Pain like a thousand needles shot up his leg and in his just barely sleep, Raithe shivered. The pain lessened a few minutes later though, when a cool sensation took over. The thousands of tiny pinpricks all disappearing one at a time, replaced with pure, cool relief. He blinked his eyes open and strained to look toward his feet.
The old woman was wrapping a bandage over some kind of poultice she had just slapped onto his wound. She glanced up at him, gave him a curt nod, a smile and then returned to what she was currently doing.
“Wh...wh...” he tried to speak, but the dryness in his throat caused him to have a fit of coughing instead.
“Careful,” a male voice said from across the room. The young man approached with a bowl of water, knelt down beside him and carefully lifted his head from the ground. He placed the bowl against Raithe's lips and cool, refreshing water slipped from it and down his throat. “Easy... easy,” the man said when Raithe started to cough again, from drinking it too quickly. “If you aren't careful, you'll become sick again.” the man pulled the bowl away and set it on the floor, off to the side.
When the old woman stood up, seemingly finished with his first aide, Raithe lifted himself enough to lean on his hands. Sitting up fully, he thought would expend too much energy. He glanced up at the man. “Who... are you?” he asked. This time he was able to speak more clearly, but his voice was still rough.
“Faux and you can call her,” Faux pointed to the old woman who was now busying her self at a handcrafted table, mixing herbs inside a pestle. “Grandma Willow.” he paused for a moment, as if considering something. Then he said, “she doesn't talk much.”
“I... see,” Raithe acknowledge and then he lay back down. It was about the only thing he could do at the moment. Every part of him still felt weak, his head pulsed and his stomach was still nauseated.
Glancing to the side, revealed the form of a black panther, lying peacefully on a bed of dried leaves and grass. A white bandage cross over one of her shoulders, stained with a little blood. One of her ears twitched in slumber, but the large feline did not wake.
“Will she... be alright?” he asked.
“She will,” Faux replied. “We've don't all we can for both of you. Now to get better, you just need to rest.” the man collected the bowl and stood up. “You got lucky though.”
“Yeah,” Faux said, stepping over Raithe. “Those serpents. The... Neflim's think they're called... the smaller ones I mean. In their teeth is a type of venom. Very painful and can cause a range of symptoms. But don't worry, Grandma Willow has already fixed you with an antidote. You should be find.”
“Thanks,” Raithe said and then his eyes drifted closed again, darkness overtaking his entire being.
Vaguely he could remember waking up a couple of times to see movement in the cave. Grandma Willow still at the table, mixing up some kind of concoction with the use of a mortar and pestle. Faux moved about the cave and very briefly, he had seen the panther raise her head with interest, before lying it back down.
By the time Raithe was fully awake, night had long since fallen and a cool breeze coursed through the interior of their shelter. A cave quite a bit larger than the one he had be led to, by his feline friend. He was lying on a small bed of furs. Various animals which he guessed, had originally been hunted for food. There were small pelts, belonging to raccoons, squirrels, foxes. Then he noticed larger pelts too. Wolves, deer, bears. A lion pelt which he thought was a little odd and out of place, considering the other pelts were of forest critters and not savanna.
Raithe yawned and sat up. He stretched out both arms above him and when he brought them down, realized that he felt more rested than he had ever been in his life. Which was a little strange. His memories of anything before that ship, still had not returned.
“Oh good,” Faux said, stepping over to him. In his hands he held a bowl, this one was full of some kind of soft porridge. “You're awake.” Faux handed the bowl over to him and he took it. “Eat this, it will help you regain some of the energy you've lost.”
“Thank you,” Raithe replied and moved the spoon around the bowl with his thumb. He smelt the mixture which was a little bit sweet.
“When you're finished with that,” Faux said. “It might be best if you leave.” his voice became hard as he finished that sentence, which caused Raithe to look up.
Faux nodded. “We only helped you because... well, you were trying to help Felix,” he motioned to the panther. “She's been a friend to us for the past couple of years and has a tendency to assist wayward travelers.”
Raithe cocked his head toward the man. “I know she helped me but... what does that have to do with me having to... leave?”
“Because,” Faux said with a sigh. “Willow and I have been trying to live here in peace, for years. Your presence will disturb that.” he stood up straight and walked over to the other side of their shelter. “We can provide you with a few things you might need if you are to survive this test and... the next one.” he turned around and crossed his arms, scowling. “But that is it. We have no plans to help you any further and if your should injure yourself again... well that will be your problem.”
Raithe looked down at the contents of his bowl. He remained quiet for a time, then turning his head look straight into Faux's eyes he said, “I understand.”
Faux nodded affirmatively. “Good,” he said and began to gather a few things off the surface of that table and around it.
“If you don't mind me asking,” Raithe said. “You... know about why I'm here?”
“Of course,” Faux replied. “How do you think we ended up here?”
“Anyway... here,” Faux knelt down beside him and set a small, bulging bag on the floor. Then he set a pair of clean clothes similar to what he was wearing, over the bag as well. “When you've gotten dressed...”
“... I will... thank you.”
Faux nodded again, stood up and walked away. He picked up a bow and a quiver which had been leaning against the wall, motioned for Grandma Willow to follow him and stopped by the exit. “We'll expect you to be gone by the time we return,” he said. “Oh and one more thing before we leave...” Faux hesitated for a moment, as if trying to decide if it would be right to give him whatever information he still hadn't. His face grew a bit harder and he tightened his grip on the bow, but finally he relented. “Take Felix with you. She knows the entrance to the last test...” he paused again. “I think she might make a good ally for you.” and with that, Faux disappeared into the outdoors, with Grandma Willow trailing close behind.
Raithe looked at Felix who was currently partaking in a tasty fish, probably the one he had caught earlier. “Faux says I should take you with me.”
She looked up from her meal and gave him a sort of, half meow, half growl.
He smiled. It would be nice to have a reliable partner. Inside though, he still felt a little bad about what had happened. Felix rescued him from... not really the cold, but she led him to shelter. Karma apparently hadn't been on her side though, because the next day her offspring were killed by a small group of wild boars. Raithe sighed. “So what do you say. Join me?”
Felix stood up and walked, her gait casual, over to the exit and sat down. She looked over at him with a longing in her eyes. Sadness... loneliness perhaps? She did want to go with him.
“Alright,” he said as he set the bowl aside and stood up.
The wound on his leg stung a little, but now it was more like the sting of a bee or a wasp. Most of the pain had completely vanished. He glanced over at Felix and came to the conclusion that her injury was all but gone as well. Raithe slipped the white gown off. Of course that left him completely.... without anything on but hey, there was no one around except for Felix anyway. Then he slipped into the pants, the shirt and picked up the satchel.
Just beyond the cave was a small waterfall and a pond where he wiped the bowl clean, before setting it neatly on the table. With that done, he strolled passed Felix and glanced back at her after a few steps. “Let's go,” he said.
Felix replied with a, “Mweow.” then she stood up and positioned herself to follow.
With his fever gone and the injury on his leg, for the most part healed, he was able to actually see the island in which he had washed up on. Even in the dark, he could see the beauty all around him. Branches of the trees no longer appeared like the thin, mangled hands of an old witch lady. He could hear the song of several nocturnal birds. Crickets chirped happily in the night. Water flowed gently down rivers and streams to either a lake somewhere, or the ocean. The best part about their night walk though, was the wind. How it brushed passed them, giving their skin and fur a gentle touch. It was cool, but not so much that it caused him to shiver. He stopped for a moment, closed his eyes and felt it course by.
Another sound, brought his mind out of dreamland and he looked around nervously. It wasn't boars this time, he was sure of it. This time it sounded like a low, deep rumbling. A roar from a very large animal. It had the power to shake the trees, the ground. Birds flew in fright from their nests. Other animals fled from that area in an array of terrified noises.
Raithe clutched his staff tighter. He had opted to bring it along because... well, it did make a good weapon. Even if it did only serve for defense. “Felix...” he said, trying to keep his voice steady.
The cat just looked at him with knowing eyes.
“Right... I don't think it would be wise t-to stay here. Do you?”
She mweowed at him and turned away from the sound. A place which would probably be safer than wherever they had been headed before. She looked back at him.
“Lead the way then,” it was hard to keep some of that fear out of his voice. He managed somehow... mostly.
The panther started moving, leading him through some of the roughest terrain he had seen so far, on the island. Over rocky inclines, through parts of the forest which were really thick. They even swam across a river. The flow was rapid, quick and its current nearly dragged him under a couple times. Felix was there though and her strong ability to swim, helped him get all the way across.
Even the rough terrain wasn't enough to deter that thing from following them. It huffed and grunted as it followed their path. Every footfall it made was a thump... thump and shook the earth around them. The closer it came, the louder it also was.
So close it was, that neither of them could take it anymore and they both broke out into a dead run, not caring about what lie ahead of them. Thick trees, bushes, boulders, a cliff. None of it mattered as long as they could escape. Actually, the cliff right ahead of them mattered. What good would it do them to survive that thing, only to fall to their deaths here?
Felix was the first to stop, her paws sliding on the still slippery, wet ground. She stopped just before the edge. Raithe dropped himself into a roll, coming back up to his knees beside Felix and facing the sound.
“Eh... what do you think girl? Can we take it?”
“Yeah... didn't think so.”
So that left them with the next big option, one where timing would mean everything. Neither one of them looked away or so much as blinked, while they were watching for that creature. Felix shifted uneasily where she sat crouched and his own eyes went wide.
Trees crashed. Thump... thump... thump!
It was Raithe's turn to shift, changing his position just slightly into one which would allow him to move more quickly.
Felix let out a low, warning growl deep in her throat.
“Okay... okay... get readi-”
It crashed through the last row of trees like a knife through butter. “RRAAAAOOOOORRRR!!”
He felt as if his eyes were going to pop out of his skull. The creature standing before them was none other than an enormous... absolutely gigantic bear! Raithe let out a little yelp and Felix snorted her disgust for the thing. The creature was a bear, but it had fur as black as tar. Like the serpents, a gooey, gelatinous substance dripped from its entire body and it smelled simply awful. Like rotting eggs and fish combined, mixed in with a nice, tasty helping of rotting meat and animal feces. He himself, wrinkled his nose in disgust.
The creature stood on its hind legs, sniffed the air and when it finally came back down again, the ground shook so much that it nearly knocked Raithe over. He recomposed himself though, right before it let out another mighty roar and then charged.
One... two... three strides. The creature was too massive to make any quick turns or to stop quickly, so this was their only chance. On the fourth stride, Raithe rolled in one direction, Felix lept in the other. There was a strangled grunt, claws on slippery stone, a crash boom and then silence. Raithe stood up again, his whole body shaking from fear, adrenaline. He turned to look.
Where the creature had been, there was now a black, tarry substance eating a hole in the ground. Felix stared back at it and let out another, low growl.
“I know, I know,” Raithe said as he stepped gingerly over it. The stuff was like acid, he really didn't want to chance it eating a hole in his feet. “Let's go.”
The panther turned around and started to lead the way through the dark. Instead of looking for the entrance to the next test, the two of them opted to seek shelter for the rest of the night and move in the light of day. It was safer that way. So they returned to the first little cave, Felix had shown him earlier. The wood was still there and dry enough for him to use.
In minutes, he was able to get a fire going and the two of them were able to sit back and enjoy both the warmth and each others company. It wasn't until the first rays of dawn shone through their little entrance, that he heard a stumbling sound somewhere outside. Raithe became alert, attentive and gripped his staff more tightly. Prepared for a fight.