Brendan and I continued onward to our destination to a small village within the heart of the forest around Cathopia. The map the queen had given me, had words written along the top, something about needing to get completely lost within the densest parts of the forest after the blue mermaid bridge if I was going to find it.
I had explained to Brendan how confusing that was, she had given me the map, so I wouldn’t get lost, but was now saying I had to get lost, how the heck did that make any sense?
All Brendan and I could do was keep on walking until we supposedly got lost, but when would we know that, everyone knew those forests quite well, especially since I had come out on multiple camping trips with dad, exploring together with him was always fun.
“Agh!” I stopped where I was letting out a cry of frustration. Brendan jumped, not expecting my outburst. “How the hell are we supposed to find this place.”
“Calm down Alex.” Brendan waved his arms trying to calm me down.
“This was simply the delivery of a scroll to a village, we’ve been out here for hours now and have found nothing, no landmarks, or clues which line up with the map she gave me.” I was getting a little annoyed.
“Alex, over here.” I stared into the distance hearing the voice of my dad. “Come on.” I could see an outline of him ahead, kneeling down low as he parted some leaves.
“What is it dad?” I saw myself join him.
“In this direction lives a very important village that provides much for Cathopia, in most cases they do not welcome strangers,” informed dad. “The area up ahead is wilder than most of the forest around Cathopia, so if you ever venture this far be very careful.”
“I’ll stay away then,” I commented.
“No,” he shook his head. “Remember to follow your nose, the sweet aroma will lead you there.”
I began walking forward, towards the fading form of my dad, even now he guided me. He had brought me here once, perhaps knowing one day I would visit the village of the Panthera Pardus.
“Alex,” I heard Brendan call after me, but my mind was drifting, absent-mindedly I followed the scent, was I always meant to find this place or was I guided by my ancestor Fang. “Alex.” Brendan called after me again, but I did not respond.
I continued to walk reaching a small open area, surrounded by forest, the scent of strange plants all around me. I looked left, then right, only just noticing plants I had never seen before.
Brendan was soon behind me. I glanced at him as my mind returned to me. His nose was twitching at the smells, almost too many to register.
“What is this place?” I looked around in wonder. I felt all the hairs on the back of my neck suddenly stand on end and a glimpse of moving shadows. “Brendan, don’t move.” As those words left my lips I felt a blade held at my throat and a yelp from Brendan.
“Name your intent here stranger,” I heard our attackers voice directly in my ear, he was obviously taller than me. I glanced back a little to see his black fur, a Panthera Pardus. “Why are you here?”
“I am here to deliver a scroll,” I answered.
“No fool would venture to these parts to just deliver a scroll,” he commented.
“A scroll from her highness Queen Daz of Cathopia,” I added.
“You’re a messenger from Queen Daz,” he wanted me to verify.
“Yes,” I slowly nodded, and he stepped away. I heard Brendan let out a sigh as the Panthera Pardus walked past me.
“Come this way,” he continued to walk, indicating us to follow him.
I glanced at Brendan who had become even more of a nervous wreck. “Would you chill.”
“How can I they just attacked us,” gulped Brendan.
“They were simply warning us,” I shook my head. “It’ll be fine once I’ve talked to their chief.”
“Whatever you say.” Brendan and I followed.
The Panthera Pardus led us to a village hidden amongst the trees, their huts made to look like tall grasses, blending in perfectly, if it weren’t for the other Panthera Pardus going about their daily business I would have most probably missed it.
As we were guided through the village most of those who lived here paused to take notice in their village’s visitors. I couldn’t help but feel a different nervousness as their eyes fell upon me.
We were taken to an old tree, the trunk was ten feet wide, covered in glowing little buds. A hut was set underneath it. Two Panthera Pardus standing guard.
“Visitors for Chief Raoul,” said one of those who brought us here. “They bring a scroll from Cathopia.” He snorted.
Hearing his reaction told me much, as the connection between Cathopia and this village were hanging on by a thread, why would the king want to cause all this, just for some herbs was it. I was always taught that everything must have a balance, you cannot just take something, not here, when each of us had our parts to play, just as mum had described.
“You may head inside,” nodded the guard.
I walked forward, glancing back at my hesitant friend, who slowly walked behind, his body tense, on guard, perhaps scared something might happen at any second. I wish I could give him words to comfort his fears, but after his home was so randomly and ruthlessly attacked I somehow couldn’t blame him.
I entered slowly, seeing a Panthera Pardus drinking tea at the back of his hut. His golden eyes met mind as he raised his head. Quickly scanning me, he waved his hand indicating for me to sit down.
“Welcome descendent of Fang,” he bowed his head slightly.
“How do you know that?” I asked, sitting down opposite him.
“I recognised the talismans you carry, the wind fairy and water mermaid,” he glanced at each of my talismans. “I was foretold of your coming.”
“You knew I was coming?” I glanced at Brendan, a little confused.
Raoul smirked. “No,” he chuckled. “I heard of you from Gual.”
“You know Gual?”
“Yes, he once called our village home, before heading out to join the knights of Cathopia and becoming a Guardian,” he slowly nodded. “He still comes home occasionally, how he told me of a warrior filled with much potential, seeking to be the next Guardian for the crowned princess.”
“This makes our visit easier,” commented Brendan.
“It does,” I nodded. “Enough about me. I am on official business from Cathopia.” I dug into my pouch bringing out the scroll from Queen Daz. “I am here to reassure you in the queens name.” I handed over the scroll.
Raoul opened it up and had a read. “I see,” he nodded. “I personally do not know what his majesty is thinking, asking for more than we can give, but if Queen Daz believes we can still remain the same, like we have always done, then so be it.”
“I can fill you in on what is happening within Cathopia,” I mentioned.
“You can, can you?” I had caught his attention.
“I am quite close with the royal family and have no obligation like Gual to keep such things secret,” I added.
“I am listening,” responded Raoul.
I explained everything that was happening within Cathopia since the arrival of Dumah, who I believed was tainting the city from within. Raoul listened intently, nodding his head in understanding.
“Hmm… The return of darkness never thought I would see it within my lifetime,” said Raoul after I finished. “Thank you for telling me this young Fang.”
“You are most welcome,” I smiled about to stand up. “We best make our return trip home.”
“No,” he shook his head.” I insist you stay here until your departure at some point tomorrow, or even the day after. I must repay you for the information you have given me.”
“No need for anything in return.” I waved my hand.
“I insist,” he replied.
“It wouldn’t be a bad idea,” commented Brendan.
“Alright,” I nodded.
Shortly after we were shown to a little hut in the heart of the village. Some in the villagers still gave us strange looks, some distrusting, and others curious. I was guessing they did not get a lot of visitors here.
Brendan and I settled in the hut, where we just chatted for a bit before going to sleep. “Different here than the city,” I commented.
“I find it quite nice,” admitted Brendan. “I’ll be honest, I’m not a complete fan of the busyness of the city.”
“Oh, right, you’re used to being on the road,” I said. “When I was leaving the city, I was thinking about the camping trips dad, and I would go on.” I let out a sigh. “Surrounded by the forest, the endless skies above, hunting together.”
“He’ll be back soon, you’ll see,” encouraged Brendan. “And when he does I would be honoured if you took me with you on your next camping trip.”
“Sure, we’ll take mum, Athena and Tigra too, make it a family event,” I smiled, thinking about it made me so happy.
“You want to drag your girlfriend with us,” chuckled Brendan.
“She is not my girlfriend,” I snorted.
“You wish she was though, don’t you,” grinned Brendan.
“Yeah and…” I looked away. Brendan laughed and then I laughed too, he was such a jerk sometimes.