Cata Maestra

by

bread moment

Forest Arc | Chapter 6: Encounter

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I sit just outside of a campfire, a woman covered in heavy clothing just across me. Claw marks litter the sleeves of her jacket, stuffing leaking from the gashes, and just in front of her lay the remains of several snowballs, landing just short of their target. A black and white kitten walks around them, inspecting the peculiar marks. Meanwhile, I nibble on a piece of cooked meat as I watch the woman cautiously.

...I may or may not have panicked when I first saw this woman. You can't really blame me though, okay? I stole her food, and then she showed up behind me without a single warning! What was I supposed to think she was there for? I mean, yes, I did steal her food, but at the very least she didn't have to scare me like that...

"Really though, you scared the shit out of me right then. You're lucky it was me you stole from and not someone else. Others might not be so forgiving if you suddenly attack them like that."

Wha-? You're the one who reached out to grab me! What was I supposed to think you were there for, some headpats and a hug? I send out a glare towards the woman, who laughs heartily in response. If it weren't for the pitch of her voice, I honestly would have thought that she was a he.

"Come on now, don't be so sullen! I already apologized for that, so it's fine, right?"

Shut up.

"Anyway, you're quite the peculiar little girl, aren't you? Those claws and teeth are quite unusual."

Am I supposed to respond to you? Are you expecting me to verify your thoughts here? I quickly stuff and chew up the remaining meat in my mouth. With my now free hands, I pick up some snow, ball it up, and throw it at the girl. She watches as it falls short and nearly lands in the campfire.

"Nice toss, kiddo. You almost got me that time."

My face dyes itself red in embarrassment as I look away, hiding my expression.

"So, what's a kid like you doing here anyway? You seem awfully... lightly dressed for these conditions, and I'm sure you know that nighttime here can be awfully terrifying with all of those Night Stalkers and such."

Is that what they're called...? Well, whatever. Being asked a question that's finally relevant... I should probably do my best to answer, right?

But... I really have no idea what I'm doing here. Trying to survive, yeah, but what exactly am I doing here in the first place? Why did I just wake up here after I died in the middle of a forest that's clearly not this forest?

I shrug my shoulders, a troubled look appearing on my face. The woman nods her head, seemingly in thought.

"You don't know, huh? Hmm... how long have you been here then?"

Three days? I lift three fingers, but my confusion must be quite evident as she suppresses a laugh.

"Right. Judging by your current condition," she glances at my eye socket, "those three days must have been pretty rough. I'm assuming you were trying to get out of this place then?"

Yeah. My head bobs up and down in confirmation.

"Give up."

I gape. In response, the woman roars in laughter, slapping her hand on the ground.

"AHAHA! That look on your face was just priceless, you know that? I was just kidding! Although still, at the moment, you'll never make it out by nighttime, and if you're still out alone by then, you're fucked."

I look up. The sun sits directly above me, marking the transition from morning to afternoon. The disappointment must be clear on my face though, as the girl simply smiles.

"Now here's the thing. I said that if you're out alone, you're fucked. I never said anything about if you were with another person, such as me."

What.

I want to just refuse, but... I don't have much of a choice, do I? I mean, when I was looking on top of that tree for the edge of the forest, I didn't see it. And my endurance is, quite frankly, terrible. Assuming that she's in far better condition compared to me, and she's saying that it would also be impossible for her, there's no way I can go off on my own.

"You really are quite expressive, you know that? So, how about it? Wanna go off on your own and die, or come along with me?"

I... really don't have a choice. I hesitantly lift my hand and point at her.

"That's the spirit! Glad you agreed, I'd never be able to relax if I knew I left a kid like you out here alone."

"..."

"Aaanyway, companions should know each others name, no? You can call me Celes. Would you mind telling me yours?"

"..."

"...O-ok then, you don't have to stare at me like that, just say if you don't wanna tell me..."

As she looks away, I grab another snowball and throw it at her, catching her attention. As she glances back at me, my point to my mouth and throat and make an 'x' with my arms.

"You can't talk? Is that why you've been so quiet all this time? Seriously, why didn't you tell me?"

"..."

"...S-sorry."

A strained sigh forces itself through my clenched teeth.

...This is going to be a long day.


In the middle of a forest, tracks in the shape of footsteps are visible, planted into the snow by a pair of boots. Left by a certain heavily clothed girl, the track grows ever longer. On her back is another girl, albeit smaller, and on her back, is a small, black and white cat, clinging to a thin cloak with her claws.

This woman... Celes, was it? Her walking speed is ridiculous! Why is she so fast!? I mean, it's walking, okay? Not running or jogging, walking! If that's the case, why couldn't I keep up with her for even half an hour?

Eventually, she got tired of my slow speed and let me hitch a ride on her back, but even then she didn't even slow down a single bit. According to her, she didn't even feel me on her back...

I look up, mentally exhausted. The sky is tinted in a light orange, dyed by the gradually setting sun.

"Hey, kiddo. It's been a while since we've eaten. You hungry?"

After a moment of thought, I stick my hand out in front of her face and give her a thumbs up. Seeing my response, she lifts me off her back, letting me plop onto the ground. Cata jumps to the ground as I rub my bottom with a slight pout.

"Was it in this pocket...? No... where'd I put them?"

In front of me, Celes is digging through the many pockets of her oversized jacket. Soon enough, she pulls out a large bag with a triumphant grin, and dumps all of its contents on the ground.

...It's a bag filled with dozens of fruits. Why do you have so many? What's the point? It'd take weeks to go through all that fruit alone, you know? Is that why your jacket is so big? Are you just some kind of fruit hoarder...?

"Go on. Take any one you like."

There's so many different types of fruits, varying in shape and size. Which one am I even supposed to take?

Cata nudges a certain red fruit towards me. It's lumpy and soft, and is about the size of an apple.

...It... is an apple. Just old and... lumpy.

What the hell, Cata? Is your taste in food really this bad? She stares back silently, oblivious of my mental turmoil. Celes laughs off to the side at the events unfolding between me and Cata.

It's... not like it'll make a big difference in the long run, right? It's just an apple, anyway...

...A weird apple.

...

...Whatever. I slowly take a bite out of the app-

It's awful, spit it out. Stomp on the remains. I spend time eating snow to remove the taste.

"A-alrighty then. Well, if that didn't work out, you're free to try more, alright?"

Lets try this one now. It's an orange, and nothing about it seems off this time.

I use my claws to cut through and remove the peel. Soon enough, I have a perfectly not lumpy and overly soft orange. I glance at Cata, who meows and looks away, mindlessly playing with some of the smaller fruits.

This time it'll be better. I slowly take a bite of an orange secti-

It's even worse, spit it out.

Really, all of your fruits suck, you know? Get some better ones, idiot.

Or... now that I think of it. It's not like they tasted off... they tasted exactly how I expected them to. It's just that I found that taste utterly repulsive.

I reach up and touch my carnivore-like teeth as a realization comes to mind. Don't tell me that all plants and non-meats are gonna taste terrible, please...

Celes seemed to have come to the same conclusion when I touched my teeth, as she now holds another sack--smaller though--and hands it over to me. As I look inside, I see an assortment of various dried meats.

...Why were you cooking that meat earlier if you had so much food on you!? Is there something that I'm not understanding? Are these supposed to be some 'last resort stash' or something?

I confusedly take out a piece of meat and bite into it. Unlike the fruits, it actually tastes... good. Even though it's old, stupid, dried meat, it tastes good.

I look off to the side to see Cata clawing at the bag, prompting me to give her a piece of meat. As I look around more, I spot Celes eating her own fruit. It would have seemed perfectly normal if it weren't for the fact that the fruit she's eating is a watermelon, and she's eating it rind and all.

You know, you were calling me unusual earlier, but no matter how I look at it, everything about you is even more unusual than me...

"So," Celes says while chewing, "looks like you can't really eat fruits anymore. What a shame, what a shame. I feel bad for you, missing out on my great fruit collection."

So you really are a hoarder.

...Hah... just how am I going to live with this woman?

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bread moment

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