
Fionnuala leaned forwards, enthralled by this statement as he looked around him, seeing the forest and feeling the dense cloud of scent signals. A library of silences, smells and particular collaborations sat atop the thin layer of material inside his sinuses.
He wondered how to respond. After making a brief inventory of how smell could communicate, all he had left were a series of embarrassing bodily functions to call upon, and they were all, mostly, voluntary. His exteriority resisted their nexus, which was a phrase he heard in the half-dragon’s voice.
Zephyrus. Ron found the muscles around his mouth lifting as he mouthed the name.
He felt more than heard the words. It was a door opening in a dark room, but no light spilled in after it.
‘Ah can hear them. They sound relaxed,’ he said.
Fionnuala committed all this to memory. He was aware of a physical habit and had provided context for it. She lowered her eyes and smiled, enthralled by the development.
‘They are slower in thought, Ron, patience is key,’ she said.