Kaselyn walked silently next to Rhen, her thoughts wandering. She knew she should be dead. Part of her wished she was. She had no real idea how to survive in the wilderness. Her father, against his better judgment and only because she had begged him, had only taught her the very basics of hunting, of building a fire, but nothing of what it was like to live out here permanently. They'd never even stayed in the woods for an entire day. She was glad he had taught her that much though, or she wouldn't have lasted the first night.
You talk too much, Rhen's voice shattered her thoughts and made her look over at him. He continued walking, the only evidence given that he was paying any attention to her was one ear swiveled in her direction.
I do not! she exclaimed, answering the voice in her head. Rhen had told her some time ago that she needed to be quiet where they were, that there were other animals in the forest bigger than he was. She felt disinclined to argue and so took to answering him telepathically.
You do! Your thoughts project so much I fear if you spoke them aloud every animal in the entire forest would be able to pinpoint us. As it is, I know most of us can hear you quite well. He paused for a moment before adding, And no, you won't die. Not while I'm watching you. He sounded confident.
She gazed at him, flustered. And what about those creatures you were talking about earlier?
I'd kill them, too, he said offhandedly, baring his teeth slightly. It was all she could do to keep from laughing.
For as much as you were concerned earlier, you certainly don't sound worried now. He clamped his muzzle shut, increasing his stride so she had to walk faster to catch up. She chuckled softly, returning to her thoughts, trying hard to keep them to herself.
The dull red glow of sunset barely illuminated their way when Rhen stopped, turning to face Kaselyn. Listen, I'm going to face Karene on my own. You stay right here. Don't move. She nodded slowly, taking a seat on the soft forest earth. Rhen, waited until she had settled down before turning and padding forward a ways, disappearing quickly around the thick undergrowth. Several moments went by, and she stared at the spot where he'd last seen him, waiting. Her thoughts drifted again to the past two days. She felt like she'd been given a second chance at life. But what am I going to do about it?
You're right. She is loud. Kaselyn jumped and turned to see
Rhen behind her, another, slightly smaller cat beside him, golden fur
radiant even as the failing sunlight barely penetrated the forest canopy.
I told you! And Therian, too.
Aye, it is, though I don't know how. Listen, girl, you have to be quiet. We aren't the only ones who can hear you. We're just the most receptive. Kaselyn nodded, and the cat continued. Come, I wish to speak with you, and I don't want to do so out here. The cat moved past Kaselyn and back toward the trees, with Rhen following closely. She stood slowly and followed them.
Once inside, darkness encompassed her. Only a dim light filtering through the trees and into the opening allowed her to see anything. Still, she could sense that the cavern was large, and the light at the entrance was barely visible before she stopped nearly hitting Rhen when both of them turned around to face her. Their eyes glowed dimly even in the near darkness, small orbs of yellow that was her only hint of where they were. She looked into Rhen's eyes, waiting, but it was Karene that spoke first. Sit, Kaselyn. We have a lot to discuss, and little time. Obediently she sat, shrugging her knapsack off to sit it beside her. She caught herself from flinching as Karene sat in front of her, their eyes now level.
A few of our generations ago, Kerene began, a young woman named Indrene befriended one of our kind, and taught us many things. Things about how the world worked, and about how there was a spell placed on the world to end it. She also taught us a language she named Therian. She said that she herself didn't know where it had come from, but that it had been taught to her by another of her kind, once. She said that she was searching for someone, but that she believed it wasn't time for that person to appear. So, she made us a promise, that as long as we would remain diligent and help her in that search, we would remain safe in this forest, where she found us those many years ago.
"Am I that person?" Kaselyn interrupted, gazing into Karene's eyes.
No. At least, we don't think so. However, we do feel that you are still important to us. Indrene told us that any who could speak Therian should be welcomed by us. You're the first person we've heard speak it since she left us. That alone would be enough, but even more so, you can understand us. No one that I'm aware of has ever been able to do that without the aid of magic, and I smell none about you. You smell... familiar, though. I feel a bond with you, one much older than we. Karene turned to look at Rhen, who nodded slowly and stepped forward.
I'll be taking you at least as far as Ardale, Rhen spoke now in her mind, and then likely farther, to Choel. We will be traveling quickly. The Kraon are still hunting you, and they likely won't stop until you're on a boat headed North.
Kaselyn's eyes widened. "Choel?" Her exclamation echoed through the small cavern, amplifying her surprise tenfold. She clamped her mouth shut and continued in thought. I can't go there. I don't even think I could go to Ardale...
Nonesense. You don't have a choice. Rhen's thought-speak wedged itself in her mind. You certainly can't stay here. Not with the Kraon hunting you.
Kaselyn closed her eyes and her mind to think. It was a few minutes before she spoke again, barely audible. "They'll kill me, too." She was shivering slightly, now.
Rhen's fur rubbing against her cheek caused her to open her eyes. He was sitting beside her now, nuzzling her with his muzzle. Come now. They wouldn't dare. Besides, you won't be staying anywhere for long, and you can pass as human for awhile. Kaselyn winced at that, anger overcoming her. She scrambled to her feet and dashed out of the cave, scraping her arm against the wall as she bolted. She continued running, fighting back tears from both physical and emotional pain, until her side started hurting. She stopped and fell to the ground, panting softly, closing her eyes again.
* * *
Rhen watched her go and stood to give chase when Karene's thoughts stopped her. Wait. Give her a few moments. She'll be safe for now.
She's very difficult. Easily frightened, unstable. How am I going to get her to Choel?
I'm sure you'll find a way. Karene lay down on the cave floor, watching the entrance. But give her time. She doesn't have anyone in the world she can trust right now. I wouldn't bring up who she is, though. Not until she's ready to talk about it.
Rhen sighed, hanging his head. It's going to be a long journey, he said to no one in particular. He waited a few minutes before padding off slowly to track down his missing charge.
He found her a short ways away. Laying low, he watched her carefully, not making himself known yet. She was staring in a small pool of water that'd collected from the last rain, slowly stroking her face and brushing back her hair to touch her ear. She looked almost... feline, he decided. He moved from his crouch to step closer to her, making enough noise that she would know he was coming.
* * *
Kaselyn turned when she heard the branch snap, anxious, ready to bolt. Seeing that it was Rhen, she forced herself to relax, watching him. Shoulders slumping, she sank to the ground, gazing again at her reflection. "What am I going to do?"
Rhen regarded her carefully. First, you're going to eat. Then, we're going to Ardale. From there, I'm not sure. Perhaps we'll find a new path. Otherwise, we'll likely travel to Choel. He nuzzled her slightly, settling himself at her side. We should leave soon, though. The day grows long, and the nights won't be safe.
"I know." She stood slowly, leaning against Rhen for support until she was on her feet. Forcing a smile, she glanced at him, mocking, "So where's my hot meal?"
Wherever you choose to build a fire, dear one. He brushed against her leg as he pivoted, heading back toward the den. I suggest you keep it small, though. You are not the only hungry creature in the woods.
"Of course, wise one. Wouldn't want you to get into more fights than necessary." She followed Rhen, hunger pushing her more distant troubles from her mind.