Indrene wondered how the cat was doing. It'd been three hours since she had put the poultice on, and it hadn't moved much after that. Its breathing was steadier though. She figured it would live through its ordeal. It was lucky she had found the asther roots, because they had very good healing properties. They were rare at the Caves, but here they seemed to grow in abundance. There must not be people nearby who use them, Indrene thought. The cat stirred. Kneeling down on the ground in front of it, she looked at the wound. It appeared to be doing better. It was beginning to heal over already. Asther roots have an almost magical healing property, which is why they are so widely sought after near the Caves. It has been known to cure anything from infections to broken bones to a detached finger, though it doesn't seem to work on anything bigger, or revive the dead.
The cat suddenly stood up, and it seemed to tower over Indrene from where she knelt beside it. It looked at her with its deep green eyes that seemed to focus first on her, then behind her and then back. Then it began to growl, silently at first, then with growing intensity. The cat backed up a step. Indrene became slightly afraid, but kept calm on the outside. What if he attacks me now? There's no way that I could defend myself. Why did I help this cat?
"Now I know you don't like me," Indrene said to the cat, "but I did save your life." The cat continued to growl. The bushes rustled the right of her, and immediately the cat jumped over Indrene and ran toward the bushes, directly toward the noise. Indrene turned her head in time to see Ramel emerge from the tree line.
"Stop!" Indrene yelled, leaping to her feet and running after the cat. The cat paused, nearly six feet away from Ramel, and then looked at him, not moving a muscle. Indrene caught up. Ramel backed away a couple of steps before catching himself. Indrene thought he looked tired. Placing one hand on the large cat's head, she began to stroke it to calm it down. Then she gazed at Ramel.
He appeared to have grown since she had last seen him. He no longer had that joyous face that she knew and loved. It had grown somber. Leaving the cat and slowly walking toward him, she put her arms around his neck as she approached. He put his arms around her and hugged her, but it was empty, full of loss. They had lost everything they knew except themselves, had run away to start a new life.
Indrene finally stepped away from him. "We must get going. This forest is dangerous, not to mention Jalome and his men following us," Ramel mentioned. "Who is your friend there?" Ramel indicated by pointing to the cat still staring at him.
"He was in the forest watching me, but got hurt by something and then came out. I put a poultice on him, but I think he knows that he isn't well enough to go back on his own." She knelt and looked at the cut. The wound was sealing up quite nicely now. "I haven't named it yet, and I'm not even sure if it's a male or a female."
"It's a female. I can tell. She will probably stay with us for awhile, but don't be surprised if you turn around and she's gone one day soon."
"I think I'm going to name her Koreen then." The cat seemed to understand. "Will you come with us, Koreen? You'll be healed soon enough, but I don't want you to get hurt again." The cat simply stood there, accepting the petting that Indrene was giving her.
"Do you have any food?" Ramel asked her.
"Honestly, I've spent all my time so far caring for this cat. I haven't had the time to find anything. I'm guessing that you don't have any either."
"No, I don't. I barely survived getting here. Two wolves attacked me earlier, and I don't think they were normal. I don't know how I managed to kill them. I think that I have some magic, though I don't like to admit it." Magic was not allowed in the Caves, and it was rarely allowed anywhere else. Most people who had it were shunned from their hometowns, forced to roam around. Magic was considered a weakness, used by people who otherwise couldn't get things done. Most people who had it and knew didn't dare use it in public.
"Are you sure?" Indrene asked. She was afraid of magic, afraid of its power. She knew what it could do. She had once seen it kill people, wrought by a maniac who used to live in the Caves. It had taken five archers to kill the man, who finally died riddled with arrows. The sorcerer had burned Indrene's own brother alive when he had tried to stop him. She still remembered the day vividly and from then on had never wanted to see magic again.
"I don't know. I might have. I just don't see any other way that I could have beaten both of the wolves. I think I saw the branch I was using glow when I hit them. I just don't know."
"Let's not think about it. I don't really care. I just don't want to see it. Now, let's find something to eat before we starve to death." They each set out in their separate directions. Indrene went over to the other side of the small clearing. Ramel turned and stepped back into the forest. Koreen, already tired from her brief incident, lay back down on the ground to rest.
Twenty minutes later Indrene came back into the clearing. Ramel still wasn't there, and Koreen lay exactly where she had stood when Indrene had left. She raised her head only to glance at Indrene before dropping it back on her front paws.
Indrene had had some luck in finding food. She had brought some berries with her, as well as a few roots. The roots were quite bitter, but they were healthy, good for restoring strength. She had eaten one while she was there, to make sure they weren't poisonous, though they looked like the same ones the Caves had collected daily for food. She deposited the food on the ground and turned to the river. There was surely fish here. She had seen them earlier. How was she to catch them though without a hook, or a line? She wasn't going to jump in to catch one either. She had already gotten wet twice by the river so far, and had dried out since. It was getting late though, with the sun barely showing above the trees. A fire needed to be started anyway. The night air was quite cold, and they would probably not live through another night if they didn't have a fire.
When Ramel finally returned, he was carrying more berries, and a dead rabbit. "How did you catch that?" Indrene asked.
"I was a member of the hunting party in the Caves for quite some time. I set a trap, and got lucky. I see that you already have wood for a fire." Indrene had been busy since she'd gotten back. Finding dry wood was a challenge, since it had just rained the day before, but once she went into the forest, plenty of fallen trees buried under the leaves were still remotely dry. She still hadn't found a piece of flint rock though. She would have to find another way to do it. Ramel was sitting the food down near the wood.
"I want you to stand back, away from the wood. Stay away from me, too. Please, go try to catch a fish or something." Ramel looked into Indrene's light blue eyes, which were getting darker every second. He thought he knew what that meant, but couldn't be sure. He backed away anyway; watching her with great concern, not ready to leave her for a second more.
Indrene thought for a second, looking at the pile of wood. Am I sure I want to do this? I don't even know if I still can, let alone remember how. It's been so long… She looked harder at the woodpile. If I do this, something may go wrong. It may happen again. I can't let that happen. She only remembered that other day distinctly, the day she had found out she truly had magic, or rather, the day that her village had.
She had been using magic for some time before that day in early spring. Seven at the time, she was living in Tarona, an eastern port city. She'd wanted to go outside that day, but because of the cold, her mother hadn't allowed her. So, she had decided that she'd do anything to get rid of the cold. "Yes, I'll make it warm enough to melt the snow so everyone could go outside and play," she kept telling herself. Everyone was sick of the snow, sick of the fluffy white stuff that fell almost every day without end.
Not everything had gone as planned however. While she sat in her room and concentrated on making it warmer out, almost half the houses on her block caught fire, including her own. She didn't even notice it until flames licked under her door. Quickly she cut off the spell, but it had been too late, the damage was already done. She had had to leap out of her window to avoid being burned by the flames. The fire quickly spread, and nine houses had been destroyed, hers included, by the time the fire was extinguished. Accused instantly for the fire by her own friends, the townsfolk had sentenced her to death. Her mother had hid her though, and told everyone she'd run away. After awhile, her mother had helped her escape, telling her never to return. Her only choice was to go to the Caves and live with her Aunt until she was old enough to survive on her own.
She remembered how that last spell had gone out of control. All spells had a chance to go awry, and only through practice would one become better at it. Indrene hadn't touched magic in over nine years, and wondered how she would ever do this now. There was no other way though. She concentrated on the wood, her eyes completing the change to black. It was a side effect of drawing upon the magic. Your eyes changed to complete black. Those who had used magic often or long enough had permanently black eyes. They were often dangerous and unreliable, and were highly feared. She motioned with her right hand toward the wood. It burst into flames, spreading up and out. She released the spell, and it contracted, finally leaving just the wood burning. She let her hand fall to her side, and then sank to her knees. She'd never concentrated on anything like that. Ramel ran over and knelt beside of her, putting his hands on her shoulders.
"Are you going to be alright? You shouldn't have done that. How did you do that?"
Indrene answered weakly, "I can wield magic. I never wanted to tell you, for fear of what you'd say. That's why I never told you much about my past either. I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry. I fear that I have magic too. At least you can control yours."
"Not really. This is the most control I've ever had of my magic. My magic is very powerful, and I never learned how to master it. Therefore, most of my spells go wrong."
"I'm not sure what type of magic I possess, but I feel that I wouldn't be alive now without it. I wish I could control it though."
"Maybe I could teach you sometime, as much as I know of it. We could learn together, now that we aren't living in a town. For now though, I'm hungry, and the fire is already dying down." She walked over, placed another mostly dry log onto the top of the pile, and moved the rest nearer to it so they would dry off. She hoped that the smoke from the fire didn't give away their position. Jalome must surely be looking hard for them by now.
Ramel walked over to the edge of the forest and snapped off a small, nearly straight branch, which he then proceeded to take off all the little branches on. When he had a clean stick, he shoved it into the rabbit so he could hold it over the fire. Indrene took all the berries and went over to the river to clean them off. Koreen moved herself closer to the fire and lay back down, enjoying the warmth that the fire threw off into the chill night air.
Once they had each eaten their fill, they sat back around the fire. The food had been good. It wasn't what they were used to, but for their first meal in a day, they certainly weren't complaining. Eventually they all grew tired, and fell asleep around the fire, hoping that it would ward off any animals that thought to attack them.