Early the next morning Nathan was building up the fire. He said: “One more short hunting excursion, then I’ll be on my way. We’ll check the traps and see if we can’t find another bird or two to feed you.”
Dawn blinked sleepily: “Thank you Nathan, I don’t know what we’d have done without you. You must have been sent by the gods.”
His face darkened: “Don’t expect help from the gods. They keep their own counsel and rarely involve themselves in the business of humans. And it is healthier for you if they don’t. If you come to the attention of a god, better expect trouble to follow.”
‘Well I certainly had a whole lot of trouble in the last few days,’ Dawn thought. Was the Trickster’s attention the reason? Hardly so, it was her own fault. In the end it had all been caused by her decision to run away from home. And a couple of rash decisions that had followed seamlessly afterwards. Even so, she wouldn’t go back. Her Path was precious to her, she couldn’t risk it with a return to her parents. Even if the thought of regular good meals and a soft bed to sleep in under a sturdy roof was tempting. But those amenities would be bought too dearly.
On the whole, living on her own meant a good deal more trouble and work than she had imagined. She had never really known how much she lacked in her abilities. She had never hunted or fought before, so it was no wonder that she had run into problems. Somehow, she had been under the impression her path and her spells and skills would make it all come out right, miraculously. In reality that was far from the case.
What was her family doing right now, she wondered? Was her mother anxious, not knowing where and how she was? She felt a little twinge at the thought of her mother worrying about her. She trailed behind Nathan, lost in her thoughts.
Nathan managed to shoot a couple of snow grouse with his bow. Dawn marveled at his ability with the weapon. She was a bit envious, truth to tell.
“You better concentrate on trapping and fishing,” Nathan told her calmly, when they were sitting at the fire once more, drinking their morning tea. “You’ll hardly be able to kill anything with your knife. Keep a careful lookout for beasts, it is better if you evade any close encounters.” He sighed. “It doesn’t sit well with me, leaving you here on your own. But I can’t take you with me, you’d hardly be able to manage the pace I have to set. And there will be dangers aplenty on my way, too.” He shook his head.
“You’re not responsible for me, Nathan,” Dawn retorted, looking into his eyes steadily. “I’m so grateful for your help, but I have to find my own way. With your aid I’m much better prepared now to provide myself with food. And I’m not alone, I have Kharma and Ankou. Please don’t worry about me.”
He regarded her with a small smile. “I’ll try not to worry too much, more I cannot promise.” The ranger rose to his feet with catlike grace. “I’ll be on my way now. Fare well, Dawn. Try not to die.”
Within seconds he had been swallowed up by the greenery. Dawn watched after him for a moment, suddenly feeling bereft and alone. Kharma approached her and laid a hand on her arm soothingly. She smiled at him. “I know, Kharma. I’m not alone. I need to take some time today to wash and repair some of my clothes. The demons and the caves have done a number on them. But tomorrow we can start and look for a way home for you. What do you say?” He grinned his toothy smile: “Is good idea.”
“What direction should we take? Any suggestions?”
The Kharlin shrugged his shoulders helplessly. “Not know. Have to look around.”
‘This is getting off to a fantastic start already,’ Dawn thought to herself. Running around aimlessly in the countryside to find an elusive underground village of Kharlins. But what did it matter, it wasn’t as if she had anything better to do with her time at the moment.
Dawn spent the rest of the day sewing tears in her shirts and trousers and trying to restore her clothes to some semblance of cleanliness. Her efforts were met with mixed results. Her clothes were wearable but far from pretty. Nevertheless, she was grateful she wasn’t obliged to run around in dresses. She just could imagine how her journeys and the subsequent flight from the caves would have gone down if she had been forced to wear a dress. Most likely she would have been dead, instead of sitting here laboriously mending a shirt.
‘At least I’m working on my levelling,’ she thought with a smirk. Due to Nathan’s lessons she had acquired the skills hunting, trapping and cooking. Her efforts with her clothes today had raised her sewing skill. Though the most important ones, her class skills, were unchanged. She wasn’t sure if she should be grateful or disgruntled about that. The one surefire way to raise levels in her class skills was a fight. And she suspected she wasn’t quite ready for that at the moment. Her encounters with the demons had left her self-confidence in tatters. Even Call The Lightning, her most powerful spell, had done zilch against the massive spiders. Well, maybe it had hurt one of them a bit, but not nearly enough to take it out of the fight. She felt dreadfully underpowered and weak right now. But of course, the demons weren’t quite run of the mill enemies.
When she was finished with her clothes she started to prepare some oatcakes. After her recent experiences with her travels in the caves, she had realized beans or oats were useless to her if she didn’t have a campfire to cook them with. Better to carry at least some food she could eat without having to cook it first.
Kharma had absconded with the fishing line when she had started to work on her clothes. She hoped he would manage to catch some fish. And Ankou was roaming around who knew where. With a sigh she collected the finished oatcakes and stored the whole bundle in her ring. Tomorrow they would travel again. Hunt for Kharma’s village and hopefully even find it. Though that might take a few days or even weeks, clueless as they were.
Noises in the shrubbery preceded a grinning Kharma, triumphantly holding up a bundle of fish tied together with some fishing line. “You caught some! Excellent!” she exclaimed, smiling widely. “Looks like it’s fish for supper.”
The food situation had certainly improved, she thought a bit drowsily, after they had gobbled down their fish greedily. She had seasoned it with wild herbs, wrapped it in leaves and baked it in the embers. Even Ankou hadn’t turned down his portion. Right at the moment she felt perfectly satisfied, sitting at the fire with her friends.
They were setting out bright and early the next morning. The sky had turned cloudy and the wind had freshened up, but at least it wasn’t raining - yet. Ankou was taking the lead, scouting ahead. They had decided to leave in western direction and travel for a day of two in the hope that Kharma would recognize some landmarks which would lead them to his settlement.
“Do you really think your people will be afraid of me?” she asked Kharma. “Kharlin hunted by humans sometimes. Not easy to forget.” He retorted.
“Why do humans hunt them?” She asked. “Humans like pelts, not like Kharlins alive.” He stated matter of factly.
“Pelts?” She asked incredulously. “You don’t mean to say they hunt you like animals for your…?” She couldn’t finish the sentence, feeling revolted and sick at the thought of Kharma - bright, friendly, intelligent Kharma - being hunted down for his pelt. “But, but you’re intelligent! You can talk. It’s not like you’re beasts.” She exclaimed, outraged and appalled at the very thought.
Kharma shrugged his shoulders, his usually bright features taking a grim turn. “Humans don’t care.”
“That can’t be true.” She couldn’t believe it, didn’t want to believe it was true, that humans could be that callous, that abominable. Kharma patted her arm soothingly, seeing her distress. “Dawn not like other humans. Kharma knows.” Dawn had trouble to shake off her trepidation, walking silently, lost in grim thoughts.
“Why did you leave your village by yourself?” she asked after a while. “Or do Kharlin often hunt alone?”
His ears lowered a bit. “Kharma want to be good hunter. But not much success before when try. Tribe not much care for bad hunter.”
“That’s too bad,” said Dawn.
“So try new way, try go forbidden direction. Know sometimes demons hunt there. But believe could hide from them. Was not good plan. But manage to hunt a goat. Then demons come and take me.”
“So they come out of the caves sometimes?” she started to look around uncomfortably, suddenly feeling a lot less safe than just a minute before.
“Yes, come out, but not go far from mountain. Tribe knows.” Kharma said.
Leaves rustling in front of them heralded Ankou, who shot out of the shrubs in a tearing rush. Behind him breaking twigs and an ominous growl sounded.
“Oh, oh. Here comes trouble.” Dawn said weakly.
A dozen meters in front of them a dark lumbering body broke through the bushes on their right side. Beady red eyes in a small head turned their malevolent gaze upon them. The beast looked like a very big bear, its fur a mottled mixture of brown and black. Dawn, who had gone into freeze mode for a moment, grabbed her knife, cursing herself for not taking the time to train with her new sword. Better to trust in the weapon she knew. Poor Kharma didn’t even have a knife, he would have to fight with his claws. The beast started to move in their direction. Lumbering at first but then rapidly advancing. Dawn sidestepped to the the left, but before the beast could reach them Ankou jumped on its back from the side, claws biting deeply. The bear roared and reared explosively on its hind legs. It managed to shake off the cat. Ankou was thrown against the massive trunk of a big tree and gave a pained yowl.
“Ankou,” yelled Dawn desperately, afraid the bear had managed to kill him. Belatedly she thought of her new spell. ’Stupid, stupid, stupid,’ she berated herself. Backing away she cast Call The Lightning. White lightning struck the bear and this time it had a resounding impact. The bear stood stiffly, unable to move for long seconds. Dawn approached the beast running and stuck her knife in on the side of its neck. She tore it out again dark red blood gushing out of the wound, and plunged it in deeply once more. Slowly the light went out of the beasts eyes and the big body collapsed on the ground.
Breathing hard, Dawn turned and ran to Ankou, falling to her knees beside his motionless form. Carefully, she touched his gleaming silver fur. He was still breathing. She tried to cast Nurture, but the spell wouldn’t form. Of course, she hadn’t enough mana. Call The Lightning had taken almost all she had. Praying she would not be to late, she waited for her mana to recover, the passing minutes feeling like an eternity. Finally she was able to cast Nurture. Ankou tried to lift his head weakly but was obviously still dazed.
“Don’t move,” Dawn said. “You’re hurt. We need to wait for a few minutes, then I can heal you again.” The cat just blinked slowly.
After she had finally got out another cast of her healing spell, Ankou managed to get to his feet. The lynx shook himself off tentatively, but seemed to feel no lingering ill effects. Now that the worst had passed, she could easily fix any small injuries that still remained after another few minutes had passed.
Breathing easily at last, Dawn went to look at the corpse of the beast. She studied the big body and managed to learn it had been a direbear. She hadn’t gained another level in the fight, but Call The Lightning had leveled up.
Kharma came and stood next to her, ears drooping and his whole demeanor miserable. “Kharma no help in fight. Afraid, couldn’t move.”
“It’s okay Kharma,” Dawn said, trying to console him. “I froze up at first, too. And then it took me entirely too long to remember my spell. We’re not used to fighting, that is all. Guess we were lucky once more this time. But I have this uncomfortable feeling as if I might have used up enough luck for a lifetime during the last few days. Obviously, we have to improve in fighting. We have to train somehow, it’s the only way.”
This is my first time writing a story. I'm still learning as I go along, so there may be some hiccups down the road. I am a voracious reader myself and especially adore science fiction and fantasy. Recently I have discovered the genre of LITRPG for myself and it fascinates me.
Please feel free to comment. I'd love to hear from you.