"We're home, Bluey!" Sable and her spotted feline companion stopped in front of a dome-shaped cottage. The thatched roof of hay was still intact, comfortably snuggled on top of the wooden structure strung with green necklaces of rich moss. The moss had been growing over the cottage's roof for it had not been attended for years, making the cottage appear it had been invaded by a jungle.
A dusty lantern hung above the arched entrance, bidding Sable to enter inside. Happiness swelled in ranger's heart that she was finally home.
How long has it been? Sable thought. Looking back at Bluey whom was sniffing around the cottage, Sable counted her fingers. The alacat was a year old now; the ranger herself was a year older too.
Since I'm about twenty years old, Sable thought, then it must have been… four… five? Five years? Five years since I left.
Five years had been a long time, but Sable still did not feel like a stranger to the home where she was brought up. The ranger's eyes looked above to where the lantern was hung. Jumping up, Sable took off the dusty lantern and opened its creaky cage. Inside, the bronze key was still safely hidden. The ranger grinned and unlocked the door.
The deep scent of herbs still lingered inside the wide-spaced cottage. The chimney, kitchen counter, and table were untouched. Sometimes Sable worried that the cottage was invaded by rogues, thieves, or possibly destroyed. Fortunately, the cottage was still alive and protected, shrouded by the wild vegetation. She had nothing to worry about since she left.
Bluey invited herself in, curious by the strong floral scent. The ceiling of the cottage was strung by beaded bell charms and colorful paper molded into little animals such as cranes, fishes, and frogs. Sable walked over to a school of little green and blue fish, twirling from the wind by the opened door. The paper fishes had bells strung below them, making musical gentle rings as they moved to the wind. Sable moved her hand to touch a blue fish; grandmother taught her how to make these. They were the first paper animals Sable made before her grandmother taught her how to make the other animals.
"Grandmother," little Sable asked, sitting at the round diner table. A piece of blue squared paper was left unfolded in her hands. "Why do we live alone in the forest?"
Her grandmother's vibrant green eyes looked at Sable as she waited patiently for an answer. "You are a very curious one," she said with amusement. "We are like fishes; we make our own decisions either to follow or to lead in life."
"So are we like leading our own lives because we do not follow the people in the villages?" Sable asked.
"Something along those lines," her grandmother answered. "What's important to know is who you are. We can easily be persuaded to do what we are told without thinking why we do it. We blindly follow orders; blindly believe in what we're told. When we live alone, we isolate from those influences, and we can think for our own."
"Oh, I understand," Sable said, "so we live alone in the forest because we can do what we want."
Her grandmother nodded. "The gift of isolation is freedom. Now let me teach you how to make a fish."
The memory dissolved from Sable's mind as the scent of herbs grounded her back to reality. Still smiling, Sable let her hand go from the blue fish. It was one of the reasons why Sable decided to not stay behind in the cottage. She wanted to lead another life—to explore. She discovered the Ajar Forest and fell in love with it. Unlike the Tameka Forest, the Ajar Forest was far from civilization, raw with the beauty of wildlife. Alacats roamed the rocky mountains and depths of the forest. Bears ruled the lakes and rivers. Birds and insects housed the trees. The Ajar Forest brimmed more of life compared to the cottage's. Sable was glad she left to discover it.
Though, her grandmother never told her that leading one's own life could be harder. Sable remembered the first harsh winters when she lived in the Ajar Forest. The coldness and scarcity of food almost killed her when she was fifteen years old, testing her capacities if she was able to live sufficiently in the forest. However, the experience made Sable grow stronger and wiser; it helped strengthened her hunting and gathering skills as a ranger.
A growl interrupted Sable's trail of thought, drawing the ranger's attention. Bluey was guarding in front of the door, sniffing the air.
"What's wrong, Bluey," Sable asked, approaching the alacat. The alacat stood perfectly still and continued to growl.
The ranger stepped outside and sniffed the air. Coughing, Sable recognized the distinctive smell—smoke. The ranger's eyes searched through the forest, wondering where the smoke was coming from. However, the forest seemed quiet—she could not see any fire in the distance. A sudden trail of smoke rose in the sky over her head. Sable spun around quickly and gasped. A flame was eating away the tip of her roof, burning the hay into black ashes. Behind her cottage, several trees were shooting up in flames which had spread to the cottage.
How…? Sable's mouth hanged open. Before she could comprehend the fire, the ranger froze at the tallest tree that was burning savagely. The leaves of the trees disintegrated, turning black as its ashes fell over to her flaming roof. Suddenly, the tree shook violently, toppling over toward her direction.
"Look out!" a voice hollered.
Sable was shoved toward the ground as the tree slammed feet away from the side of her face, quaking the forest ground. Sable's eyes widened with shock, peering up at the figure above her. Almond-shaped, glacier blue eyes pierced her sight, but before Sable could take more notice of the stranger's countenance, she gasped at the tree that had squashed the left side of her home. The thatched roof had turned into ashes as the flame continued to make way into the cottage's interior.
Panic fled into Sable's mind as her thoughts shot to Bluey. The alacat was still inside the home. "Bluey!" Sable pushed the stranger off of her. A hand grabbed her arm, pulling the ranger away from the burning cottage.
"You can't go back!" the female voice shouted to Sable.
Sable glared at the young woman before her. The blue-eyed young woman stared worryingly at her. Her choppy, short, black hair, its bangs messy, covered one eye, indicating sweat pouring down on her face. Round silver pauldrons protected her shoulders as chainmail enclosed her arms and chest. Her tunic, colors of gold, blue, and white, represented her royal status as it adorned her metallic armor. The edges were holed and burned, indicating they were damaged by fire. Her blue cape draped from her back, trimmed with golden lining, was also tattered.
"My alacat is in there!" Sable cried. "I'm going after her!"
"Let me get her," the woman demanded. "I can get her out of the fire."
"Bluey doesn't trust any other human except me!" Sable retorted. The ranger ran toward the cottage and kicked the door out of the way. Searching through the wave of heat and veil of smoke, Sable called out for her alacat. "Bluey! Where are you?"
A desperate meow spun Sable's ears toward the direction of the diner table. Underneath the table, Bluey was hiding.
"Bluey!" Sable choked from the smoke and winced as she battled through the smoke.
"Come out, Bluey," Sable said softly as she kneeled down to the alacat. The ranger gave the alacat a light budge toward the door for her escape. However, Bluey removed scrunched up in the same position as her dilated copper eyes lit up in fear.
The ranger frowned. There has to be a way to get Bluey to move, Sable tried to think calmly. An idea moved the ranger to grab a pouch in her pocket. Fumbling it open, she fished out a piece of dried venison meat.
"Look," Sable cooed, sticking the meat in front of Bluey's nose.
The dried meat caught the alacat's attention. Bluey sniffed it and started to move slowly. The alacat swiped her paw at the dried meat, but Sable pulled it back. Standing up, the ranger waved the meat toward the door's direction. "Here, Bluey!" Sable tossed it out of the door.
Bolting out of the table, Bluey chased the dried meat outside. Sable sighed with relief that her plan had distracted the alacat. A black origami fish dropped on top of the table, surprising the ranger. The ceiling was collapsing apart from the flames, exposing the smoky sky like holes. Before Sable could retreat to the door, part of the wooden ceiling landed between her and the door. Fire devoured it quickly, sending more smoke toward the ranger's direction.
Coughing, Sable shielded her eyes away from the smoke. Her heart pounded as she tried to look for another escape. Her arm bumped into something on the wall, and she faced a window. Sable pressed her hands on the window frame, attempting to lift it up, but her fingers flinched from the hotness of the wood.
Sable's eyes flitted frantically around the room.
There has to be something to open the window up! she thought. There was too much smoke to see; all there that remained was glowing hot fire eating every dimension of her home. The ranger's eyes fell on the hem of her tunic.
Quickly wrapping her fingers with the hem of her tunic, Sable attempted to open the window again. However, it was still too hot to touch. Sweat dampened her skin as the heat engulfed her entire body. Sable choked out more; the smoke and heat was tightening her lungs. It was getting harder to breathe.
Wincing, Sable used up the last of her strength to pull the window open, ignoring the burning sensation penetrating her hand. Consciousness was slipping away from her as she tried to hoist herself out of the window. She felt herself being pulled out from the window as she fainted.
Mei Tsui hoisted Sable out from the window. The ranger collapsed onto her chest, and the black-haired woman faced her.
"Are you…" she paused when she realized the ranger had lost consciousness. Mei slipped her arms underneath the ranger, gently lifting the light-weight ponytail woman in her arms.
Carrying Sable away from the burning cottage, Mei hoped that the woman would be fine. It would be her entire fault if she did not regain consciousness. She did not know that a cottage existed in the middle of the Tameka Forest. If she had known, she would not had her soldiers burn down the forest in that area, not that she wanted to burn it down in the first place, but Queen Fajra's orders came before her own moral values.
Mei bent down and lowered the ranger on a clean patch of grass. Moving her hand toward her belt pouch, she fetched out her canteen. The canteen dropped out of her hand as she yelped out in surprise.
A large spotted feline slammed Mei down to the ground, growling furiously at her as she was pinned down. Copper eyes with dark pupils pierced her eyes, making her feel her life would be cut short if she did not calm the big cat very soon.
She must be the woman's alacat, Mei thought uneasily. Bluey? She recalled the ranger shouting the name several times, but it was an odd name to call a ferocious looking animal.
"I'm not going to hurt her," Mei said softly, trying to calm down the alacat. However, the knightess was responded with a hiss.
The alacat's sharp teeth snapped toward her cheek, but Mei deflected the bite by yanking the feline's head away from her face. Mei wrestled the giant feline off her body, but the alacat was beyond stronger and heavier than her. The alacat did not give up as she tried to bite the human. Mei's hand was soon loosing grip, and her hand slipped.
An injecting pain shot up in Mei's wrist as the alacat sunk her teeth into her skin. Seething with pain, Mei winced from the bite. The pain pulsed through her veins as she grabbed her bleeding wrist. Shouts and hollers drew the alacat's attention away from Mei, and the spotted feline darted off away into the trees. Arrows missed the alacat's body as the feline dodged them, making them missed into the ground.
"Stop!" Mei shouted toward her troops as she staggered up. "Don't shoot the cat!"
"It just bit you!" A soldier scowled, glaring at the direction where the alacat had disappeared. He had curly brown hair, tied back into a small ponytail. Concerned green eyes met up the knightess whom was applying pressure to her wrist to stop the blood.
"Troy, leave it alone," Mei commanded as she faced the rest of her four soldiers. "Don't worry about it."
"Yes, ma'am," he replied hesitantly, breaking his stare with the knightess.
A cough stirred Mei and her soldier's attention to the ground where Sable was rousing awake.
Mei picked up her canteen, almost forgetting about it; she originally intended to use the water to wake up the ranger before she got attacked by the giant cat. She spoke to Troy calmly, "Order the men to return to town. I'll take care of her," Mei said, watching the ranger wake up.
"What if the beast returns?" Troy argued, not wanting to leave her alone. They did not know who the stranger was and if she was threat to the queen. It was also possible that the wild cat would return.
"Just go" Mei snapped, losing patience with him. Ordering commands while suffering in pain did not mix well together. If there was one thing that annoyed her, it was often Troy refusing to 'exactly' listen to her orders. He had a habit of questioning her authority just because he used to be her childhood friend. The two used to be good friends before they joined the military. Their friendship grew distant as Mei ended up climbing the rank of a knightess which earned her the highest position to serve the queen. He, however, remained a soldier.
Troy grew quiet, feeling the tension he stirred up in Mei whom grew irritated with him. Ordering the soldiers to leave the area to town, Troy took a last glance between the women and followed behind the soldiers. Their footsteps soon died away in the forest.
Mei let out a small sigh, relieved to have them gone and kneeled down beside the ranger.
Comments (2)See all